Shirley Q. Liquor



Shirley Q. Liquor How you durrin?

Who is Shirley Q. Liquor?

"How you durrin?"  You've probably been enjoying the comedy of Shirley Q. Liquor for some time, but just who is her creator and alter ego?

The man -- yes a man, and he's white -- behind the mask, so to speak, is Chuck Knipp, a former priest, a Registered Nurse, an Emergency Medical Technician, and a politician.  And he was ordained a minister in 1997.

While growing up, he was very close to his family's housekeeper, Fannie Mae Turner of Monroe, Louisiana.  "Shirley Q's voice is an amalgamation of Fannie Mae Turner and lots of other wonderful women I have worked with in hospitals or known as friends," Knipp recalls.  Other influences on the character came from people he knew in his Texas high school.  Most of his childhood friends were black, and he was something of a class clown.

When he first saw Rich Little on TV, Knipp knew he wanted to be an impressionist, even though he didn't go straight into show business. Another performer that made an impression on him was Moms Mably.  "I used to mimic her to my parents," says Knipp.  "I hung out with a bunch of black gay guys when I was in the University of Mississippi band," Knipp recalls, "and we used to stay up all night sipping Bacardi and listening to Millie Jackson and James Cleveland records.  Then we would tape ourselves doing skits.  Those guys really gave me a grasp of southern cultural insights which have proven invaluable."  He began doing the voice in college acting class at Ole Miss.

Knipp started Shirley Q. Liquor as a joke recording on his home answering machine, leaving daily updates.  Pretty soon, people were calling the number just to hear Shirley Q and tying up the phone line.  Amazed, Knipp decided to accommodate them by getting an extra line and Shirley Q's own answering machine.  "Before I knew it, my phone was ringing all day and night.  I began changing it every day, telling little stories, and first thing you know Shirley Q. had a cult following.  That went on for years.  Once my real identity was out, I was contacted by the American Comedy Network and began doing Shirley Q. bits for them every week."

Knipp performs standup comedy with the character.  "I had no idea how to do this character as a live performance the first time.  Up until then, I had been on radio or in a recording studio.  Then it hit me -- if I am going to perform this character onstage, I'll have to get in drag and paint my face a different color.  Some people ask me if I do blackface.  I don't think that's it.  I use regular African-American lady brown foundation and all kinds of eye shadows.  And I really like the pink wig."

Shirley Q's CDs have remained the overall #1 and #2 best sellers on, setting a record.  "The gay menz loves me as much as them bulldaggas does," says Shirley Q.  "I think they thinks of me as the ignunt momma they never had.  I thinks of them as my own chirrens, except louder and mo gruitier than mines is."

No, Shirley Q. is not politically correct, but she is a hit with African-Americans as well as Caucasians.  "They're overwhelmingly positive," says Knipp.  "It never occurred to me that doing Shirley Q. was in any way racist.  To me, it's total character immersion.  Is she a stereotype of a bygone day?  Certainly.  But she's just real enough to cause what I call an 'anxious giggle' in most everyone who hears her perspective.  Everywhere I go, black folks tell me how much they enjoy it.  My favorite part of the show is when I go off on a rant about how ignorant white people are.  The audience does not know what to do then."

"I am a firm believer that comedy is a way to heal past injustices, prejudice and hate.  Laughter is healing and in my attempt to make people laugh, I think I can work just as hard as any social activist to make this world just.  I have seen prejudice and hatred and know it well.  My hometown is in the heart of hatred.  I commuted with black students to and from Lamar University."

"My character Shirley Q. Liquor was created in celebration of, not to downgrade, black women.  Like most characters, she is a composite woman from a person I know and my own creativity -- and also a composite of reverse stereotypes and cultural differences.  Shirley Q. Liquor is just one of many characters that I do, but she has caught on because of her unique view of the world."

"My comedy isn't racist, nor am I.  More than anything, my comedy makes fun of whites' views of blacks.  My comedy pokes fun at everything, including myself. That's what comedy is about, making us escape form everyday life and seeing the funny side."

Currently, Shirley Q. Liquor is syndicated by the American Comedy Network and is played daily in over 300 radio markets.  She also has a cameo on RuPaul's newrecent CD, RuPaul RED HOT.   Says RuPaul, "Critics who think that Shirley Q. Liquor is offensive are idiots.  Listen, I've been discriminated against by everybody in the world: gay people, black people, whatever.  I know discrimination, I know racism, I know it very intimately.  She's not racist, and if she were, she wouldn't be on my new CD."

RuPaul continues, "When Chuck performs as Shirley Q, itís very clear to me that he is paying a loving homage to the southern black women that he obviously grew up around.  I think (critics) should search inside of themselves and examine why they are so affected by Shirley Q. Liquor!"

Ms. Liquor has previously, but does not currently, appear at Southern Decadence.

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