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 mp3.com, 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
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!"
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