February 24, 2008


Did You Hear the One About the Christian Comedian? (MIMI SWARTZ, 2/24/08, NY Times)

The William Tell Mom, as she is sometimes identified on YouTube, is named Anita Renfroe. She is 45 and lives in suburban Atlanta with her husband, John, a Southern Baptist minister; her daughter, Elyse, 18; and her mother, Kay Pulliam. Renfroe’s two sons, Austin and Calvin, who are in their 20s, live close by. Last Mother’s Day, at the urging of her kids, she posted on YouTube the film clip of her performance at the Dozier Center for the Performing Arts in Kennesaw, Ga., and promptly forgot about it. “I thought it would be a nice thing to do,” she says. “I thought maybe 1,000 people might see it.”

Turns out that was optimistic. Over Mother’s Day weekend, the clip got about 500 hits. But Renfroe never got around to taking the video down, and as the summer progressed, its popularity continued to grow. By Labor Day, it had passed the 800,000 hit mark. Then the blogosphere discovered it: Mommyneedscoffee.com and hotmomsclub.com thought it was hilarious. “That’s when it went bazooka,” Renfroe says.

By Oct. 1, approximately 1.5 million people had seen the video. By Oct. 19, the number had risen to 8 million; the video had gone viral. “That’s pretty impressive until you realize that the guy who eats live locusts has, like, 12 million hits,” Renfroe told me. Then a producer from “Good Morning America” called at 5:30 one morning to ask whether the show could run the clip. The song got even bigger when iTunes put the video on its lineup. After that, Renfroe was fending off offers like a Hollywood starlet.

Renfroe is a suburban mom from flyover country — specifically, Cobb County, Ga., home of Newt Gingrich. She is round and soft, loves butter, carbs and sugar and worries routinely about her weight. She is maternal to just about everyone, even people she doesn’t know very well. She pinches pennies and worries that her spotless house isn’t clean enough. Renfroe is a former stay-at-home mom who for some years home-schooled her kids. Now that those children are past the age of consent, she still cannot stop telling them what to do; she is always just a little bit anxious.

Renfroe is also a devout Christian and for about eight years has been slowly building a career as a comedian on the Christian women’s circuit. Like Mike Huckabee’s easy humor, Renfroe’s wit comes as a surprise to nonevangelicals.

Posted by Orrin Judd at February 24, 2008 10:41 AM
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