Blessed Are the Mirthful: Anita Renfroe

A wisecracking, Baptist-raised comic helps women laugh at themselves
Anita Renfroe jokes that she used to sleep with her pastor.

“Now he’s my road manager, so I’m sleeping with my roadie,” she says, referring to John, her husband of almost thirty years and an ordained Baptist evangelist. For Renfroe, an Acworth-based humorist who packs arenas around the country with her faith-based schtick, comedy can be a ministry, its benedictions peppered with punchlines.

“I definitely am a believer in God with a sense of humor,” she says. “There are too many ironies in the universe to believe that He doesn’t have one. Plus, I’m pretty sure I’ve sensed it every time I’ve made plans that I believe are ‘ironclad.’”

Renfroe, forty-eight, unexpectedly shot to fame in 2007 when a YouTube video of her “Total Momsense,” a rapid-fire litany of maternal catchphrases set to the “William Tell Overture,” went viral, jettisoning her into the talk-show circuit.

“I went from being a stay-at-home mom, playing piano for small women’s church groups where I’d crack jokes between songs, to a comedic phe-mom-enon,” she says, brushing back coppery bangs.

The New York Times Magazine anointed her a “postmillennial Erma Bombeck,” and Renfroe began bantering with Diane Sawyer on Good Morning America as a regular correspondent “embedded in the front lines of motherhood—protected by Spanx instead of Kevlar.”

Describing her medium as “estrogen-flavored musical comedy,” Renfroe has established herself as the flouncy, unselfconscious jester of suburban middle age, hamming it up with bits about cellulite, bad hair, and perimenopause. Drawing from dewier divas to celebrate her own demographic, she mimics Beyoncé’s jiggly dance moves in a spoof called “All the Wrinkled Ladies,” and the “Romeo” in Renfroe’s send-up of Taylor Swift’s treacly “Love Story” is a harried hubby who turns heartthrob when he finds a sitter and drives his wife off in a minivan.

“She says the things you think but don’t say,” observes Good Morning America producer Margo Baumgart. Take Renfroe’s description of mammograms for “bigger girls”: “too much waffle mix in the waffle iron.”

Hollywood, sensing a female Jeff Foxworthy in her deadpan drawl, has beckoned, and Renfroe recently developed and starred in a sitcom pilot based on her life, featuring Ryan Stiles as her good-sport husband and the late Dixie Carter as mother-in-law. With the show still in the works and some newly released DVDs of stand-up routines, Renfroe is reaching out to a more diverse audience while keeping the faith, wrestling daily with the question of whether she is a “Christian comedian” or a “comedian who is a Christian.”

“The answer is yes,” she says, eyes gleaming. “Christian is who I am; funny is what I do. The people making the decisions don’t care if I’m Christian, Jewish, Muslim, or atheist.”

Besides, as a devout woman with a pointedly “smart mouth” who grew up in a poker-faced religious environment, she understands the peculiar conundrum of reverence within irreverence. She takes her faith, but not herself, seriously.

“The woman in the Bible that I think may reflect my sensibilities would have to be Sarah,” Renfroe says. Sarah laughed when angels told Abraham she would bear a child in old age. “I’ve always had trouble with inappropriate laughter,” says Renfroe. “Fortunately, I’m usually the one causing it these days.”

Photograph by Nicole Carpenter