October is one of comedian Anita Renfroe’s favorite months.
It gives her a chance to perform at events such as Wednesday’s We Think Pink Banquet, which raises money and awareness for breast cancer research.
“My grandmother died when I was 18 of breast cancer,” she said.
That was 32 years ago. Her grandmother was 80 years old, and it was a different era in medicine.
Renfroe, the guest speaker at this year’s banquet, said she and her mother moved in with her grandmother when she was 2. She spent most of her childhood with her grandmother while her mother, a single parent, worked.
“My grandmother was the closest person to me,” she said.
Eventually her mother remarried, and they moved away, but that special bond with her grandmother never waned.
Screenings for breast cancer weren’t as common in those days, and her grandmother lived with lumps in her breasts for a year before she told anyone about them. She didn’t want to worry anyone, Renfroe said. By the time cancer was detected, it was too advanced.
Performing for breast cancer events gives Renfroe a chance to honor her grandmother’s memory.
“It’s my way of saying how much I love her,” she said.
Renfroe’s performance will be anything but melancholy, though. She believes laughter truly is the best medicine. Anything you can laugh at, you can survive, she said. Laughter raises endorphins, which make a person feel good, and reduces pain – “which is why I think my shows should count as medical expenses,” she said.
Growing up in a tiny town in central Texas, Renfroe never considered comedy as a career option. Most of the girls she knew were becoming teachers and nurses, but all she really wanted was to have a family. And she did. She was a stay-at-home mother – she has three children with her husband, John.
“When I got to be 35, I guess I cared less and less what people thought of me, so I let the party out of my head,” she said.
In 2006, at her children’s urging, she recorded the William Tell Momisms – everything a mother would say in a 24-hour period set to the William Tell Overture. She posted it on YouTube, and in a few short months, it went viral.
It started as a spoken-word piece she had written the week before, but she started memorizing it and realized that halfway through the piece, she was repeating herself, so she thought it would work best set to music.
“The William Tell Overture was the second-fastest song I knew,” she said. “(It) has that ‘charge’ feel to it.”
She said it didn’t exactly catapult her to stardom – “I don’t get better tables at Applebee’s,” she said, but acknowledged it did elevate her “O’Her” factor.
The O’Her factor describes a conversation she imagines in which one person invites another to see Renfroe’s show.
“Who’s Anita Renfroe?”
“The mom who did that video.”
She calls it her Free Bird. Lynyrd Skynyrd can’t leave the stage without performing Free Bird, and now she will have to sing William Tell Momisms for the rest of her life. She doesn’t mind a bit.
“As a comic, I think that’s probably one of the greatest compliments, is that somebody knows you from a piece of comedy that you’ve created,” she said.