Comedian Renfroe will provide entertainment for metro-east cancer fundraiser

News-DemocratMay 1, 2013 

Anita Renfroe believes joy and sorrow can co-exist in people's lives.

That's why she has no reservations about performing a comedy show to raise money for someone with cancer.

"If you've ever been at a funeral and busted out laughing at a memory, you know what I mean," said Renfroe, 51, a nationally known stand-up comedian.

She was speaking from her home in Atlanta before hitting the road for a two-week "Mother of All Comedy Tour" with Henry Cho.

Renfroe has agreed to swing by O'Fallon between stops to perform at a benefit for local resident Kim Brennan on Wednesday. Tickets are on sale.

"It's such a pleasure to serve people in need with comedy in a situation that is in no way comedic," said Renfroe, who is best known for writing and performing "The Mom Song," a YouTube sensation.

Brennan, 40, is a mother of three who was diagnosed with Stage 4 pancreatic cancer in early December. She's undergoing aggressive chemotherapy at Siteman Cancer Center in St. Louis.

The comedy show was organized by parents at St. Clare Catholic School, where Brennan's three children, Zachary, Madison and Ashley, attend school. The same group recently raised thousands at a trivia night.

"It's been overwhelming," Brennan said. "So many people have come forward to help."

Brennan is on leave from her job as an accountant with Diel and Forguson. Her husband, Scott, is an estimator and project manager at Riteway Excavating in Lebanon.

They have health insurance, but it doesn't pay all illness-related expenses. They were reluctant to accept outside help at first.

"I've always been a very independent person," Brennan said. "I've been working since I was 16. I always have taken care of my bills."

Soon after Brennan's diagnosis, St. Clare parents arranged for meals to be delivered to her home. Bill Blair, owner of NuKastle Cleaning in Belleville, donated house-cleaning services.

Blair belongs to an national organization called Cleaning for a Reason, which cleans houses for women undergoing cancer treatment.

It was Blair's idea to contact Renfroe and ask for her help. He had seen her perform at a Cleaning for a Reason conference in Dallas last August.

"She was very funny," said Blair, 44, who dabbled in stand-up 25 years ago in Cincinnati. "And I knew she had some empathy for women in this situation."

The comedy show will begin at 6 p.m. Wednesday at O'Fallon Knights of Columbus Hall. Tickets cost $25 and $35. Food will be available for purchase.

Renfroe is a mother of three and grandmother of three who became a comedian "by accident" in her mid-30s. She had been weaving in humor while speaking at churches and faith-based women's conferences.

Renfroe's act is "clean," but she tries to avoid the label "Christian comedian."

"When you call yourself a 'Christian comedian,' people think there's going to be an offering and altar call, and that's not how it is," she said.

"A Christian is who I am, but funny is what I do. It's not like I make a conscious decision not to cuss."

Renfroe has toured the country, appeared on "Good Morning America," performed at the "Grand Ole Opry" and produced CDs and DVDs.

She has written several books, with titles such as "Don't Say I Didn't Warn You: Kids, Carbs and the Coming Hormonal Apocalypse" and "If You Can't Lose It, Decorate It: And Other Hip Alternatives to Dealing with Reality."

Renfroe's website describes performances as a "unique brand of estrogen-flavored musical comedy and blend of sass, edge and slightly offbeat takes on All Things Female." It adds that she "tells it like it is."

"Some would say she just says what everyone else is thinking but won't say out loud."

Renfroe travels with her husband, John, a former minister for 20 years. Now he's her road manager.

Brennan grew up in Clinton County, graduated from Mater Dei High School in 1990 and earned an associate's degree at Belleville Area College and a bachelor's in accounting at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville.

She has worked at Diel and Forguson for 13 years, specializing in tax and employee benefits. The cancer diagnosis was a shock.

"I was very tired, but I just thought I was really worn down," Brennan said. "I worked full time, and I had three children (ages 10, 8 and 5), and I was always running around between school, work and extracurricular activities."

Brennan finally went to a doctor, who detected problems with her liver test. A CT scan showed a tumor in her pancreas and lesions in her liver.

St. Clare's help with meals, cleaning and expenses during chemotherapy have helped the family cope during a very difficult time.

"There are so many nice people out there," Brennan said. "Everyone's so busy, but they've taken time out to help."

Renfroe is looking forward to meeting Brennan. Her father died of pancreatic cancer, and her grandmother had breast cancer.

The comedian plans to get the crowd laughing so they can forget about their problems, at least for one night.

"I don't think (Brennan's situation) is what defines the night," she said. "I think the fact that we're all united to support this woman is what defines the night."

At a glance

What: Anita Renfroe comedy fundraiser

Where: O'Fallon Knights of Columbus Hall, 402 E. Highway 50 in O'Fallon

When: 6 p.m. Wednesday

Admission: $25 per person ($35 for VIP seating and a "meet and greet" with Renfroe)

Food: The hall will sell drinks and food, including a chicken-fried-steak meal with mashed potatoes, green beans and fried okra

Information: Email Mary Jo Guinn at mjguinn@sbcglobal.net or contact Bill Blair at 618-670-3900 or wtblair2@gmail.com or visit www.facebook.com/events/119648018226577

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