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Chuck Knipp

Chuck Knipp is an American and Canadian (dual citizenship) drag comedian best known for his controversial alter egos, the black-face character "Shirley Q. Liquor" and "Betty Butterfield." His other characters are also what he calls "absurdist" - "Dr. Williams," a Valium-over-prescribing Texas family doctor, and "Narth Dakota Marge" who tends to run over "fat babies" in her Cadillac.

Knipp is a citizen of both the United States and Canada, active in the ACLU and Libertarian Party and was nominated as their candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives in 2000. (Texas, District 2). He is a commissioned notary public at large for the State of Kentucky.

Knipp is a 1979 graduate of West Orange-Stark High School in Orange, Texas, where he served as drum major of the high school band.

Summary of characters

Shirley Q. Liquor

Knipp's best known character is Shirley Q. Liquor, a cariacature of a black southern woman. Knipp performs the character -- an Ebonics speaking, welfare-collecting mother of 19 children -- in blackface. Knipp speaks in a dialect when he is performing as Shirley. Her conversations are often riddled with malapropisms, as when she suggests that her cat needs to get "sprayed", or when she goes shopping at "K-Mark" or 'Wal-Mark". The character attends Mount Holy Olive Second Baptist Zion Church of God in Christ of Resurrected Latter-Day Saints AME Hallelujah Jesus (a reference to historically African-American churches). She also references the Macademia Jubilation Congregation and the Reese's Peanut Butter Choir. On a few skits, she refers to herself as The Reverend Doctor Shirley Q. Liquor.

Liquor's best friend is the seven-foot-tall, 400 pound Watutsi Jenkins, who struggles with mental illness and needs to get "her head shocked" on a regular basis. Jenkins and Liquor are fans of Barry White as well as soap operas, which they refer to as "stories". Both are also fans of Schlitz and Colt 45 malt liquor and menthol cigarettes. Jenkins usually appears in "Happy Hour" skits which mimic a radio broadcast. In addition to live performances, Knipp has produced several spoken-word CDs. Knipp's "Daily Ignunce" morning radio routine, usually 90 seconds long, is syndicated and heard on radio stations throughout the United States. Most recently, the character of Shirley Q. Liquor made an appearance in cartoon form on the pilot episode of Laugh Out, the first interactive, gay-themed comedy show. Shirley often addresses people by saying, "How you durrin'?"

Knipp's routines were consistently among the top downloaded comedy category mp3 files on mp3.com prior to its shutdown in 2003.

Shirley Q Liquor's Supporting Characters & Places

Watusi Jenkins - Shirley Q's best friend and frequent patient of the local insane asylum. She is 7 feet tall and weighs 400 pounds. Watusi is commonly involved in Shirley's various trists. Watusi also has a known mental illnes for which she requires electro-shock therapy. She has been known to drive down the freeway in the wrong direction. She is also acting Deacon at the Mount Holy Olive 2nd Baptist Zion Church of God in Christ.

Mount Holy Olive Second Baptist Zion Church of God in Christ - The church which is frequented by Shirley, Watusi, Mrs. Dupree and the rest of her friends and family. The church is located at 3rd and John.

Shirley's Children - Cheeto, Limbo, Cracker-Jack, Orangejello, K Martina, Salmonella, Velveeta, Genetalea, Catfish, Leroy, Coco-Puffs, Pluto, Penelope, Jack Daniels, Buford and Lemonjello. Aloe Vera, Maybelline, Gingivitis, Brillecreme, Cruex, Niquille, Gangsta Q, Daffodil, Ryan Bacardi, Captain Morgan, DeMaktorious, Delorian, Gynoloptrum, Fellatia, Chlamydia, Champagne. Nova-Scotia, Bubalicious, Cuponetta, Gnorrhia, Ice, Bucket, Batuglia, Visine, Margarita, Perklator, Terminator, Velcro, Taekwondo, Vericelli, Chromosona, Stetri and shithead.

Ebonics Airways - Airline in which Shirley once served as Head Flight Attendant.

Mrs. Jones - Shirley's overweight next door neighbor that has been stuck in her Cadillac on more than one occasion.

Shenelda Jenkins - Shirley's overweight neighbor that lives upstairs from Shirley. It was said that Shenelda weighs 500 or more pounds. Shenelda also works at the local Middle School cafeteria, serving items such as Mustard Greens and Chitlins.

Reverend Viceroy Champlain - Pastor of Mount Holy Olive 2nd Baptist Zion Church of God in Christ.

Revered Clee Otis Jefferson - Pastor of Macademia Jubilation Congregation - also Captain of the McDonnell Boeing MD40-40 aircraft for Ebonics Airways.

Deacon Earl Clovits - Deacon to Macademia Jubilation Congregation - also serves as First Officer on board the McDonnell Boeing MD-4040 aircraft for Ebonics Airways.

Mrs. Dupree - Member of Mount Holy Olive 2nd Baptist Zion Church of God in Christ who frequently stands up and shouts. She is also known for "seeing how many loud colors can go together" and Shirley often has to tell her to "sit 'yo butt down".

Fenelope and Arythmia - Twins who like to celebrate their birthdays by visiting the local McDonalds for Happy Meals.

Dr. Livingston - Snout nose, beady eyed man with "the biggest nostrils I've ever seen". Shirley met Mr. Livingston in the chat rooms on AOL. Dr. Livingston lied to Shirley about what he looked like, but in person he admits that he is not the most attractive man but insists women still likes him because of his huge wallet.

Shirley's Various Trists

Shirley and Watusi once drove up and down the main street of their town in a Yellow Toyota that Watusi rented without a driver's license. The adventure ended when Watusi didn't know how to downshift the car through a yellow light and ran through the side of a Dairy Queen of Rodney Parnam Road.

Shirley is well known for filling in for the pastor at Mount Holy Olive 2nd Baptist Zion Church of God. She fills in primarily when things such as the reverend going on trial or when the reverend visits the gambling boat and passes out. Shirley always speaks what is on her mind. In one instance, there was a "mystery perfume". Shirley asked that all women "should come to church smelling right". Shirley also has accused that "the offering plate has came back with less than it started with", she then claimed "you know that's not right, that breaks five or six commandments right there".

Shirley also has many skits which involve one or a few of her children. In one skit, Demaktorious, who is 14 years old, comes home with a BMW. When asked where he got the car, he replied "down there". In another skit, Shirley's older daughter Eldorado, allows a woman claiming to be Shirley's sister to "crash" on Shirley's bed, later to find out Shirley had never seen this woman before in her life. Two of Shirley's daughters are also known to get into "drive by cursing matches at 3 o'clock in the morning" with women who claim they are with the Mount Olive 2nd Baptist Zion Church of Section 8 authority.

Shirley has also been known to frequent the chat rooms on America Online, referring to them as "chat mens".

On one occasion, Shirley mentions that she has nineteen children and only one bathroom. To avoid conflict, she went to the local PigglyWiggly and took their take a number machine. Her oldest son would then get his Mr. Microphone and call out things such as "Shirley, Shirley Q, seating for one...".

Betty Butterfield

Knipp spun off a new character in 1998: "Betty Butterfield" a large, drug addled, church hopping southern white woman. Butterfield's character was first referenced in a Shirley Q Liquor skit entitled "Telemarketing" in which Liquor mimics the sound of a white woman answering the phone: "mm'hellooo?"

This greeting would become the trademark of Butterfield's routine. Unlike most Liquor skits, which are audio, virtually all of the Butterfield skits are in the Quicktime video format. Betty Butterfield is most likely to be found discussing her never-ending search for a church she can fit into. She has visited Mormon, Catholic, Pentcostal, Episcopal, Buddhist, and even Scientology churches, none of which were to her liking. Chain smoking throughout, Betty is likely to burst into tears at any moment as she discusses her church escapades, need for better prescriptions, and her abusive double-amputee, Vietnam veteran husband, Jerry. Knipp frequently performs his live shows first as Betty Butterfield, then as Shirley Q. Liquor.

Controversy

Protests & Cancellations

  • In 2002, a group of five protesters picketed a second sold-out New York City performance at the View, a gay club in the Chelsea neighborhood. Later that year, an appearance in Boston which was scheduled for October 18 was cancelled by order of Jerome Smith, acting as agent for Boston mayor Tom Menino. "I understand that the protesters thought that I might be going to do some sort of horrible offensive racist minstrel show,” Knipp said to the Daily Free Press, a publication of Boston University. “I just wish they’d seen it first and made up their own minds.”
  • In 2004, Knipp was removed from the Divas Rock Atlanta concert following protests from gay non-profit groups. “I know the purpose of the event is to try to bring the community together," said Linda Ellis, executive director of the Atlanta Lesbian Cancer Initiative, "but there is nothing about [Knipp’s] performance that brings people together." The event lost $60,000 in revenue Knipp had offered to donate to "In The Life Atlanta," a gay black fundraiser.
  • In 2005, another New York protest occurred when an appearance by the Shirley Q. Liquor character was slated to take place during celebrations for the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. This time, the protest would prove to be successful; although paid in advance, Knipp did not do the show.
  • In 2006, Knipp was banned from Eastern Kentucky University.
  • In 2007, Jasmyne Cannick, an African-American and gay rights activist (who Knipp has publicly attacked several times) spearheaded a campaign against Liquor's act, encouraging nightclub owners to cancel Knipp's act. Cannick's movement brought nationwide attention to a previously unknown underground act, and Knipp's act was canceled in West Hollywood, Hartford, Conn.
  • In February 2008, Knipp's home page featured Cannick's face superimposed on the body of African-American porn actress Norma Stitz. Knipp alleges that in response Cannick doctored the Wikipedia picture (above right) of Shirley Q., making the make-up as black as possible to disingenuously support her claims of "blackface." (It should be noted that the picture in the Wikipedia Commons was a snapshot taken at a concert in Louisville, Ky.) Knipp mentioned in a story with the Netherlands magazine, "Revu," that he was ready to retire Shirley Q. Liquor in 2006 and devote himself more to his nursing career, but because of the constant attention of the press, "the money and offers kept rolling in" and he is willing to perform as the character "until someone else is ready to do it."
  • In April 2008, "Self Proclaimed Popular Internet blogger", Jasmyne Cannick tried to have Shirley Q liquor's Show at Exxxotica Miami Canceled by setting up a group email on the failed banshirleyqliquor.com website emailing all of the government officials of Miami Beach as well as Exxxotica Miami Staff. Over half of the emails sent out to the many people were actually support for the Shirley Q Liquor show and people laughing about someone who is preaching about telling everyone about a show that they should not see and getting it cancelled, while they are out preaching on freedom of speech at the same time.

Criticism

Since the 2007 boycott, there have been a number of articles in media that have taken issue with Knipp and the character.

  • To Knipp's declaration that Liquor "was created in celebration of, not to downgrade, black women, Cannick countered in her blog: "...it is not possible for Charles Knipp, a white man, to help heal years of mistreatment and racism at the hands of his people by putting on a wig, speaking Ebonics, and in blackface...There is nothing remotely uplifting about Knipp’s act and I wish people would stop defending his character with the tired argument that he’s trying to heal the nation. The only thing Knipp is trying to heal is the hole in his pocket by filling it with all of the money he makes off of degrading Black people.
  • BET.com writer Jennifer Daniels wrote: "I have [no] intention of slinking off into some corner while some pseudo-bigot paints his face black and gets rich off spewing hurtful and embarrassing stereotypes about Black women...Knipp is free to celebrate Black women his way. That is certainly his right. But I have a right to publicly critique said celebration and encourage others not to participate. Daniels offered Knipp an interview with BET to set the record straight about his Shirley Q. Liquor character, but Knipp declined to participate.
  • Shortly after the cancellation of Knipp's Hartford, Conn. show, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Helen Ubiñas of the Hartford Courant wrote of Liquor apologists: "Racist? Sexist? Homophobic? Absolutely not, just a little harmless satire.

Defense

  • Entertainer RuPaul has long been a fan and supporter of Knipp. "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. In her blog, RuPaul adds: "I am very sensitive to issues of racism, sexism and discrimination. I am a gay black man, who started my career as a professional transvestite in Georgia, twenty years ago.
  • Boston Phoenix journalist Dan Kennedy awarded Boston government official Jerome Smith the dubious Muzzle Award for his part in leading to the cancellation of Knipp's scheduled 2004 Boston performance.
  • Writer David Holthouse, anti-racist investigator for the "Intelligence Report" from the Southern Poverty Law Center, stated "Knipp is not a white supremacist" and that Knipp "invites the audience to sympathise with a single Black mother." An in-depth article was printed in the June, 2007 edition of Rolling Stone Magazine.
  • The New York Blade criticized GLAAD for condemning Knipp, stating, "We commend GLAAD for condemning racism, but we question whether the organization’s goal is best attained by joining this particular fight.
  • John Strausbaugh, author of Blackface, Whiteface, Insult & Imitation in American Popular Culture, explores Liquor's act in his book.

Knipp concedes that his performances as Shirley can make people uncomfortable. Knipp has said his show is about "lancing the boil of institutionized racism" and that "treating African Americans as if they have a disease is the real racism" because black people are "more than intelligent enough to discern the nuance" of his performances. He's also said that "many people thought that Harriet Beecher-Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin was and still is perceived as racist, despite being the probable artistic genesis of emotional support against slavery in the 19th century."

References

External links

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