Former comic/DJ begins new chapter

By Bethany Knipp

She’s a jack of all trades and the master of every one of them.

Manhattan’s Mary Renee is a standup comedian, a go-to emcee for parades and festivals, an actress, a former radio personality and DJ, and a writer.

There’s one thing all of those jobs have in common for her: They all allow her to be funny.

Mary Renee recently retired from standup comedy, her last show for that realm having been early this month.

Yet she’ll probably never stop making people laugh in Manhattan. She’s got a one-woman show coming up at the Manhattan Arts Center on Aug. 23, and her most current gig was as the iconic lips in the stage version of “The Rocky Horror Show” that showed at the MAC this weekend and the one before.

She also has served as a live emcee at K-State’s annual showing of the film version of the story, “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.”

The Rocky Horror emcee gig, she said, is one of the most fun and difficult things she has done.

“For me as an entertainer, it is the most challenging thing you can ask of an emcee is there are 500 people in costume and none of it’s pre-scripted. All of it’s spontaneously making jokes about this person’s outfit, and then they’re on stage and you’re interacting with them,” Mary Renee said.

Penny Cullers, the MAC’s art director and “The Rocky Horror Show” director, said she asked Mary Renee to be the lips and do sound because of her experience with the show at K-State.

“She’s done university Rocky Horror for a long time, and I immediately thought of her,” Cullers said.

Ironically in her past, the now experienced performer, who came from a family of entertainers and did theater herself in school, failed public speaking the first time she went to college in 1989.

“It’s weird to speak in front of people, and it’s scary,” she said. “Now it’s just like, ‘This is crazy.’ I talk in front of hundreds or thousands of people all the time. It doesn’t faze me.”


The entertainer’s full name is Mary Renee Shirk, and she’s known publicly by her stage name, Mary Renee.

The 42-year-old (or age 85 in college years, she said) has done it all.

For several years starting in 2006, she had a morning show on Q103.5 called Bradley J. and Mary Renee in the Morning.

For the last four years, she’s done standup comedy about once a week, she said, along with other projects, but as K-State alumna, she had been a Manhattan comedy staple long before that.

“My first paid standup comedy gig was opening for Tracy Morgan,” Mary Renee said. “One of the other comics asked, ‘So, you’re retiring. Why?’ and I said my first paying gig was in front of 1,000 people opening for Tracy Morgan so I kind of started like comics end up,” she said.

That was through the K-State Union Program Council in December of 2005 and she said it led to a “wild night” where Morgan, a former Saturday Night Live cast member and star of the series 30 Rock, actually bit Mary Renee.

“He’s not acting,” she said. “That’s just who he is. He is just a crazy, crazy person.”

She said her standup comedy career has been an interesting experiment because she’s a woman. “Being a woman and a standup comedian is very different than being a man and a standup comedian,” she said. “There’s more of this sort of category of female comedians, and you’ve got to fit into that.” She listed moms and lesbians as common female comedy categories.

She said it’s been one big social experiment as she dressed in different outfits and tested jokes.

“I’ve done comedy in boots and really, really bright red hair and those jokes have to be different than when I had longer black hair and dressed more like a mom. People see you and instantly have an idea. So it’s very different how they react to mom jokes or lesbian jokes.”


Mary Renee said she also retired from standup comedy because she wants to spend more time writing a funny book about her life as Manhattan “townie,” a permanent resident of a college town.

“I think at heart I’m more of a storyteller,” she said. In her college years, she was a columnist and editor-in-chief at the K-State Collegian newspaper.

Having done as much as she has, has she set her sights on being famous and going coastal? No, she said.

On top of Manhattan being a great place to raise kids (she has four), Mary Renee said she decided a long time ago — having gotten a glimpse of fame based on her experience with Morgan and as a radio personality — that she didn’t want a fame-seeking comedian’s lifestyle, with the constant traveling and competition.

“If I don’t really want to be Jimmy Fallon, because that life would suck, maybe I should reconsider what it is in life that I want to do,” she said of her thought process years ago.

And some Manhattanites would like to keep her talent in town.

“She’s funny and exciting,” Cullers said. “She’s a great asset to the community.”

And Mary Renee has the utmost affection for Manhattan.

“This is such a great place with such a good vibe, and you do have the ability to get involved and really change things,” she said.

“I got involved in comedy in 2006 and now there’s this great comedy scene built and so I get to feel like I’m really part of something that’s really changing and really making a difference and fun as hell.”

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