By Peter Cronin
Chonda Pierce's Comedic Calling
There's an old saying that goes something like this: "Man makes plans; God laughs." But for singer/songwriter/comedian Chonda Pierce, that axiom might be modified slightly to read: "Woman makes jokes; God laughs." With her recently aired CMT comedy special, This Ain't Prettyville, Pierce's southern-fried-and-sanctified brand of "clean" comedy has clearly reached a critical mass, winning legions of fans who consistently propel her DVD releases into the Gold and Platinum stratosphere, drawing sellout crowds across a wide swath of middle America, and, most recently, garnering the performer three Emmy nominations.
Pierce, a minister's daughter who grew up in North Carolina and Tennessee, has accrued a lifetime's worth of religious experiences, and it all comes pouring out - in her own hilarious-and-homespun monologues, jokes, and songs - every time she steps onstage.
"With my background as a preacher's daughter and my southern roots, of course it's going to come out in my comedy," she says. "When I started out, I wasn't making righteous statements like 'I shall be clean.' I didn't know a dirty word."
Pierce, a SESAC affiliate since 2004, certainly is known as a family-friendly act, but some of Pierce's best material is culled from her own life struggles, including a very serious bout with depression. And while some of her subject matter does present a challenge to a certain segment of her audience, they're usually too busy laughing to object.
"I do have friends who don't think I'm Christian enough," she says. "You see them laughing with their hands over their mouths and saying 'I can't believe we're laughing at this.' That's my favorite thing to do. A new comic could not get up in front of my audience and say what I say. But I've earned some trust, and I don't take that lightly."
A frequent guest on the Grand Ole Opry and a regular on The Dennis Miller Show and on XM/Sirius Radio's comedy channels, Pierce maintains a rigorous schedule of personal appearances and somehow manages to squeeze in a whole lot more. She's authored six books, hosted both the Inspirational Country Music Awards and the Christian Music Hall of Fame, and her freewheeling, quick-witted turns as co-host on Total Living Network's Aspiring Women recently earned her those Emmy nominations.
"I am so blessed because I get paid for just being me," she says. "The form of communication known as comedy is a powerful tool."