Chonda Pierce is center stage, and the 14,000 Women of Faith conferees at Chicago's United Center are loving it. This slender, blonde-haired dynamo with the Carolina twang starts singing her take-off on the Enjoli perfume jingle: "I can bring home the bacon, fry it up in a panbut why should I bother when Domino's can? I'm a womanw-o-m-a-n." We roar. As her sassy, good-natured stand-up routine unfoldswith perfect comic timingwe laugh so hard tears spring to our eyes. Then Chonda segues to the tragedies that have shaped her perspective on life, and tears of a different sort flow.
It's astonishing anyone with a story like Chonda's would feel like laughing, much less help others laugh. Yet this spunky Christian comedian is equally at home performing at corporate events, the Grand Ole Opry, or Women of Faith conferences. Chonda's appeared on the Nashville Network's Music City Tonight and the 700 Club, and in crusades with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Team; she's toured with fellow comedian Mark Lowry on the Comic Belief Tour and is currently touring to promote her latest video/CD, Having a Girls' Nite Out (Myrrh), which captures her off-beat take on contemporary life. Chonda readily admits she's "living proof" that God works all things out for good.
"There's definitely healing in laughter, but I didn't think that up," says Chonda, whose latest book, It's Always Darkest Before the Fun Comes Up (Zondervan), was just released. "It says so in the Bible!"
Chonda would know. She grew up a Southern preacher's kid with elder siblings Michael, Charlotta, and baby sister Cheralyn. Being part of the ministry gave Chonda an insider's peek at church members' struggles. But her own family's secrets were kept under wraps as her father battled manic-depression and her mother, Virginia, diligently maintained the semblance of a normal, happy family. Then tragedy struck.
When Chonda was sixteen, twenty-year-old Charlotta was killed instantly in a head-on collision on a rainy highway. Soon after, Chonda's father abandoned the ministry, packed his suitcase, and left his wife and kids. Not long after Chonda, her mom, and fifteen-year-old Cheralyn attempted to put their lives back together (Michael had married and moved away), Cheralyn was diagnosed with leukemia and died a month later. In a matter of twenty-two months, a family of six was reduced to a family of two.
It was then Chonda's comedic streakevident since childhoodtook an unhealthy turn. Humor became her mask, her way of escaping pain and the God she'd given her life to as a child. During her final year of college, Chonda landed a job at Nashville's musical theme park, Opryland , USA, impersonating country great Minnie Pearl, honing her singing and comedic talents. But it wasn't until after she'd married her childhood sweetheart, David, now a college English professor, and gave birth to their firstborn, daughter Chera Kay, that Chonda finally made peace with God.