Christian comedian Chonda Pierce doesn't need to curse or go the raunchy route to sell out shows. Armed with a Southern accent, she gets laughs telling stories about life as a middle-aged woman of faith.
Pierce, who will perform tonight at Bell Shoals Baptist Church, jokes about everything from Spanx to the joys of being an empty nester. Christians can cut up too, she says.
"The only difference between the church crowd and a club crowd is the two-drink minimum," Pierce told the Times while on the road this week. "I have the added challenge of performing to a sober crowd."
Pierce, a Tennesseean, said she uses comedy to get women laughing about issues they're afraid to discuss. She wants working mothers to know it's okay to get frustrated. She wants women to stop putting themselves down and see themselves in God's image.
"These days you're suppose to be a size 2, have four kids and be a CEO all at the same time, and that's ridiculous," she said. "Women need to be able to let it out and laugh, and I'm blessed to be able to help them do that."
Pierce got her start as a stage performer at Opryland USA in Nashville. Her first stand-up routine was a tribute to her upbringing as a preacher's daughter. Through the years, she included bits about her children, who are now grown, and her husband.
Keeping it clean meant telling funny day-to-day tales of family and chaos, she said.
Today, Pierce continues to get personal on stage, opening up about menopause and her battle with depression. In 2004, doctors diagnosed her as clinically depressed and hospitalized her. Laughter helped her heal.
"At the time, there was nothing funny about it," she said. "But after a while, you start to see the lighter side of things. Some funny things happen when you're depressed."
In 2006, Pierce founded Branches Recovery Center in Tennessee to help people of faith suffering from depression and to reduce the stigma associated with antidepressants.
"If somebody tells you that you shouldn't take medication, tell them to take their glasses off and drive home," she jokes in her act.
Pierce, who has written six books and appeared on television programs such as The View and Huckabee, said she pokes fun to make a point. She laughs at the things that puzzle her. She draws inspiration from comedians such as Billy Crystal and Carol Burnett.
Tonight's crowd can expect new material, she said.
"I'm preparing to film my new DVD special, and I need a test audience," Pierce said. "There's nothing like on-the-job-training."
An Evening with Chonda Pierce, sponsored by the Joy FM, 91.5 in Tampa, is part of Live, Laugh, Love, a women's conference at Bell Shoals. Pierce will also appear in Auburndale on Saturday and Sarasota on Sunday.
Sarah Whitman can be reached at (813) 661-2439 or firstname.lastname@example.org.