Comedian Chonda Pierce can bring the funny, but she can also bring the tears, as viewers will find out during her latest Fathom Event presentation Enough. The follow-up to her successful 2014 event Laughing In the Dark is a documentary of personal interviews, stand up comedy and reflections featuring a message of knowing your value as a child of God. The film premiered on Tuesday, April 25, but an encore presentation has been announced for Tuesday, May 9.
Pierce, who has been noted as the best-selling female comedian of all time by the Recording Industry of America (RIAA), recently spoke to Reel Faith’s DeWayne Hamby about the new film, adjusting to her new identity as a widow, and performing during the presidential inauguration festivities in Washington, DC.
Tell us about the new film Enough and the message behind it.
It’s documentary style and it took about a year to get it done, interview style and out on the road. It’s very much a follow-up movie to Laughing in the Dark, which came out a couple years ago. That movie was so sad (laughs). When the story of your life hits the big screen, I remember sitting in the movie theater with my son, I just leaned over halfway to him and went, “My life stinks!” Then, they released it with an accompanying Bible study on the book of Job! What does that tell you about your life story? You know (laughs). It’s kind of fun to be able to do a movie that’s a little more lighthearted. At the same time, there is a strong message that could have only been captured when you go through, walk through the road of grief and finding out who you are all over again, after finding out your husband of 31 years passes away and you’re trying to redefine your life. A message emerged in the midst of my comedy and working that we thought was crucial enough and pertinent enough to share it with a massive audience so that’s how Enough came about. It really came about in my own journey of trying to figure out who I am all over again and really being honest about where I messed up, where I got sidetracked in life, and when I got my eyes off of who I am in Christ, it’s disastrous. The only reason you would reveal yourself in such an intimate way if you could just save a few women out there from stepping in the same pothole you did. That’s what the movie is about, to let some women know who they are in the Lord and how do you face that journey and how do you find out who you are in Jesus? Then you move on.
Your story has gotten so much deeper since you started out. Most people were introduced to you on an early Gaither video.
Oh yes, that stupid hat. I wore a hat. My hair frizzed one day. I look at those things and my approach to comedy was so much more timid. I think I was still working out in my head if it’s okay to do this (laughs). Are we going to go to hell over this or not? (laughs).
Would you have imagined how much of your life you would share with people through this journey?
I would never have imagined being as successful. I guess I either set the bar too low. I so badly someday wanted to be on the Grand Ole Opry. Just one time I wanted to perform on the Grand Ole Opry. Well, I’ve done that about 30 times. I just wanted to meet Bill Gaither. ‘If I could just meet Bill Gaither.’ Good Lord, now I have his cell phone and I call him up. I think I set the bar low, so I feel extremely elated and surprised at the success. I have almost 650,000 followers on Facebook and I go, ‘Where did these people come from?’ It just blows my mind. Of course, I grew in a generation that didn’t have Facebook. When I first started out, we didn’t even have a cell phone to keep in touch with your family. I didn’t even know the word social media until last year. It’s just all a new world and my success is nothing but the grace of God. Who would take a little preacher’s kid from the south and elevate them in a way that people could learn from her story? That would be the only reason you would tell some of the saddest and most difficult parts of your life if people could learn from it and grow. ‘Don’t do what I did’ or ‘Look what God can get you through.’ If there ever is a verse that goes perfectly with my life is that ‘God will work all things together for good,’ even great tragedy. If you place God as the forefront of all of it, you’ll be amazed at what He will do with the story of your life.
Have you set new bars?
Yes! Retiring! (laughs). Have a date someday, that would be really good. (Laughs) Someone else to buy my supper besides me! Catch a fish. That’s my goal this week, to catch a good fish.
I’ve read in materials that you’re on the most successful comedians across the board, not even in the Christian category.
Listen, this will keep you humble. I got an award as the most awarded female comic in history. When they had a big hoopla for me and told all about it, that I have more gold and platinum than any female comic, I even told the man, ‘Really? Because there’s Joan Rivers and Whoopi Goldberg.’ He said, ‘I know. We did the math twice, because we ain’t never heard of you.’ (laughs) That’ll keep you humble right there. That just absolutely cracked me up. I have told a lot of my story in public. A lot of my story and testimony happened right in front them. You know, I’ve been a comic for 25 years. I started out with a mother, I started out with a husband. But you know tragedy just comes along for anybody, unexpected moments. All that to say, as I walked this journey out and decided to be open about some things I’m going through, there’s a whole I haven’t shared that really isn’t nobody’s business. I tell people, I am a girl who loves Jesus. I happen to make a living as a comedian, but I love Jesus even when I’m at home and I’m cleaning the house and I’m nobody in my little town.People are so used to me here. I grew up in this little town in Tennessee and they think ‘Yeah, that’s just Chonda.’ I think they’re surprised when people show up to do an interview, like you’re doing and go, ‘Oh, you’re going to interview Chonda? What has she done?’ (laughs). ‘What has she done now?’ You have to keep things in perspective. I’ve seen a lot. When you’re a comic and you don’t have hit songs on the radio but you hang out with everybody that does, you see a lot behind the scenes. I’ve seen where people have gotten a little too excited about their successes and probably success scares me more than failure, because I’ve seen how the devil can use anything to get you sidetracked, even your successes. So I’m always cautioning my little friends along the way, ‘Be very careful what you ask for because the devil would like to take it and run with it. Stay humble and stay close to the Lord.’
There’s an old Sinead O’Connor album title that said Success Has Made a Failure of Our Home.
Woah! That’s probably one of the saddest parts of my life. Sometimes I think I did get off track. Sometimes I think I was gone too much. That I have to lighten up on myself, as my counselor would tell me. I had no idea my husband would pass away. I always go, ‘If I would have known I was only going to have him for 31, I would not have been on the road so much.’ My therapist would always go, ‘Would you please stop?’
You seem just as funny offstage as on and that’s not always the case for comedians.
What you see is what you get with me, but at the same time, let’s be honest. This call came three cups of coffee later (laughs). If you had called me at 6 am, this would be an entirely different conversation. You could catch me on a bad day, I’m just saying.
We’ve talked about the message of Enough but maybe talk about what you want people who leave the theaters to leave with.
Let me tell it to you this way. I got invited to be one of the entertainers during the inauguration festivities. Well, I didn’t know that was going to just blow up my Facebook of people having a terrible opinion of it all. I just went because I’m a patriot. I would have gone if Hillary Clinton had invited me. It’s the epitome of our democracy. All that to say, in the midst of those festivities and being honored to be a part of any of it and supporting the country, I left my hotel room the next morning, after it was all over and walked into a sea of women protesting or marching. From the vitriol that came out of their mouths to the slogans on their posters, it was pretty nasty, to tell you the truth. It also affected me in a way, it showed me and it taught me that women are still at a place in this world where we are trying to identify ourselves, that we are trying to connect with something, that we are still not confident in who we are deep down inside. What are we attaching ourselves to? All that being said, it was a great life message for me to watch that happen. It was a great affirmation, because in the midst of that is when I was finishing up this movie about really finding out who I am, now that I’m not a wife anymore, my children are adults, I spend a lot of alone time in a world that I thought was going to be my husband and I living happily ever after. We get to a certain age and we are trying to define ourselves. We are trying to retire. I have a girlfriend who retired from being a schoolteacher and she has a hard time with it some days. She misses the students, she misses it.
We are constantly in a world where we are trying to redefine who we are, trying to find identities. What I’ve had to learn along the way is my identity has to be found in Christ, because everything outside of that is going to fluctuate in your life. But when you really know who your Daddy is, you can survive it. I thought that was a strong enough message that we could put that in a movie theater and try to reach some of those women who want to march. Nothing’s wrong with that, it’s a free country. But some of those women who are just trying to find identity. I want them to know that they are enough. The culture is going to tell you that you have to be a certain size, the culture of the entertainment world is going to tell you you have to have a certain level of success. None of that really matters. When it’s all peeled away and you crawl in bed late at night all by yourself, who is it that you identify with? I have found the answer for me and I think it’s an answer for a lot of women, that my identity is found in Christ and I’m a princess to the King of Kings and it’s a message worth sharing.
Enough is an encouragement for women and you share your struggles. Who did you turn to for encouragement for your own life?
First of all, I’m so blessed. I have a brother who’s brilliant and he just happens to be a shrink so that helps! (laughs) But I’m also blessed to have a group of girlfriends that are good support, good, godly women in my life that help me laugh and crack up. We lost one, one of our girlfriends passed away, but I’ve had the same little pack of girlfriends for years. They knew me before I was ever the Chonda Pierce that you know. So that’s a true blessing in my life. I’ve got great neighbors. I live in a small community in Tennessee where everybody knows everybody and everybody looks out for everybody. Outside of that, even then, those people can’t be around 24/7, I still go home by myself and shut the door. So your inspiration has to come from within. Your inspiration has to come from some solid part of you that your surroundings have nothing to do with it. My greatest inspiration is just hanging onto the Word of God and believing it as fact. My feelings will lie to me, and I believe the Bible in the blueprint that it is for our lives.
For more information on Enough or to buy tickets, visit ChondaMovie.com.