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Funny because it's true: Chonda Pierce mixes truth and humor

Mar. 30—ASHLAND — Christian comedian Chonda Pierce has altered her approach to comedy a little, but not much.

"I've written probably 17 books in my career, and this will be the last one," she said with a laugh. Her most recent is titled "Life Is Funny Until It's Not."

"I just feel like when this comes out, nobody will buy a ticket after this. I've told stories for 30 some years and I just thought I needed to come clean about the in-between jokes, in between the funny," the platinum-selling comedian said.

Still, she'll offer books for sale when she performs on April 4 at the Paramount Arts Center. While funny, she said the book "goes deeper" and reveals some of the tougher aspects of her life.

"It's one thing to talk about your husband's struggle with alcohol, and I wanted to be honest and say, well, I drink wine," she said. "It might be my own way of rebelling a little against the world, to be just completely honest about myself. You can't put it all out there and not learn something."

Pierce got her start working at Opryland Theme Park in Nashville, where she performed as "Grand Ole Opry" star Minnie Pearl. Pierce said she was such a bad dancer, her boss told her to "find a new talent." She promptly memorized three pages of jokes from Grinders Switch, Tennessee, the fictional hometown of Minnie Pearl, and went on to impersonate the comedian for six years.

That experience caused her to pursue comedy full time, recording "Second Row, Piano Side," drawing on her experience growing up as the daughter of a preacher in South Carolina.

She has since sold more comic albums than any other female comedian, she received five Daytime Emmy nominations and did a television special titled "This Ain't Prettyville!" shown on Country Music Television. She frequently appears on the Grand Ole Opry and other television shows, including The View.

"Whoopie asked what's the difference between our audiences and I said, 'a two-drink minimum,'" she said. "Really, there's probably no difference. My heart is a little bit different from some standup comedians. I didn't grow up hearing a bunch of 'words,' my mom was loving and lenient to people who didn't believe in Jesus."

Her success has allowed her to give back.She founded Branches Recovery Center in 2006, which offers counseling and treatment to those with depression, anxiety and addiction, regardless of their ability to pay. She also has raised millions of dollars for international relief organizations Compassion International, WorldVision, Food for the Hungry and Feed the Children.

Her show at the Paramount will include material from latest book, "Life Is Funny Until It's Not," which tells the story of a childhood filled with heartbreak, including abuse, her parents' divorce and the sudden deaths of her two sisters in the span of two years.

Even after Chonda achieved success in her comedy tours, trials and tragedy dogged her through marriage, motherhood and widowhood. "God was there with me through every sorrow and every joy," she said, adding she hopes nher stories "will inspire readers to turn to God and trust his faithfulness."

But the Emmy-nominated entertainer said don't worry; there will be plenty of laughs.

"You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll pee in your pants and go home," she said. "I always sprinkle a few little truths here and there. Comedy has always been an opening act for me and there probably will be more comedy this time around because, thank goodness, nobody died this year."

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lward@dailyindependent.com