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|Birth name||Chonda Ruth Courtney|
March 4, 1960 |
Covington, Kentucky, U.S.
Chonda Courtney Pierce (born March 4, 1960) is an Emmy-nominated and best-selling clean comedian often billed as “The Queen of Clean.” She is the RIAA’s most-awarded female comic in history. Billboard magazine dubbed her “the country comic,” as she has been making audiences laugh for decades simply by sharing stories about her southern upbringing.
A stand-up comedian, television host, author and now actress, Pierce has channeled her often challenging life experiences into positivity. In addition to ten successful albums to date, she has also authored eight books, including Laughing In The Dark (Howard Books), the inspiration for her first full-length documentary of the same name that premiered in 2015, chronicling the loss of her mother, the estrangement of her daughter, the death of her husband and her struggle with clinical depression.
Pierce has received five Daytime Emmy nominations for her work co-hosting the talk show “Aspiring Women” on the Total Living Network and her first television special, “This Ain’t Prettyville!” on CMT (Country Music Television). She is ranked amongst Pollstar.com’s top-selling live performers, and five of her DVDs have been certified Gold by the RIAA. Three of her DVDs have been certified Platinum.
Chonda Courtney Pierce was born March 4, 1960, in Covington, Kentucky. Her mother decided to go sledding when nine month's pregnant. She suited up with trash bags and duct tape to keep her clothes dry, and when she went into labor, it took her so long to get undressed that Pierce was born in the back of a cab on the way to the hospital. She was the third of four siblings—one boy and three girls. Both of her sisters died while she was a teenager: her oldest sister, Charlotta Kay, was killed in a car accident aged 20 and her younger sister, Cheralyn Ann, died of leukemia at 15 years old.
Her dad was a pastor, so her family moved every few years. However, she spent the majority of her formative years growing up in South Carolina, living in Myrtle Beach for a large part of her childhood. When she was 15, her family moved to Ashland City, Tennessee, near to Nashville. Her father left when she was 17, and with her dad in vocational ministry, a very public, embarrassing divorce followed. It was at this time that she met David Pierce, her high school sweetheart whom she later married on May 14, 1983.
While she never initially set out to become a comedian, she did find herself drawn to the stage. She played the lead role in her high school’s production of Oklahoma.
Pierce grew up in a strict, religious home. Her father's ministry was associated with the Holiness movement, where the theology revolved around long skirts, no make-up and especially no music and dancing. She protested a lot of the limitations her religion placed on her. Early on, she learned if she could make her mother laugh about the ways in which she skirted the rules, she would get into a lot less trouble.
As a conservative Christian, today, faith remains an important part of Pierce's life and she shares it in her many DVDs, CDs and books.
Education and college
Chonda began her college career at Trevecca Nazarene University in Nashville before transferring to Austin Peay State University. She was a theater arts major with dreams of becoming an actress. She also loved to sing.
Opryland Theme Park
When Pierce was a senior in college, she auditioned for a job at Opryland U.S.A., but the first year she didn’t make the final cut. The decision-makers said she was too thin and didn’t have the required dance skills. After she graduated from college, she auditioned a second time. This time, she was cast in one of the theme park’s stage shows called “Country Music U.S.A.,” a variety show that impersonated numerous iconic country music stars, most of whom she had never heard of. In order to save her from the big dance number, Joe Jerles gave her the part of Minnie Pearl.
Not having much context for Minnie Pearl at the time, Pierce watched her perform at the Grand Ole Opry and diligently studied her performances on “Hee Haw.” She quickly fell in love with making people laugh and ended up imitating Minnie Pearl for six years. In the wintertime, she often served as a substitute teacher or a desk clerk to pay the bills. Then, when the weather warmed, she went back to Opryland.
While Pierce was working at Opryland, she had her first child, a daughter born on February 13, 1984. They named her Chera Kay after Pierce's late sisters. Her son, Zachary, was born September 6, 1989.
Sarah Cannon (aka Minnie Pearl) was one of Pierce's earliest influences, teaching her how to find the humor in everyday life and how to tell stories in a way that resonated with other people. Mark Lowry also influenced her early on in her career. However, Pierce says she never studies the work of other standup comedians, choosing instead to forge her own unique path, unfazed by what her colleagues are doing.
During her time working as a Minnie Pearl impersonator, she started to realize her natural penchant for comedy. At the same time, she also began to embrace the faith of her childhood.
Pierce began integrating stories of her childhood — growing up in church and being a preacher's child — into her routines. When she filmed one of her early standup routines, titled “Second Row, Piano Side,” the tape fell into the hands of Bill Gaither. Gaither, well known in Southern Gospel circles, invited her to perform on one of his Homecoming DVDs, giving her a wide exposure. From there she started getting requests to perform at churches nationwide. It was through the Gaither circuit that she met Christian singer, songwriter and comedian Mark Lowry, with whom she developed a fast and lasting friendship.
As Pierce's standup evolved, the topics she was speaking on gradually turned toward women. In 2001, she began touring with the popular Women of Faith conferences, which became a natural fit for her humor. She was sharing her stories in front of 10,000-15,000 women every weekend. She toured with Women of Faith on and off for the next decade.
In the midst of working with Women of Faith, Pierce also began to release DVDs with stand-alone messages—each one reflecting a lesson she was learning at that time. Her DVDs have become the cornerstone of her comedy career. She currently holds the record for the most Gold and Platinum DVD certifications of any female comic. The success of her DVDs propelled the popularity of her live events, keeping her schedule full.
Biographical Documentary - Laughing In The Dark
In an effort to introduce Pierce to a broader audience, she decided to film behind-the-scenes footage of her career, giving fans a glimpse into her personal life. Rick Altizer—who was working for her in marketing at the time—headed the documentary project. He was a first-time filmmaker.
The result was a full-length documentary, Laughing In The Dark, which released to 500 select theaters nationwide for a one-night only event on October 27, 2015, via Fathom Events. Despite its limited release, fans showed up in droves, selling out theaters in multiple cities. It was the fifth-largest box office hit in the country on that night. Due to its popularity, it returned to nearly 800 theaters for an additional one-night encore showing. Over the course of two nights, the documentary was viewed by nearly 100,000 people.
On August 13, 2016, "Laughing In The Dark" received the prestigious Best Documentary Award at the Park City International Film Festival.
While filming, and captured by the project, Pierce's mother died and then her daughter and her husband estranged themselves from the family. In their last few years together, her husband had struggled with an addiction to alcohol and eventually had a massive stroke. He died in July 2014. The film also tackled Pierce's bout with clinical depression.
Laughing In The Dark was released on DVD April 5, 2016. A Bible study on the book of Job was also released in conjunction with the DVD project.
In 2007, Pierce wrote a book called Laughing In The Dark: A Comedian’s Journey Through Depression (Howard Books) that chronicles her battle with depression. She had been diagnosed as clinically depressed and was forced to cancel an entire tour. When she felt like performing again, it took a long time to regain the trust of promoters.
Pierce continues to deal with depression but knows how to better cope with it and can now recognize the signs and seek help at an earlier stage in the process.
Pierce supports a wide variety of charitable organizations. Throughout her career, she has been an advocate for World Vision, Compassion International, Food for the Hungry and Feed the Children. She is also the co-founder of Branches Recovery Center alongside her brother, Dr. Mike Courtney, her only other living relative. Branches is a faith-based counseling center, headquartered in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, that offers healing and hope for those struggling with depression, anxiety, addiction and shame regardless of their ability to pay. A staff of psychologists, counselors and physician’s assistants operate five different locations across the country.
Chonda Pierce: Having a Girls’ Nite Out! (1998)
Chonda Pierce: Live! From the Second Row, Piano Side (1998)
Chonda Pierce...on Her Soapbox (1999)
Chonda Pierce: Be Afraid… Be Very Afraid (2002)
Chonda Pierce: Four-Eyed Blonde (2004)
Chonda Pierce "Best Bits" (2006)
Chonda Pierce: Stayin’ Alive… Laughing! (2007)
Chonda Pierce: This Ain’t Prettyville (2009)
Chonda Pierce: Did I Say that Out Loud? (2010)
Chonda Pierce: I’m Kind of a Big Deal (2011)
Chonda Pierce: Girl Talk (2013)
Chonda Pierce: Laughing in the Dark (2015)
Chonda Pierce: Stand Up for Families (2016)
Second Row, Piano Side (1996)
It’s Always Darkest Before the Fun Comes Up (1998)
Chonda Pierce on Her Soapbox (1999)
I Can See Myself In His Eyeballs (2001)
Roadkill on the Highway to Heaven (2006)
Laughing in the Dark (2015)
Laughing in the Dark: A Bible Study On the Book of Job (2016)
Tales from the Ark - with David Pierce (2001)
The Three Little Pigs (2002)
Tales From the Ark (2002)
Twinkle - with David Pierce (2002)
Tales from the Manger - with David Pierce (2004)
Two Sides To Every Story (2009)
Listen and Laugh (2011)
Yes...& Amen (1999)
Closer To You (1993)
Follow Me (1995)
Enjoying the Journey (1996)
Ms. Chang in A Valentine’s Date (2011)
Chloe Cloverland in The Dog Who Saved Halloween (2011)
Noel in 12 Wishes of Christmas (2011)
Gretchen in Christmas Land (2015)
Margaret (voice) in Come to the Garden (2016)
Notable TV Appearances
“Life Today with James Robison” (2009)
“The Wanda Sykes Show” (2010)
“The View” (2010)
“How the States Got Their Shapes” (2012)
“Entertainment Tonight” (2015)
Winner of Gospel Music Association's Grady Nutt Humor Award (2000 and 2001)