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Laughing in the Dark

Tony Peterson

Chonda mug_images_uploads_gallery_chonda_09Chonda Pierce did not audition for the title “Queen of Clean Comedy.” She earned the unofficial honor without a competition. In fact, she stumbled into standup comedy. “When comedy came along in my life, it was one of those times when life wasn’t very funny and I wasn’t so close to Jesus.”

By the time she turned eighteen, Chonda had lost both of her sisters, one to a car accident and the other to leukemia. Then her father, who was a pastor, left the church and also left his marriage. Chonda and her mother began a whole new life.

“When I auditioned at Opryland USA, I was cast in a music and dance show. Trouble is, I was a terrible dancer! My boss told me I had better come up with another talent. In order to keep my job, I memorized three pages of jokes; and from there, I fell in love with this craft.”

Chonda on stage2_images_uploads_gallery_Chonda_06For six years, Chonda impersonated the legendary Minnie Pearl while developing her own comedy routines. She has been on stage making people laugh for more than twenty years and has recorded ten comedy DVDs, eight of them certified gold and four certified platinum.

Comedy has been good to her. “I found,” she says, “that the sound of laughter was soothing to me.” She came to identify with the biblical statement, “A cheerful heart is a good medicine” (Proverbs 17:22a, NRSV). We could give her another title: Doctor of Cheerful Hearts.

But what happens when the Queen of Clean and the Doctor of Cheer wakes up under a blanket of sadness: a serious, clinical depression? Added to the sadness were feelings of shame and the nagging questions: What would people think? How could this condition befall a comedian? What does depression say about Christian faith? What should she do about it?

“It was a humiliating experience,” she admits, “and it was the most difficult thing I would ever face. At first there was no humor. It was a deep, dark hole. The worst part is when you believe it would be better if you weren’t alive.”

Chonda closeup FTR_images_uploads_gallery_Chonda_07 copyChonda sought help. “It’s hard to think that anyone else has felt this way,” she says. Yet, as she began to realize that the depression would pass, she started listening to her body and taking care of herself with medicine, nutrition, sleep—and she found relief. Eventually, her doctor gave her permission to get back to work.

She found that depression had become a gift. What she thought would be the slow end of her career became a new way and a new reason for making people laugh.

“I got a gift from God that was medicine I needed. So what’s precious to me is that I get to wrap that up every night through stories and songs and funny jokes. And I get to watch people unwrap that gift that was given to me. . . . I love that I’m not just a standup comedienne. When I leave a show, I can only hope people will say, ‘We laughed, we cried, we wet our pants; let’s go home!’”

 

DIG DEEPER

Chonda leather_images_uploads_gallery_chonda_08Read Proverbs 17:22. One version of the verse says, “A cheerful heart is a good medicine” (NRSV). How do you respond to that statement? When have you experienced the healing effects of laughter?

Read Ecclesiastes 7:3. One version of the verse says that “a sad face is good for the heart” (NIV). How do you respond to that statement? When have you experienced sadness as a gift?

Chonda Pierce learned to listen to her body and to take care of herself. How do you take care of yourself? How can you wrap up the experiences of your life and offer them as a gift of laughter and healing to others?

Tony Peterson laughs and cries with his family in Nashville, Tennessee.

—from devozine (September/October 2014). Copyright © 2014 by The Upper Room®. All rights reserved.

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