People come to hear Chonda Pierce to laugh, not cry. Those who show up these days need to understand that the punchlines don't always come from a happy place.
Pierce brings her "Still Laughing" tour to Greenwell Springs Baptist Church at 7 p.m. Thursday, and the title reflects the comedienne's determination to not let tragedy keep her from seeing the humor in life.
Pierce is open about her bouts of depression after her husband, David, died in 2014.
"After the death of my husband, I think it was somewhat of a curiosity to my fans of wanting to know how I'm doing," she said. "I love that I have been very honest and open and vocal on social media. ... I just want to let people know I'm still alive, and I'm still laughing."
Grief will bring your life to a halt if you let it, she said, "and, of course, there is an appropriate time to stop and grieve, especially in widowhood.
"It's been a little over four years, and it's taken all of that time to feel human again, like I will survive it. Just talking about getting back out there and still laughing and still living has been a good medicine for me."
Pierce said she has discovered that lots of comedians face personal struggles.
"They struggle with depression or addiction. They struggle with the ups and downs of life," she said. "I think maybe we who struggle are really inclined to appreciate a good laugh. For me, my source is my faith. I would not be able to live without a relationship with God, and finding that source for me is what really does keep me going."
Pierce's many fans — she's the Recording Industry Association of America’s most-awarded female comic in history — know she's not just saying that because this show is in a church. Pierce is known as comedy's "Queen of Clean" for her G-rated performances.
Pierce, 59, is a preacher's daughter whose strict upbringing strongly discouraged profanity.
"I remember the taste of Ivory soap, so I cleaned it up a long time ago," she said.
Pierce got her break just after college when she earned a job at Opryland USA in Nashville, Tennessee, impersonating country comedienne Minnie Pearl. Having grown up in the South, Pierce was able to develop her own comedic skills making observations about growing up as a preacher's kid. Southern gospel superstar Bill Gaither invited her to perform on one of his popular "Homecoming" DVDs, and that launched her career.
Her manner is unabashedly Southern, and she has been a popular fixture in Christian women's conferences, including one in 2009 at the Raising Cane's River Center in Baton Rouge. She also appeared at Greenwell Springs Baptist Church in 2016.
"Y'all have the best food," she said. "I remember places because of the food."
She has a lot of places to remember. She takes off winter and summer, but hits four cities a week in spring and fall, spreading her whimsical observations about youthful piano lessons, Spanx, getting blocked on Facebook by her son and entertainment oddities like Honey Boo Boo.
Now more than a quarter-century into her comedy career, Pierce said she thinks as much about delivering a positive message as well as laughs.
"Tragedy and comedy go hand in hand," she said. "If you didn't have the down day, you wouldn't appreciate the good day. I love that. If there was no dark, you wouldn't be able to see the candle burning. All those things go hand in hand."