Chonda Pierce is a funny, engaging woman who attracts thousands of people to her shows for encouragement, entertainment, and enlightenment about the issues facing people (especially women) today. In the last five years, Pierce's mother and husband have died, and she's become estranged from her daughter. While some might say that comedians find their material in bad things happening, Pierce's tragedies could have completely derailed her career and her message. But anyone who thinks that is possible, doesn't know Chonda Pierce.
"It wasn't until I watched Laughing in the Dark [a 2015 documentary] that I realized my life looked like that," Pierce said with a trademark chuckle. "You just live the days. You don't see the big picture. You have to find the joy in the moments because if you don't, then the bad moments win twice."
"You can't turn on the TV and not see people who have it worse than you, who have lost everything in an instant."
That particular perspective gave Pierce the drive to greenlight another Fathom Event documentary that is more stand-up and behind the scenes combined called Enough. Coming to theaters on April 25, the documentary shows the struggle Pierce faced after her husband's death, and the community who ralled around her.
"The jury is still out about whether or not this was a good idea!" Pierce chortled. "But it's cathartic. Sometimes, I hear my own voice talking it out. It's great therapy, and I'm grateful for the platform for it to unfold."
Unsure of whether or not there was a story there, Pierce pulled the plug eight months ago but director Rick Altizer brought her back to the project. "I don't want to exploit a sad story," Pierce admitted, "but we sat down and were talking about where I was and who I am. How many women have to reidentify themselves after something like that? Everyone has a day come where their identity changes."
That feeling and longing to be enough drove Pierce to this place. She shared, as she does in the film, about being raised a preacher's kid who tried to 'keep all the secrets.' "You gotta make God look good and the parsonage look alright! I got tired of wearing that mask."
Now, in Enough, the audience sees how the church should look, and Pierce is proud of how direct the message comes across. "The truth is that all of our fog machines and coffee pots are cool but that's not church. We've relegated church down to an hour worshi service and suddenly drifted away from community. I've had church on a hillside in Ethiopia and in the barn with six girlfriends," she continued, warming to the subject. "The stuff that sustains you in the dark times is the people with the hands and feet and arms to wrap around you."
Pierce is well-known for her women-oriented humor, which she says doesn't always endear her to everyone. "They're not always a fan of loudmouthed women, but they don't normally invite me to come speak!" the comedian said, laughing. "Now that I speak in front of ticketed audiences, they just don't bother to pay for a ticket."
While her material has much to do with being a woman talking to women, she noticed that more and more men are showing up. "I asked my girlfriends, 'I wonder if they found out I'm single?'" laughing again, she continued. "But I think what I talk about is much more inclusive, which is a sad state of the world today."
Speaking of Pierce's friends, the film's content shines a spotlight on who Pierce is off stage. There are interviews with childhood friends, who shared what her life means to them, as well as her contemporary friends who speak openly about "reeling her back in." Pierce noted that the death of a close friend in their circle named Betty had taught the group how fragile life was, and demanded that they hold each other accountable. But there is only so much Pierce can take, talking about her friends talking about her, before she changes the focus.
"They were very sweet, and I wasn't really surprised," she chuckled, "but we tried to really dig some stuff out. We cut out some of the 'Chonda's great' stuff. I'm like my mother when we're together, trying to entertain and be the host all the time. It's just the nature of women."
One of the more entertaining parts of the film involves Pierce's friend and fellow comedian Mark Lowry discussing her life, needling her, and asking her questions from fans. Bringing that to Pierce's attention results in another series of belly-shaking laughs, as she shared about how insightful Lowry is. "I just love talking about Jesus with him," she said, more serious now. "He is so in love with Jesus and the Word."
That's Enough in a nutshell: a documentary about friends who can give you the business, and still draw you closer to Jesus, even in the midst of life's harsh realities. It's Pierce's life, and she's not going to let the bad moments win.
The Fathom Event airs in theaters on April 25.