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Chonda Pierce, the “Queen of Clean” comedy, will perform live at 7 p.m. Thursday, March 18 at the Central Christian Center in downtown Joplin. Tickets are on sale now. Courtesy | Chonda Pierce

You won’t hear too many four-letter words coming out of Chonda Pierce’s mouth during her upcoming show in Joplin, with the exception of maybe an occasional “amen.”

That’s because this top-selling Christian comedian is known as the “The Queen of Clean.”

Or is she?

“Don’t get me wrong, if I stub my toe the words ‘praise Jesus’ does not come out of my mouth,” the 60-year-old said with a peel of her famed laughter. “And my pastor knows it.”

During her 7 p.m. show on March 18 at the Central Christian Center in downtown Joplin, her innate ability to turn life’s sometimes harsh realities into side-splitting comedy will be on full display. But beyond that, she said she’s just so happy to be back on the road again, bussing from one gig to the next, doing what she believes God always meant for her to do.

“I just can’t tell you how good all of this feels,” she said. She will be visiting churches in Florida, Georgia, Arkansas and Ohio before her stop in Joplin, the only tour date she has in Missouri. “I’ve been out of work for almost a year now like everyone else (due to the pandemic); I’m so grateful.”

At times, COVID-19 had made it difficult for Pierce to maintain her sense of humor, she admitted. But in a way, comedy is needed now more than ever.

“I know I’m not essential,” she said, “but in a way I don’t think I’ve ever felt more essential in my life than now; when you step out on stage and you see a crowd that is so glad to see you and … so glad to get out and have something to do. (People) just need a reprieve.”

The beauty of comedy, she continued, is that it’s so adaptive. Comedy is like penicillin — “which is medicine, but it starts out as mold, and comedy can be molded into something (new).”

Comedy has always been an unbendable pillar for people to lean on during dark times. Pierce specifically mentioned comedian Bob Hope and his popular USO shows to entertain the troops overseas during World War II. and the traditional television sitcom was invented during the dark days of the Vietnam War, when Americans at home were sick to their stomachs at the constant barrage of war talk and daily war dead figures from Southeast Asia; comedy proved a healing salve.

“I should have been out (on the road) sooner,” Pierce admitted, who began doing live gigs last month. “But at least I’m back now.”

During her Joplin show, she plans to mix some new with some traditional old comedy, creating a balanced show.

“As a comic, you have an arsenal of material and tools that you know works. So (I’ll) start there; I’ll give them what (her fans) want to hear. It’s like listening to your favorite singer, you want to hear the hits, so I’ll give them some of my hits.” From there, “I can ease into the night with other, new (routines and jokes).”

Pierce was one of the top-selling Christian comedians on the circuit — with 10 platinum-selling, Emmy-nominated albums to her name — before she went on hiatus in 2014 following the death of her husband, David, the high school sweetheart she’d known and loved since the age of 16. A subsequent biographical movie, “Chonda Pierce: Laughing In the Dark,” detailed her battle with depression following his death, along with the unexpected losses of both her mother and estranged daughter.

But Pierce — who got her start in comedy playing Minnie Pearl inside the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, Tennessee — has overcome those demons and is once again climbing her way back to the top of the comedic charts.

“I have lost a lot in life, but I think I’ve survived it because God has given me a sense of humor,” she said. “This is not the end of my story.”

Dating back to the early stages of her stand-up career, Pierce is famous for her marathon signing and speaking interactions with fans following a show. Sometimes, the fan engagement can last well into the night, she said.

“I am blessed. I think there are a lot of hurting people out there; that’s the hardest part of the social distancing thing right now is I can’t listen to those stories anymore from fans,” she said. “I’m blessed to have just talked (and joked) for hours, they deserve to be heard. and a lot of people just want to tell me their stories.

“When my husband first died it was so hard for me … because every widow was in line and ready to tell me their own story, and by the time I’d get back on the bus I’d just be so depressed; all those hurting people out there. My pastor taught me the greatest thing — when the show is over, I get into the shower and just let all of that (hurt) wash off, and you give it back to God. You can’t carry everybody’s burdens.”

Sadly, she doesn’t expect to do any of that in Joplin, because of COVID-19 safety restrictions. For now, she’s just happy to see smiles from those sitting in the crowd.

“I want to hear laughter; I want to see them come out and laugh,” Pierce said about her Joplin-based fans. She wants them to leave the worship center “with a great amount of hope and enthusiasm that life, no matter what you’ve gone through, is still pretty good.”

Kevin McClintock is features editor for The Joplin Globe.

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