When’s the last time you had a good belly laugh? And how did you feel afterward? Pretty good most likely.

Many of us would agree that there’s nothing like some unbridled laughter to cure what ails us. And apparently, the makers of Thou Shalt Laugh! 5 couldn’t agree more now with the release of the fifth installment in the best-selling Christian comedy DVD series that first came on the scene in 2006.

With over 90 minutes of comedy that won’t make you cringe or have to fast-forward while the kids are in the room, Thou Shalt Laugh! 5  features the comic timing and chuckle-inducing skills of comedians Taylor Mason, Bone Hampton, Leland Klassen, Gilbert Esquivel, Daren Streblow and Joey I.L.O.

Joining the guys as host is the “Queen of Clean,” Chonda Pierce, who happens to know a good joke when she hears it. Or tells it. The standup comic, television hostess and author is known for her unpretentious Southern charm and laser-sharp wit, and although her comedy is not the main focus of Thou Shalt Laugh! 5, she definitely gets a word or two in edgewise (and perhaps a hilarious joke about wearing Spanx) in between the comedians’ sets.

I spoke with Chonda recently and asked her why laughter is so important, if it’s okay for Christians to laugh (gulp) and what it was like to spend an evening of comedy onstage with her peers while filming the fifth Thou Shalt Laugh! clean comedy DVD in Nashville, Tennessee.
 



How did you become involved with Thou Shalt Laugh! 5?

You know, I answered the phone one day and there it was. I had heard of a couple of them down through the years when they were doing [Thou Shalt Laugh!], and to tell you the truth I kind of got my feelings hurt because I never got to do one. [Laughs.] Well yeah, they’ve been kind of looking for it but every time I was always either working or you know you have these managers that have to send you to Timbuktu, but it just worked out great this time. And also mainly because it was in my backyard. So I loved that they were recording it in Nashville, and I knew very well many of the comedians that were on there. It was just a delight to get to do. It was easy, you know. When you’re hosting something, a lot of the pressure’s not on you like when you’re doing a really long bit of comedy and so I found it quite fun.


While filming, was there anything funny that happened behind the scenes or offstage that we don’t see on the DVD?

Yes. If I told you, I would have to kill you. [Laughs.] The hardest part of the day was deciding what to wear. And you had fourteen men with three different opinions, and then I had to change my clothes like seven times before they would decide that this would be best in the lighting. And thanks to anti-depressants, I put on so much weight this year and that was the most humiliating moment of my life. But [because of] the adrenaline and the energy I guess did well, because then I was all fired up to do the show and you know and it was good. That’s the best thing about my job. I always get the last word.


So you knew most of the comedians already. Were there any of them featured in the Thou Shalt Laugh! 5 lineup that you had not met before?

Gilbert Esquivel. I had never met him. Never had worked with him. He was hilarious. And funny. He’s a consummate standup, and I know he’s been at it for quite some time but I just have always missed him. The others I had heard of and/or worked with many times. So it was a delight to meet them. Now Joey I.L.O., I had not really worked with but I had seen him perform. And what a great young man! He is fairly new, well he’ll probably say, 'No, I’ve been dragging around doing this for too long.' But when you’ve been at it for 20 years, he might have been at it five years or less and you go, ‘Oh, you’re just a young whippersnapper.’ But yeah, he was great, too.  All of them were just so good. You know I was talking to a girlfriend about this. You would think with a bunch of standup comedians in a row . . . we were going, ‘It’s going to be kind of weird, five comedians in a row. Don’t you think that would get boring?’ And it doesn’t, because everyone is so different. And you’d think that the art of standup comedy you know, one would start cloning the other or you’d have some similar material, but every one of them is totally different, the approaches are different, the delivery is different, the timing is different. And so it just makes for a delightful night.


Was there material from any one of these comedians that really made you laugh and bust a gut?

Well, I loved Darren Streblow. I love that he takes everyday, ordinary stuff and especially stuff that would get on your nerves, like telemarketing. And he has such hilarious ideas that you think oh my goodness. This is stuff that not only is it funny, but you think you’re going to go home and I think I’m going to do that. Telemarketer calls me, so I’m going to hand the phone to some four year-old.


The jokes that were more about the church or “Christianese” topics seem to get the most laughs from the studio audience in Thou Shalt Laugh! 5. Why do you think that is?

Well, for one, whenever you’re poking about something that people are nervous about, there is a bit of nervous laughter that I can’t believe we’re laughing about this, you know? And let’s face it, it’s called Thou Shalt Laugh! and many of the comedians who are on there are Christian comedians and so if we were an outsider saying some of those things, it probably wouldn’t go over because then it would look like we’re bashing the church or we’re bashing Christian stuff. But when you’re known to be a Christian and you want to crack up the different denominations or the way we say things, then you’re safe in doing that. And when you do that it disarms a lot of the myths or it disarms a lot of our feelings and thoughts about stuff, and I think a light comes on that goes you know, we do take this stuff way too seriously. And so I love that. I have always, you know, in my two and a half hour concerts, thirty minutes of it’s gonna be really targeted to what I know and what I know is church. You know, I’m a preacher’s kid so that’s going to be the base of my material. Like Leland [Klassen], he has these great, big, huge hands. And that’s what he knows and who he is and he includes that. And Joey, his parents really are clowns. [Laughs.] God forbid if he ever winds up in rehab  . . . or in group therapy.


Why do you think that the comedy of Thou Shalt Laugh! 5 is good for people, especially people who grew up in “thou shalt NOT laugh” type of households?

Like my mother? [Laughs.] It’s imperative I think for one thing and I do tell young people all the time who have some complaints about the old fogies at their church. I’m like, 'You know what? Hang in there, ‘cause they don’t live forever.' And two, I think it is time that when we begin to take ourselves so seriously in the church world it makes God look unapproachable. And in my opinion as a Christian I like that I can talk about God, talk to God about you know anything and everything and in my language. I do not have to bow my head, and go, ‘Oh thou art so great.’ I can go, ‘Hey God this sucks.’ And he gets it, you know? And I love that and I think we have made him so distant sometimes that it’s hard for others to look at him as a personal redeemer that he is and so that’s what I love about things like this when a bunch of Christians can get together, laugh and reveal the humanity of themselves and that we aren’t the divine part. I think that’s good for everybody. And the thing I love about all these Thou Shalt Laugh! DVDs, you don’t have to be a Christian or a churchgoer or anything to get it. Funny is funny. And even some of the stuff about church and stuff, even though you’ve never been in a church, it’s funny. And don’t get me wrong. There are sacred moments in our lives that there is no joke for. Nor should there be. And many times in our worship experience it’s a very beautiful and personal thing, so there’s a lot of material that you can tell by having five or six different comedians on one DVD you know what’s missing. And that is the ‘blue material,’ and that is the stuff that just goes too far. So it’s a real blessing to be able to sit and watch something that’s an hour long and laugh your head off and never once did you have to hit the mute button. And comedy is subjective. What I think is funny, my mother thinks is just ungodly. But I know my heart. I have a good heart, and I do talk a lot about my husband; I talk about making out with him. And that doesn’t bother me. Now it might bother some people, and I’ve gotten a few letters down through the years, but . . . I’m very active in my church and I know that young people are hearing a message about sex every five minutes, and it’s not a positive thing. I want people to laugh and joke and laugh about a married couple who’s been married almost 30 years that still have a passion for one another, so that’s why I still stick with that material. Plus, I’ve got nothing else to talk about now . . .  the kids are gone now . . . I can’t exploit them. Now I’m just exploiting my husband.


The DVD has the option of either watching the entire production from start to finish or just choosing from the individual comedians’ sets. Which way of watching Thou Shalt Laugh! 5 do you think is best?

I say pop a big ol’ bowl of popcorn and have a good night. If you leave one out, I couldn’t imagine even telling you which one to leave out. They’re all so individually good and perfected in their craft and just a delight. Minnie Pearl used to say, ‘Y’all come to Nashville, we’ll treat you so many different ways you’re bound to like one of them. And that’s exactly like this DVD. You’re going to like all of them.


One of the comedians, Taylor Mason, has been on every Thou Shalt Laugh! DVD including this latest one. But he’s also the only one who’s got a dummy with him. What do you think about that?

Hey, don’t talk about him like that. [Laughs.] He’s the only one with the dummy. That’s hilarious! We all have dummies, but some of us just don’t perform with ours. [Laughs.] He’s a great guy. And Taylor has, he’s the only one who’s been at this long enough, he’s got enough material to be on all five DVDs. He’s a great guy. Just a great guy.


So would you recommend this DVD as something that’s suitable entertainment for the whole family?

I really would. Now your two-year-old’s going to miss the big purple dinosaur, but other than that, it’s really a lot of fun, and I can’t recommend it more. And I’m really honored to get to do it. It was a delightful night for me and to get to see other comedians. You know we all feel that way. There’s a great camaraderie among comedians, especially between those of us who profess to be born again Christians. Because in the standup comedy world, that is so much like an oxymoron, you know? So when we can get together and love on each other and be excited, it’s a great, great fellowship.

 

For more information about Thou Shalt Laugh! 5, please visit www.thoushaltlaugh.com. For more information about the individual comedians involved in this production, please visit their respective sites:

Chonda Pierce
www.chonda.org

Taylor Mason
www.taylormason.com

Bone Hampton
www.bonehampton.com

Leland Klassen
www.lelandklassen.com

Daren Streblow
www.darenstreblow.com

Joey I.L.O.
www.myspace.com/ilocomedyshow