It was the laugh heard 'round the world. Candace Payne was just a Texas mom sitting in her car, live-streaming about her new electronic Chewbacca mask.
Then she put the mask on, its sound chip emitting Chewie's plaintive growl every time she opened her mouth. Hilarity ensued--nay, exploded--as Candace, soon to be "Chewbacca Mom," unleashed a delightfully hysterical torrent of laughter for two solid minutes.
They say laughter's infectious...
In a matter of days, the video racked up over 140 million views. There were morning show features, an appearance on James Corden's show with J.J. Abrams, a visit to Facebook. Plus thousands in Star Wars toys, gifts and trips, and a remarkable $400,000 scholarship from a university in Florida, to cover an education for Candace, her husband and their children. All in a few weeks.
That was May 2016. Viral sensations tend to have short half-lives, but not Chewbacca Mom. Chewbacca Mom--that is, Candace Payne--was ready. As a friend told her over coffee right after her video went viral, "I always knew the world would find you."
A self-professed "jack-of-many-trades and master of none," Candace had always been a creative soul, from singing and helping with production at her church to a short-lived foray into amateur stand-up. But she'd never been wholeheartedly committed to anything--except to being a great mom.
Then, suddenly, she was Chewbacca Mom, and a new future seemed to crystallize before her eyes. She was ready.
These days Candace is out from behind the mask and showing the world some new faces--as a singer (her rendition of Michael Jackson's "Heal The World" also went viral), vlogger, host on TLC, and ambassador for charitable organization Convoy of Hope, who as part of their mission works to empower young girls in cultures where women are degraded.
Candace has also just added author to her repertoire. Her new book, Laugh It Up! (as in "fuzzball," one assumes) was released by Zondervan on November 7th.
While the cover of Laugh It Up! implores readers to "experience defiant joy," Candace is no joyologist. "I don't claim expertise in the subject of joy," she says, "but I can show you an authentic representation of someone who knows what it's like to pursue joy." For Candace, it's less about going out and getting joy than it is about figuring out where moments of joy already exist in our daily lives. "They're all around us," she says.
Ultimately, it's that authenticity--being true to herself--that makes Candace tick. "Like me, you've put on a mask at some point in life," she writes in the introduction to Laugh It Up, "denying your true desires, wants, and identity. What would it be like to learn to laugh while wearing your mask....to feel free enough to take that mask off and embrace who you already are?"
In producing her Facebook Live show, also called Laugh It Up!, Candace does everything herself, using her iPhone, iPad and multi-cam video app Switcher Studio to create a low-budget but seamless production with multiple camera angles, imported images, video bumpers, etc.--and it's all 100% authentic Candace Payne, the artist formerly known as Chewbacca Mom. (Disclosure: This writer has an affiliate business relationship with Switcher Studio.)
As for the mask that helped start it all, it still makes an appearance here and there. But instead of putting it on, Candace prefers just to hold it up. After all, she has a lot of other aspects to show the world.
And if she were ever to create an electronic Candace Payne mask, what would it say? What wisdom might it impart? Something about joy? Authenticity?
"You know," says Candace, "it would probably just laugh."