There was a time, only a few years ago, when the Grand Rapids Improv Festival didn’t have a single all-female group in its lineup.
Taking note, a group of women came together in 2015 to fill that void with Funny Girls, a mixed-media collective of female-identifying comedians, writers, bloggers, vloggers and more.
“We began by reading our old journal entries and using those stories as a basis for long-form improv,” said Funny Girl Kristin Hirsch. “From there we grew into a comedy collective that does improv, sketch and stand-up comedy. We all came for different reasons, but I think the unifying reason was a desire to be a part of something that didn’t exist in Grand Rapids and to use our comedy to empower women.”
Since then, the open collective — with around 15-20 girls actively involved at any given time — has become a regular part of Comedy Outlet Mondays (COM) at the Dog Story Theater (7 Jefferson Ave. SE).
The group also has set up a home base at The Fuse Box (120 S. Division Ave.). Every third Sunday, Funny Girls invites anyone identifying as female to come work on comedy or perform at the open mic.
“We’ve grown very fast, and part of that was because we’ve brought a new voice to the comedy scene that wasn’t present before,” Hirsch said. “That being said, our comedy is not just by women, for women. Anyone and everyone can enjoy a Funny Girls show and find something to relate to.”
Part of the reason for the group’s fast growth is the strength of support the members all give one another.
“There is typically a lot of competition in the entertainment world, even in the Grand Rapids comedy scene,” said Funny Girl Eirann Betka. “Being a collaborative collective has helped us to rise above this competition. I think something unique about Funny Girls is that we encourage each other within group projects as much as we encourage individuals in their own comedy journey.”
The community also offers a reprieve from the typical stress of daily life.
“It is fun to be in a group of women and not worry about if your socks match or having to watch your language or to be pressured into buying essential oils,” said Funny Girl Amy Gascon. “There is not a sense of keeping up with the Joneses that is common when groups of adults get together.”
Funny Girls will be featured as part of this year’s LaughFest with a special Friday night performance at the Dog Story Theater on March 17.
“Having our name included in the lineup for LaughFest is a huge honor,” said Funny Girl Kaira Williams. “Any time we can be associated with other such powerful women in comedy is a big win. I’m personally a huge comedy fangirl, so this is a dream come true.
“We’re performing in the same festival as Iliza Shlesinger. That blows my mind.”
Looking forward, Funny Girl Jenna Pope said the group hopes to work more on its organizational structure and create an LLC so it can continue to help young women find their voice, particularly in comedy.
“I believe a lot of our impact has been ripples in a pond,” Betka said. “When one woman feels funny and empowered to tell her truth or to fight misogyny, she takes that to the stage, to work, to her home life. Big changes can come from small moments of understanding and support.”
LaughFest: Funny Girls
Dog Story Theater, 7 Jefferson Ave. SE, Grand Rapids
March 17, 7 p.m., FREE
wearefunnygirls.com, (616) 425-9234