As Eirann Betka helped organize the Grand Rapids Improv Festival in the fall of 2015, she noticed there were no female improv troupes signing up to perform. Most of the groups had either all men or only one or two women featured. She knew that all-female improv troupes existed in larger cities, and she realized Grand Rapids had enough talent for a female-fronted group to also exist, which is why she called up all her favorite comedians and created Funny Girls.
Wanting to perform at the Grand Rapids Improv Festival, this handful of improvisers decided to showcase their most embarrassing moments on stage. After reading entries from their old journals, diaries and love notes, Funny Girls members acted out these awkward stories and memories in front of an audience.
Laughing about their shared humiliation with a group of people proved to not only be entertaining but also cathartic. “It’s a special moment to glorify those awful times with someone else,” said Betka, the president of Funny Girls. It allowed the troupe to connect with each other and celebrate parts of themselves they would never share elsewhere.
As soon as Funny Girls walked off stage for the first time, its members knew they needed to perform together again. Ever since that night, this collective has been practicing and performing around West Michigan.
What started out as a small number of brave women sharing their most mortifying childhood memories turned into an inseparable group of 17 comedic women having fun and pursuing their passions together.
Although Funny Girls started out as an all improv-based troupe, once it realized the diverse set of skills and talents each member had, its shows evolved into an assortment of entertaining performances. “The more we got to know about each other, the more our act shifted,” Betka said.
Nowadays, audience members can watch Funny Girls perform sketches, improv, stand-up, music and more. This past September was also a memorable moment as Funny Girls created its first hit show, “Grand Rapids: The Musical,” which Betka considers one of the group’s best pieces.
Funny Girls members meet every Sunday to write, rehearse and manage the business side of things. These women work hard to create shows that “capture a snapshot” of who they are, said Betka. Even though it may take a lot of energy, they always walk out of meetings feeling better, knowing they are strengthening their skills and friendships.
Since Funny Girls believes strong chemistry is necessary for creative collaboration, this collective holds two retreats every year. Its most recent retreat, in January, was a favorite memory for Betka as it made her realize the importance of Funny Girls.
Betka explained that without Funny Girls, these women who were laughing, talking, and playing games with each other on the retreat wouldn’t have known one another. Besides missing out on the comedic opportunities, these women would have also missed out on the family formed within this collective. Finding one another has been what Betka loves most about her experience in Funny Girls.
With every performance, Funny Girls also wants both male and female audience members to not only “walk away laughing,” but also feel empowered and better understand women’s issues, said Betka.
Although Funny Girls is a comedic group of women, it does not mean that they do not respect or love working with male troupes. However, the goal is to be a group that represents a community of funny women from all backgrounds in Grand Rapids.
Because it has been a mission from day one to empower women of all ages through comedy, Funny Girls is currently working on creating an outreach program to reach the youth who may be writing entries in their journals and diaries at this very moment. Even though all the members love performing, it is not enough for them to simply be funny.
“There is this level of activism that intrinsically comes with the jokes we tell, and if we’re laughing about it, we better also be doing something about it,” said Betka. Funny Girls hopes to empower young girls by helping them work through their problems, realize everyone goes through embarrassing situations, and learn how to accept and reclaim those amusing incidents.
Funny Girls will also be performing free comedy showcases with other comedic improv and sketch groups during LaughFest at Dog Story Theater on Saturday, March 10 at 5 p.m. and Thursday, March 15 at 8 p.m.