Comedy has always been kind of a boys' club. Think of the Three Stooges, Abbott and Costello, Monty Python, Cheech and Chong, Dan Ackroyd and John Belushi...all contributed hugely to comedy, but only offering one point of view. There's definitely a cultural idea that women just aren't as funny as men, and it's put up barriers for women trying to get into comedy. But new shows with all or mostly female casts, like Orange Is the New Black, Broad City, Pitch Perfect, and Bridesmaids, are starting to shake things up and show a different perspective in humor.
Locally, things are beginning to change as well thanks, in part, to an all-female, improv comedy group called Funny Girls. According to their Facebook page, Funny Girls is "a collective of comedic artists building self-esteem and encouraging creative expression through comedy for women of all ages." The group was formed by Eirann Betka in 2015 when she wanted to do something about the lack of female inclusion in the local comedy scene, and the group has only flourished since then, becoming a well-respected comedy troupe. While some of the Funny Girls have never felt themselves excluded, a few have expressed having difficulty getting into comedy in Grand Rapids because of lack of accessibility. Women of color have had a particularly difficult time, especially when audiences have a hard time getting out of their comfort zones to understand another perspective.
Overall, there is a strong will among comedy groups in Grand Rapids to reach out and grow in diversity, but the doing is more difficult than the willing. Culture is shaped by many small things over time, and to change it takes even more time. It starts by building relationships, being open to others' experiences, listening, and reaching out to marginalized groups. In the end it will provide more meaningful, inclusive comedic expression.