On a rainy winter Monday, six very funny people sit around a table in an upstairs room while a restaurant lunch rush goes on below. The table is littered with coffee cups, cell phones, highlighters and scripts. Madonna, the Kardashians, Governor Snyder, and Kevin Spacey are somehow all mentioned in the same conversation and pens fly as lines are edited, scenes are blocked and prop ideas are bandied about.
Though it might sound like the writers’ room at Saturday Night Live, the group is West Michigan’s newest comedy troupe, Nobody Gets Us, and they’re rehearsing on the third floor of San Chez, the space they’ll be filling during LaughFest 2012 and possibly beyond.
Nobody Gets Us was born when Saugatuck-based actress Melissa Anschutz had lunch with her agent in November and heard that San Chez was interested in becoming a venue for dinner theater shows during the second year of LaughFest
, Grand Rapids’ community-wide festival of laughter to benefit Gilda’s Club.
“I know funny people,” said Anschutz, who immediately contacted Rockford resident Leslie Bosscher. The two had worked together on a local comedy show in the past, and within weeks, Bosscher had written the show’s entire script and the group had grown to include Holland actor David Gries, comedian Mark Boyd, theater actor Ralph Lister, and Bosscher’s former WZZM co-worker Sarah Cavanaugh, who describes the show as “like SNL on its silliest day, with a little Seinfeld-esque ability to find the absurd in our everyday lives.”
Cavanaugh, an East Grand Rapids stay-at-home-mom with two young children, participated in last year’s LaughFest community showcase by performing an amateur stand-up routine and was thrilled to try her hand at doing sketch comedy with a group.
“Comedic dinner theater is a fun way to do a night out with friends and an alternative to the bar scene. It’s also a great opportunity for anybody to be a part of LaughFest, either by trying to showcase their talents or by coming out to support the local talent on stage,” says Cavanaugh. “Events like this continue to make downtown Grand Rapids a destination; it gives people who might not otherwise go downtown a reason to come out.”
She says the group brings a unique, relatable vibe to the festival. “We’re just local people laughing at ourselves in our day-to-day life, and we want the audience to go on this journey with us,” she says. “It’s really local talent in a local setting, so if you like it, you can see it again.”
Bosscher concurs. “The group is a real mix of background and personalities -- a SAG actress, a comic, a theatre pro and a couple of us who have never acted professionally -- and I love that our group brings six unique takes on humor to the group. We’re a little outrageous, but there’s something for everyone.”
A WZZM Take Five contributor and self-described “naughty mommy-blogger,” Bosscher seems particularly giddy about the fact that LaughFest is including local up-and-coming talent along with the big names in this year’s lineup. “It’s inspirational,” she says. “When you see a stay-at-home mom up on stage performing at a venue like this, it gives local artists the confidence that they can achieve it as well.”
And according to Anschutz, that pool of local artists is growing. “There are so many wonderful artists behind the scenes as well as actors and actresses in West Michigan; the depth of local talent is unreal.” Anschutz hopes that the success of Nobody Gets Us could open doors for future shows -- not only for this troupe, but for a variety of local talent that hasn’t yet found a reliable venue. “Everybody likes to laugh, eat, and drink -- why not offer entertainment like this all year round?”
Why not, indeed, says Cindy Lotterman-Schneider, San Chez general manager, who says San Chez is using LaughFest as a launching pad for providing a year-round venue for local talent. “We’re trying to support art -- dinner theater, drag shows, musicals, comedy, political sketch -- and we’re beginning to do what we really want to do on the third floor.”
She says troupes like Nobody Gets us are a perfect fit for the San Chez tapas experience. “Our food is very social food being served family-style, and we think the off-the-cuff sketch and satire will really promote people eating, enjoying, participating and having fun.”
Lotterman-Schneider, who predicts that LaughFest will bring a 10% increase in sales to the restaurant during this year’s festival, is thrilled to see the event pushing the envelope in terms of how entertainment is viewed in Grand Rapids. “Not only do we support Gilda’s Club, but we also love the way the whole community wraps itself around a cause. It saturates everywhere, and it creates a buzz that spreads from person to person and from city to city. It’s great for downtown.”
San Chez is hosting LaughFest-themed shows in its third-floor dining room each night of the 10-day festival, playing host to a murder mystery, a Whoopi Goldberg tribute, cabaret performances and drag shows. The ticket price for each show includes a full tapas dinner. The main restaurant will also be enhanced throughout the festival with nightly entertainment such as jugglers, opera singers and strolling performers, including performances by some of the staff.
With hundreds of performers and dozens of venues involved in the 10-day festival, LaughFest 2012 aims to offer something “seriously funny” for everyone. One thing’s for sure: on March 10, San Chez will be serving up six big local personalities on its third-floor stage. Nobody Gets Us member David Gries warns, “None of us have ever done this before. We’re not thinking about what we should be doing; we’re thinking, what makes us laugh? And we’re doing that. We’re putting it all out there.”
Note: Nobody Gets Us is debuting on Saturday, March 10 at 7:30 p.m. at San Chez. The show is rated R and at press time was sold out. Check back for available tickets, or mark your calendars for April 20 when the troupe hits San Chez again.
Stephanie Doublestein writes and blogs about food, business and parenting, among other things. She lives in East Grand Rapids with her husband and their two young daughters.