The Comedy Coven
used to sell out a Tuesday evening every month at The Robin Theatre
, but have recently moved to the second Friday of every month, a prime time slot a sign of their good fortune. They have a revolving set of guest stars, including Lansing city council member Kathie Dunbar, in order to keep their content fresh, funny, and relatable to the Lansing people.
Comedy Coven began two years ago at an open mic night. The future Coven members met, liked each others comedy, and decided to have dinner together and talk about a possible show together, even spitballing some names that night. Comedy Coven was alliterative and stuck almost immediately. The first show was recorded in Syrja's living room in Feb. 2015 and the show took off.
"So much of our success was unpredictable to us. Our connection with our community wasn't something we'd imagine happening," says Comedian Stephanie Onderchanin. "The other two mentioned we'd have to leave for some big city to be big, but we've never had to."
When asked why the occult theme, the Coven responded that they all have an interest in the occult and use elements of it in their shows; witchcraft is symbolic of women's struggle and has had a resurgence in popularity in recent years. "We try to be thoughtful about it though, as it has relevance in a lot of cultures and we joke about it, but only with respect because it has meaning for all of us."
While Comedy Coven has branched out from occult jokes to a larger array of topics over the course of two years, the women do try to keep the occult vibes a core part of their aesthetic, wearing black outfits to their shows and tell children that they are, in fact, witches.
If they could be any kind of witch they wanted, Emily Syrja would like to be a divination witch, as "being able to shape the future appeals to me, being someone embarking on a 'risky' career." Stephanie Onderchanin is interested in plant-based witchery. "I love herbs, spices, and cooking, I'd love to have a cauldron on my stove top all the time." To counter her more whimsical companions, Tricia Chamberlain wants to live in a swamp and hex people because "some people deserve to be hexed!"
Besides being witches, all three women also identify as queer, and despite mainstream media insistence that a woman can't be "out" and marketable, they have no trouble gathering a welcoming audience every month. Comedian Emily Syrja once said on stage, "Everyone claps for gays and for gas here. That's the environment I want to create." Rather than take a derogatory approach to jokes about the LGBTQ community like many comedians before them, Comedy Coven and their guest stars use their own queer experiences to draw humor from.
The Comedy Coven does not shy away from the current political distress. Their most recent show donated admission the Refugee Development Center
, and say it was hard to pick a single beneficiary for these types of things because "everything is so bad right now." Onderchanin says, "We had been talking about doing a benefit show for a long time, look for who is the most marginalized and vulnerable right now, especially in this political climate. The RDC is particularly impactful in this way."
Considering the incredible cooperation from the Lansing community on March 10th, raising over $1000 for the Refugee Development Center, this is likely not the last time the Coven uses their magic for good.
Being able to give back to the people that have supported them, "It's one of the most rewarding aspects" The Coven says.
The Comedy Coven witches initially had dreams of becoming comics in a big city, but that was before they realized how much community support they have in their passion. "We love what we're doing in Lansing. I don't think it's something we're going to stop doing or grow out of."
That said, they wouldn't mind going bigger and broader. "We'd love to extend what we're doing to other communities in Michigan," says Chamberlain. "I've always had dreams of our comedy becoming something bigger, like a network show. We have a message and a vision that we share with our community, and I'd love if we could share it with other communities." Comedy Coven has taken a step toward this new goal by adding video sketches on their website and Youtube, along with doing shows and workshops outside of The Robin Theatre.
They aim to create a culture of acceptance and kindness, one good spell at a time. As in their closing lines from the Friday show, "We love our city so much!"
Photos © Dave Trumpie
Dave Trumpie is the managing photographer for Capital Gains. He is a freelance photographer and owner of Trumpie Photography