One of the participants in “Funny Girls,” an Oxygen series about up-and-coming female comics, professes an aversion to “girl drama,” which for the purposes of the show – endeavoring to stoke drama at every turn – is of course utter nonsense. Yet despite the tricks of the reality-TV trade, the series is a fairly energetic addition to a genre of programs built around trying to make it in showbiz, with the disclaimer being that buying the fly-on-the-wall access requires trusting that these aspiring headliners can tone down the shtick long enough to engage in a genuine moment.
Fortunately, the show has an excuse to garnish the episodes by presenting the various comics onstage, while then delving into their individual stories, from the single mom to the newly arrived East Coast transplant to Ester Steinberg and her sister, who host open-mic nights at Canter’s delicatessen.
Not surprisingly, insecurities of one form or another plague each of them, the kind that make Stephanie Simbari talk about giving up standup for good after she goes out and bombs onstage. Those interludes have a kind of universal appeal, crossing over to any performer who seeking to break into a brutally competitive field.
By contrast, there’s a staginess to other aspects of the show, such as one of the comics, Yamaneika Saunders, shamelessly hitting on her uncomfortable driving instructor, or dispatching Simbari on an on-camera blind date where she takes an instant dislike to the guy, primarily because he has the audacity to ask her about what she does for a living.
Oxygen is hardly breaking new ground here, but the program is a reasonable addition to chronicling the various subcultures that exist just beyond the glamor of Hollywood, albeit with inevitable drop-ins over the course of the series by a few more recognizable comics, including Margaret Cho and Bill Burr.
While the first couple of episodes don’t reveal much in terms of who within this group really has the right stuff, who knows, “Funny Girls” might even advance a few careers in the process of creating drama – the irony being that the show is at its best, or at least most relatable, in those exchanges where its characters let their guard down just enough to actually stop working at being funny.