Those Funny Little People have entertained Chicago since 1979: 'smaller in stature but big in fun'

ByJordan Arseneau Localish logo
Monday, March 18, 2024
Those Funny Little People have entertained Chicago since 1979
Those Funny Little People famously competed on season 6 of NBC's "America's Got Talent," and briefly appeared in the 1993 movie "The Fugitive."Those Funny Little People, as seen on "America's Got Talent," is now managed out of a Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin home, but has entertained for years.

PLEASANT PRAIRIE, Wis. -- Valerie Shike's two-car garage in Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin houses racks of colorful costumes, dozens of oversized hats and decades of Chicago area entertainment royalty. Her business, Those Funny Little People Enterprises, Inc., has been delighting parades, weddings, parties and other events for 45 years.

"We're definitely one of a kind," Shike said. "There's no one that does what we do, and there's no one who can do what we do."

Those Funny Little People famously competed on season 6 of NBC's "America's Got Talent," and briefly appeared in the 1993 movie "The Fugitive." The unmistakable shape and size of the costumes make them easily identifiable and distinct from licensed mascot characters.

"I always say they look like short people with big heads because that's the best way to describe them," Shike said. "It's more of an optical illusion; they're smaller in stature but big in fun."

According to Shike, it all started in 1976, when Dave Gregoire had the idea for a unique Halloween costume. He enlisted his friend, Sarah Polarek, to improve the costume, and the pair performed at the "Madcaps" comedy event for Bishop McNamara High School in Kankakee, Illinois, in 1977. Soon after, they moved to Chicago to dance in the disco scene and became an official entertainment company in 1979.

"People will still see us on the street and start yelling," Shike said. "We saw you at the Nimbus all these years ago!"

Shike said Those Funny Little People do over 30 parades and over 300 shows per year in the Chicago metro area, Milwaukee metro area and northwest Indiana. Fifty iterations of the costume exist for every occasion, and a pair of performers usually work together at events.

"We call them mini-musicals," Shike said. "So it's like a 20-minute show, where the Little People are highly interactive, and they do some choreographed dance numbers."

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Watching the Chicago favorite "Bozo Show" was Shike's first encounter with Those Funny Little People. At the age of 19, she saw an ad in the newspaper and applied to be a performer.

"I didn't make it the first time I auditioned," Shike said. "I went back the next year and auditioned again, and I made it!"

Shike said she worked for Those Funny Little People for several years in an on-and-off-again capacity. In 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic, the company experienced a massive decline in business, and owners Dave Gregoire and Sarah Polarek started considering their options.

"I wrote them this big, long, beautiful letter telling them everything, about how special it was to me, where I met my family, and my friends, all of these things; and they said, 'come in and talk to us,'" Shike said, holding back tears.

The pair sold the business to Shike, and she relocated their office to her home, where she books events, coordinates with performers, and helps manage the costumes. Gregoire died last year, but his legacy of Those Funny Little People will continue for the foreseeable future.

"I think the moral of my story is that I believed in something, and I didn't want it to disappear, not just for me, but for the people, and more importantly, too, for the previous owners to know that it will exist, and that it will live on," Shike said.

For more information on Those Funny Little People, visit thosefunnylittlepeople.com.