At its comedy benefit Monday night, Natasha’s Justice Project achieved the near impossible. The non-profit organization, which gives justice to sexual assault survivors by eliminating the national backlog of unprocessed rape kits, brought clarity and laughter to a subject often shrouded in shame and misconceptions.
Stand up and improv didn’t seem like obvious entertainment choices for NJP’s fundraiser, held at GW’s Jack Morton Auditorium. But founder Natasha Alexenko, herself a sexual assault survivor, succinctly explained the motivation behind a comedy show.
“We are all survivors of something,” she said. “If we didn’t have laughter, then where would we be?”
The two stand-up comedians gave solid, personable performances, and in true stand-up fashion, thoroughly aired-out their own quirks and pet peeves. Opener and host Emily Ruskowski was not shy about sharing her vulnerabilities.
“I like it when friends say I’m thick,” the curvy Ruskowski said. “It reminds me of an expensive steak.” She then told a story about a middle school bully who changed the lyrics to “Who Rocks the Party?” to make fun of her size. She told the audience his name, but we all now know him as James “QuietKitty”; the nickname came from a school-wide rumor that he had a “romantic relationship with his cat.”
“The kids would sing this song to me on the bus, and I’d be like, ‘He f*cks his cat!”’ she said. But it just didn’t get the same response, sadly.
Headliner Erin Jackson’s act had the off-the-cuff, intimate feel of a best friend venting to you for the better part of an hour. Jackson, who has appeared on The Ellen DeGeneres Show and Comedy Central’s Live at Gotham, shared her opinions on stripper footwear, her hatred of her dentist and her dismal luck with dating.
“I date losers pretty exclusively,” she said, glass of white wine in hand.
Improv team ShawnMikael(s)’s performance was surprisingly not cringe inducing; there were no awkward moments or uncomfortably long silences. Instead, Shawn Westfall and and Mikael Johnson crafted a seamless, funny scene from just one word: Kingsley (as in Kingsley Amis, Westfall’s favorite author). At its best, improv creates a series of great inside jokes for a large group of people. No one in the audience will think of the word “Vermouth” in the same way again.
The evening ended with an edited clip of HBO’s “Sex Crimes Unit,” a documentary which featured Alexenko’s story. She was raped and robbed at gunpoint in 1993; 10 years later, New York’s Sex Crimes Unit processed her rape kit and, in 2007, made a DNA match. Her assailant is now in jail, but approximately 180,000 rape kits in the United States remain untested. Alexenko continues to educate others about sexual assault, and works with prosecutors, sexual assault nurses and other professionals to develop an efficient way to eliminate the national rape kit backlog.
Alexenko was poised and sincere during a brief Q & A session after the clip.
“I’m an anomaly, because I got closure. So many women do not have that,” she said. “When I tell people about the rape kit backlog, their eye pop out like cartoons, because it’s unbelievable. It’s disgusting.”
The event raised about $4500 dollars for Natasha’s Justice Project.