Women’s Therapy Center in Berkeley hosts comedy night, empowers women

Vijal Nathan/Courtesy

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Nestled between Addison and Center Street in Downtown Berkeley is a small office space, complete with an indoor garden and surrounded by serene foliage.

Down the hall amid a row of offices is a conference room, and hanging off the door, a sign reads: “In Session — Do Not Disturb.”

Instead of a stately board room with a large oak table, surrounded by leather chairs and suited-up business people, exuding corporate professionalism and managerially organized interactions, we find a small room with lit paper lamps, floral decals and low, soft couches. The wall is painted a calming green, and the relaxing atmosphere matches the work done at the Women’s Therapy Center, or WTC, a nonprofit organization dedicated to specialized and affordable therapy and therapist training.

Tonight’s meeting is with the WTC board of directors — women of varying occupations and backgrounds who have volunteered their time to the center and its various goals and services. The entire ordeal is very therapy-esque — several calm voices speak at once with each conflict handled in a sensitive manner.

The meeting is so relaxed that you would never have guessed that they were in the midst of planning a roaring comedy show, featuring rancorous comedian Vijai Nathan, for their second annual WTC comedy night fundraiser.

The fundraiser, to be held at the David Brower Center in Downtown Berkeley on Friday, will aid in the WTC’s continuing effort to offer affordable therapy for women, couples, adolescent girls and transgender people.

Many nonprofit organizations fall into the pattern of holding silent auctions or swanky dinners to lure in sponsors, but executive director Helen Hansel’s love for comedy inspired the organization to put the “fun” back in “fundraiser.”

“(The comedy show idea) was my fault,” Hansel laughs.

Hansel is also a comedian and will be performing at the fundraiser alongside Audre the Wonderwoman and Maria Bratko.

“When I first started working here, I did a one-woman show to raise money for the organization,” she says. “But an hour on stage is a long time (laughs). And people told me that … even if they enjoyed it!”

Hansel says she hopes the fundraiser will develop into a “safe space” for new, aspiring comedians to try their hand at stand-up.

“My first experience on stage as a comedian was part of a community group in Petaluma,” she says. “They put on a talent show and said, ‘Anyone who’s ever had a fantasy doing anything — let’s do it.’ I had always wanted to try comedy, and it was a safe place to do it, so I really want the fundraiser to be a venue where people could try stand-up for the first time.”

WTC will be continuing the tradition of offering a “safe space” for new comedians with the event’s amateur master of ceremonies, Kim Veneza. Hansel says she is hoping that the event picks up steam over the next couple of years and will hopefully encourage new comedians to come forward and perform.

“If you know anybody who wants to try comedy, I’d be happy to give them five minutes on stage,” she says. “And coach them a little bit.”

For the other members of the WTC board of directors, a comedy night felt like the perfect way to meld their passion for mental health work and a space for stress relief and relaxation.

“People often say that laughter is therapy,” says board member Valory Mitchell. “There is more than one way to approach healing, and laughter is not a bad way.”

The fundraiser will be held this friday at the David Brower Center 

Rosemarie Alejandrino is a senior staff writer. Contact her at [email protected]