Woman in Progress: Desiree Burch interview
Desiree Burch returns to Scotland with a work-in-progress show at Glasgow Comedy Festival about humble beginnings
Desiree Burch wants to properly introduce herself. The London-based New Yorker made a memorable impact at the 2017 Edinburgh Fringe with her candid show, Unf*ckable, about her former life as a dominatrix. And she's since become a familiar face on television, appearing on the likes of Live At The Apollo, Have I Got News For You, QI and The Mash Report over the past 18 months.
But for her latest hour, which she's work-in-progressing at the Glasgow Comedy Festival ahead of her Edinburgh return, Burch is hoping to fill in the gaps and unpack the origin story of how a Christian-raised virgin became a sex worker.
“A lot of my work obviously talks about sex and identity. And this is probably continuing in that vein,” she explains. “But I'm focusing more on trying to do a show that would typically be a lot of people's first show, which is: 'this is my family and this is where I'm from'. I skipped over that to get to the issue-based stuff. I say that... it'll probably wind up just being a bunch of dick jokes.”
After “the fun and ridiculousness” of working in a sex dungeon in a nondescript office block fulfilling men's stranger desires, Burch's initial forays into theatrical storytelling in the US, surviving “hand to mouth,” were accompanied by “my growing awareness of…” and she laughs, “capitalism… and how it affects everything, the way that we treat other human beings and view bodies, the way we understand our sexual selves.”
Moving to the UK for a (now-ended) relationship, Burch has discovered herself becoming a politicised comic, almost in spite of herself. The Harvey Weinstein scandal broke as she brought Unf*ckable back to London, giving it an extra social edge. And she's aware that being “opinionated and articulate enough to hold my own” on television, where “Brits are more interested in getting their news in a funny way than Americans, you wind up making political comedy just because you're working in that medium.”
Besides, “being female, a person of colour, bisexual and even a person of size if you want to call it that, that does put you into certain political categories. So yes, I am a political comic, insofar as my personal feels very political right now.”
Currently developing her dominatrix tales for television with the production company Tiger Aspect, makers of Blackadder and The Vicar of Dibley amongst others, Burch's next screen appearance will be on the Netflix physical gameshow Flinch, which she co-presents with fellow comics Seann Walsh and Lloyd Griffith.
“That was just sort of lovely and absurdly human,” she recalls of filming in remote Northern Ireland. “Because none of us really knew what we were getting into. At the end of a show, someone's wound up on the spot, with loud noises going off behind them, horrific smells or just very intense things being fired at them, trying not to flinch. You have to suffer. But then everyone laughs and it's done.”
Performance is certainly a way to assuage fear, as Burch can attest. “I often have audience members going 'Oh, you're so brave and confident'.
“No, that's why I put things on stage. It's practice for real life. In reality, I'm full of fucking anxiety and diffidence. So I'm trying to get my real life up to par with what my stage life appears to be, essentially. I'm doing things in reverse order again.”
Desiree Burch: WIP, Berk's Nest @ The Old Hairdressers, 23 Mar, 8.30pm, £12/10