Desiree Burch: 'The show takes on sex, work, sex work, and how to keep sex from becoming work'

Desiree Burch: 'Say your crazy-ass things'

Desiree Burch / credit: Tean Roberts

The LA-born, UK-based Desiree Burch is a rising star in both comedy and theatre circles, determined to keep offering audiences new and funny perspectives

Finding that sweet spot where comedy and theatre intersect isn't always easy, but Desiree Burch is a prime example of someone who has successfully blurred those genre distinctions. As winner of the 2015 Funny Women Stage Award and also a recipient of a Fringe First Award in the same year for her solo show Tar Baby, Burch has marched firmly into both realms with terrific results.

'I watched a lot of "Live from the Improv" type shows on cable when I was a kid,' Burch recalls. 'I think I identified with that kind of one-person performance right off the bat. I concentrated on solo performance while I studied theatre at Yale, so I think that's where that desire got focused.'

Burch thrived in the experimental theatre scene as a founding member of the New York Neo-Futurists, but with her move to London, she discovered a real affinity for stand-up, finding a new type of space to explore her ideas. 'In the UK, there is a real economy for comedy in a way that there isn't in the States. Doing comedy on the road and having a family life is much more doable because things are closer together. There are a lot of TV and radio jobs for comics here that don't exist in the States. So my time has gravitated more towards comedy in the few years I've been here.'

Burch has toured internationally with her solo shows, receiving great praise for her storytelling prowess and sharp analysis of both the personal and political. But in her most recent stand-up show, Unfuckable, she takes this one step further, recounting anecdotes from her past as a virgin professional dominatrix in New York with unashamed detail and intelligent commentary that centres on race, sex and capitalism. 'The show takes on sex, work, sex work, and how to keep sex from becoming work. I talk about the commodification of my black, female, plus-sized body, and how that work helped me to recognise other places in my life where those elements are at play. In many ways, it's about reclaiming the self and one's own value, by trying to discover what it's worth.'

Desiree Burch: 'Say your crazy-ass things'

Tar Baby / credit: Jannica Honey
Unfuckable is undeniably hilarious in its many tales of strange encounters and quirky characters, but it also sees Burch interrogate her position as a black woman, busting down expectations, stereotypes and any false notions of black womanhood. 'I tend to think that the more intersectional you are, the more ways in which you need to prove yourself in order to be trusted and considered for work. A woman, especially a woman of colour, is seen as more of a gamble than a 22-year-old white guy out of university. You have to be more patient because without some other kind of intervention, it's just going to take you longer. It does make you notice that once you thought you were playing the same game as everyone else, and realise at some point that others have been dealt more cards than you. So you have to circle back and work on getting more cards to play.'

Despite that struggle, Burch has been able to build up a solid body of work that will no doubt continue to stand her in good stead as she works on new projects, of which there are some in the pipeline. Nevertheless, having experienced the problems inherent in questioning your identity and position, especially within creative spaces, she has some solid words of wisdom for fellow women of colour interested in comedy and performance. 'Say your crazy-ass things. Others are hungry for your stories because they haven't been clearly defined for a lot of your audiences yet. They are looking for something different, and they won't know it's you until you show them so.'

Desiree Burch: Unfuckable, Basement Theatre, Edinburgh, Fri 27 Apr. Burch is also on a multi-act bill there on Fri 27 & Sat 28 Apr.

Desiree Burch: Unf*ckable

Raw and raucous observations and advice from the 2015 Funny Women-winner, poking around the drives women have to stop sex from becoming work.

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