Classic Interview: Desiree Burch

Classic Interview: Desiree Burch
I'm pretty sure Desiree Burch is the first Yale graduate to appear on Taskmaster. She is probably also the first former dominatrix to appear on the award-winning game show. Burch has just been revealed as one of the competitors on the next series, which will hopefully air on C4 later this year.
 
In the meantime get some background on this formidable performer by reading this interview with her. A version of this piece ran in the Evening Standard when she brought her acclaimed storytelling show Desiree's Coming Early to London. Some comics go straight from college to stage. Not Burch. Now read on...
 
 
Every year at the Edinburgh Fringe there is always the one that got away. That precious show that really should have been on the Edinburgh Comedy Awards shortlist but was somehow inexplicably overlooked. This year the One That Got Away Prize should most definitely go to Desiree Burch.
 

Burch's 2019 show Desiree's Coming Early was a seamless, captivating account of her visit to the legendary Burning Man Festival in the Nevada desert. It was the perfect synthesis of stand-up and storytelling, where you never quite knew what was true, as the tale took in naked dancers, trippy sexual encounters, Michael Jackson, race, movie The Green Mile and much more. Part-political thesis, part-magic realism, part-shaggy dog story.

The star concurs over coffee about the politics and the magic realism, but having grown up in California, the phrase “shaggy dog story” is new to her: “What’s that? Like a hairy dog where you don’t know what’s underneath the fur?” She clearly likes the way the English speak. Which is convenient because she is currently based here. 

Burch, 40, explains how Burning Man is an elemental event where people become literally stripped to their basics for seven days. Imagine Glastonbury multiplied by a thousand. “It’s a wild and crazy fever dream. Mad Max meets renaissance fayre. You are struggling against the elements, hot and covered in dust, pushed to the limits of your hygiene boundaries. There is a certain magic when you get to that point.” Yes. But is your story all true? “The plot points all happened ... it’s more than a crazy ass trip.”

 
“My boyfriend said I’d do well here and he was right. I finally got a sense that I could have a comedy career.”Having graduated from Yale with a degree in theatre studies she also wrote serious plays, but laughter became more important than drama. “In a way comedy was always there."
 
"I’d always been writing comedically about things. I was raised by a television set. Growing up I’d watch people like Richard Pryor and — unfortunately — Bill Cosby. When I went to university I was going to act, but realised there was no money in it unless you are a movie star.”
 

The comedy scene in America, however, was not that different, it transpired. “In America there is a bottom tier and a top tier. You are either getting paid in drinks or getting paid millions of dollars.” But in London she quickly established herself on the circuit and found that she could earn a living. “Here you can pay your rent and tour.”

She is a passionate fan of the London stand-up world. “It’s a richer culture. People want to go out and see live performance. You get to do longer sets whereas in America the pressure is on you to do your best 10 minutes to get a spot on a chat show. People here like to see the process, they like the journey not just the pay-off.”

When it comes to jobs Burch has an off-the-wall CV. In her twenties she worked as a dominatrix. She is currently developing a television series with production company Tiger Aspect based on her experiences. “There’s so much to talk about — black women’s stories, sexuality, money, power. It’s not just about sex dungeons and leather whips. For me what happens in the room with the client is not the interesting part, it’s the fluctuating dynamics, the relationship between the women that do it, the kind of women that do it.”

Her decision to become a sex worker was relatively straightforward. “As a woman I’m going to be exploited anyway so why should I not be exploited like this — getting paid to do s**t that I do for free. I guess it’s a way to make the most money in the shortest time, but for me it was also a way of exploring myself on a basic level.”

For a while Burch also worked on sex chatlines. “It’s amazing how little you had to say.” I suggest she’s got the kind of persuasive, powerful style that maybe men who call sex lines like to hear. “People seem to be intimated by my voice, they think I’m a tough cookie.”

It’s a style that also works in TV comedy. She’s been on panel shows and The Mash Report and later this year she will be seen on BBC2 compering Live at the Apollo, having previously proved herself as a guest: “It was nice to come back. The first time I did it, it felt like an out-of-body experience. This time it felt like I was actually doing a set and telling jokes about being horny and single.”

With more projects in the pipeline it looks like Burch is going to be in London for some time yet. “I like working here. It’s not so much about fitting into a box. My style is both highbrow and lowbrow. I’m both intellectual and filthy and those things co-exist a lot better here.”

Desiree Burch Picture: Idil Sukan

 

 

 

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