"Everything I do is very very dirty, raunchy and naughty and I like that."
Desiree Burch first performed at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 2009 but it's only really been since 2016 that people in the UK especially, have starting paying attention. Her 2017 show Unfuckable is being developed into a comedy drama and as the months go on she continues to add a list of television appearances to her CV including co-hosting Flinch on Netflix alongside Lloyd Griffith and Seann Walsh.
As we chat ahead of her return to Edinburgh she talks about what people can expect from her fourth hour Desiree's Coming Early!, what it was like appearing on The Jonathan Ross Show and why she feels like she doesn't quite exist in the UK and in America.
Your first Fringe was 10 years ago, but you didn't return until 2016. How much Edinburgh mean to you?
When you put it like that I feel really fricking old. But it's interesting how the festival changes shape and scope. When I first came in 2009, I was still living in New York and was bringing a theatre piece, a solo performance piece to the festival so I was predominantly defined as a performance artist or solo performer - someone who wrote and performed her own things.
Doing Edinburgh Fringe when you are not in the UK definitely has a bit more of a mystique. It's so much a tour because you're in the same place, but you are doing a much longer run of a show than you'd ever really get in New York unless you are working off Broadway or on Broadway really. It's rare that you're going to be doing a show for three-and-a-half weeks because it's so damn expensive.
Even though as we all know, Edinburgh is really expensive. Everything in Edinburgh is a theatre for a month, every single hole and every kind of cavity. It definitely means much more in terms of the calibre of the performance. Even if your show is only OK, you've performed it 25 times so it's bound to be really strong by the end of it.
And at the time, because I'd gone to the Fringe, it definitely paved the way for me to do further things whilst I was still in the US. Now that I live in the UK and I work predominantly as a comedian, the Fringe is definitely something that I should still do. It's more of a trade show or a conference now, not only am I honing my work but I'm also trying to market my wares.
It seems like when you did return in 2016, that's when you really began to find your voice. Would you agree?
When I performed This Is Evolution in 2016, I found out that my work existed in the frame of stand-up comedy in the UK. It bridges my background as a theatre artist and doing stand-up in clubs and whatnot. I began to focus a lot more on stand-up in 2016.
I also brought a theatre piece to the festival in 2015, but that's a totally different festival when you're in Edinburgh compared to the comedy festival which usually dominates. I think it was a matter of lining up what it is that I do and can do with what it is people will pay money to see.
So yeah, I think my 2016 show came across as a stand-up comedy show that's got some internal structure to it which is how I've continued to write my shows and the way I like to work.
What can people expect from your show this year?
All of my work tends to be based on storytelling and personal narrative with even my director telling me that I'm quite masochistic in my adherence to trying to reveal inner truths in order to bring audiences to a place of more social understanding.
In this show, I'm generally talking a lot about loops - cycles, habits, patterns that you find yourself in. Both ones that can be useful and others that can be quite harmful and we do to ourselves. In trying to investigate that I guess I'm being slightly less personal than I was in 2017 for example, where my show Unfuckable was about power and capitalism and sex, having done sex work and also having experienced various forms of assault and the honestly were far more prescient in that I didn't the 'Me Too' movement would follow.
For me this show is trying to answer "Who the fuck am I?" - I feel like I've presented my opinions on things but with Desiree's Coming Early! I'm trying to reach more deeply into the patterns, cycles and habits - for better or for worse - that make me me.
How long have you been working on this show for?
I don't know! I feel like I'm barely doing anything, but I'd say it's mostly started coming together in the last few months. Although, I think the beginnings of it actually started in the fall of last year when I was recalling some stories of getting into an arbitrary, very literal loop during a conversation that kept going over and over again.
I knew I wanted to talk about that and how in dating or social media we do the same cycles. So that was the impetus for it. Only now am I understanding why that is holding my fascination. I'm turning 40 this year so I'm looking at cycles that have plagued me my entire life and questioning if that's all there is. But at the same time, revelling in the comfort of those things which at a certain point start to frame your identity, for better or for worse.
How did you settle on the title, Desiree's Coming Early!?
A lot of the time something just feels right and people giggle at that one because it obviously has sexual innuendo as does most of my work, although that was not at all the impetus for it. It was more about that feeling you get when you've woken up early or stayed up until the sun's come up.
Having been someone who's always been late as far as time, blooming, to the party, whatever - I was thinking about what the other side of that coin looks like and for me to not feel like I have to over prepare for everything in my life and just show up - rocking it on your doorstep at 8 in the morning with last night's dress on.
There's something about the back end meeting with the beginning again that I liked because everything about my energy is very late night, weekend, party time all that other time. And I think a lot of that is because I'm worrying that I'm not prepared enough to do the early thing. But life is long and you have to time to change how you do things.
Do you enjoy having that Edinburgh hour to fill?
It's an interesting amount of time. I do enjoy having an hour, I do like being able to create an essay that's funny and tells an audience what I think about something. Although with comedy, even though you memorise it link to link to link, you go with the energy of the audience and figure out what's going to be funny when.
So I do like having that amount of time although that hour tends to be too much and not enough because you get to a 40/45 minute mark and you're like these are jokes and this is a coherent thing I'm saying but then you get to an hour and for me to get it to a climax it wants to be 75 minutes.
As you've probably already gleaned, I'm quite verbose so I try and condense what I do to fit within an hour as I usually run over. Which is fine if my show is the last one of the night in the venue but now I'm on at 7.40pm so I really have to keep it cute.
I'm used to seeing you perform late night. How do you feel about the new time slot?
It's gonna be interesting. It's a little bit more conducive not having horrific sleep patterns while you're at the Fringe and doing all the late night stuff. I'd like to try and maintain something that looks like a regular normal life, even though you're doing shows every night.
I hate to say that I'm toning down, because I'd never want to do that, but everything I do is very very dirty, raunchy and naughty and I like that. And I feel like there's a certain social import to that but I'm also trying to find ways to talk about things that are less bam bam bam and try to find fluctuations and talk about things that are a little bit more 7 o'clock.
So we'll see if my audience are ready for that or if I've just horribly shot myself in the dick for this one and should have had my show on at 10.30pm like I usually do.
Will you get the chance to see many people perform?
I hope so. Hopefully with a show on at 7.40pm and not taking on nearly as much as I generally do, I'll have more time to see and appreciate what is being put out. I'll see friends from New York that I never normally get to see.
It's funny, and what's interesting is that I have so many American friends who tell me they're thinking about trying to move over here and I'm like "Yeah, that's only because you're paying attention to the garbage fire that is America. You haven't really investigated Brexit yet and what it might mean for you." - Things are going in tandem down the loo a bit. We've both got our problems and it's difficult to tell which one's going to leave damage behind longer.
You've lived in the UK for a long time now, do you feel like an honorary Brit now?
I don't know when you get that sticker. I feel in the middle. I don't feel like I live in the States anymore and I don't feel like as connected to things that are going on there even though that's such a part of who I am.
I'm more up to date with what's going on here but at the same time, there are so many things that I just don't have an understanding for at all because it takes a different upbringing to get them.
I am currently straddling two different places and not quite existing in either one. The more I go back home the more people point out that I'm using British vernacular and things like that. But I always still feel that the moment I open my mouth in the UK I stick out. Whether it's how I'm saying what I'm saying or what it is I'm actually saying. I don't know at which point it clicks over.
You appeared on The Jonathan Ross Show earlier this year. What was that experience like for you?
Because I don't have the history of what a certain thing means, I knew it was a big deal but I didn't quite understand how. The experience itself was fun and nerve-wracking because as you get closer to something the meaning, significance and "Don't fuck this up-ness" starts to dawn on you. You just want to look cute and appear to be charming.
I knew I'd be asked questions that I'd prepared for and others that I'd not. I was sitting there until the end, sometimes when you get it over with early it's easier but I had all this time to get more and more nervous.
It was fun meeting Westlife, Dani Dyer and the cast of Line of Duty more than I thought I would. I'm not someone who watches Love Island but I thought Dani Dyer was totally charming. Those are lovely surprises and Jonathan Ross is a wonderful interviewer and a lovely human being so he made it good even though I was so adrenalin fuelled that I was hoping I was making complete words not to mention sentences.
A lot of people were tweeting that they didn't know who I was when they saw the line-up but I thought, yup - that's the whole point of me going on the show! You will know who I am after you've seen it.
Outside of the Fringe, what are you working on?
Hopefully more panel shows or stand-up specials but I am in the process of getting the comedy drama version of Unfuckable on its feet for television which is something I'm developing now with Tiger Aspect. You never know if these things will happen or not but I really do feel like it's a useful lens through which to tell a story.
You just hope that people get it. It's very easy to describe it as a show about the time this woman was a virgin and a dominatrix and whilst that is a very useful marketing hook, I think those are all the ancillary details to the deeper story. A story which is about women and power and sex and money and how all those things go together in our everyday lives in ways that we don't even pay attention to.
Finally, how would you sum up this year's show in just five words?
We're caught in a loop.
Desiree Burch: Desiree's Coming Early! runs from 1st - 25th August (not 13th and 20th) at 7.40pm at Heroes @ The Hive (The Big Cave). Book tickets here.