December 2016, and in Circuit Training's home town, leafy Ware in leafy Herts, something almost certainly unprecedented is happening. In the basement of what used to be old-man-pub The Wine Lodge, and is now cool-person's-pub The Lodge, a comedian from LA, via NYC, is taking to the stage...
You may well have come across Desiree Burch, on Frankie Boyle's election show American Autopsy, or her excellent Valentine's-themed Sky Arts short. Or last year's Edinburgh show, This is Evolution, which is now at the Soho Theatre, and it's memorably penis-heavy poster. More on that later.
We'll also get onto Burch's experimental theatre roots, how she wound up in the UK, how she'd rather not be in the US right now, and capitalism. Which is apt, as we meet in a café near the base of London's long, impressive Shard, just before she headed off to do some thespian business.
What are you up to after this?
I'm doing a reading - it'll be nice to do something 'actory', although I'm in a position these days where I feel like I need to focus. Everything I've ever loved doing is moving forward, everything's ready to come out on the dinner table, but I'm not a good chef.
Every day I wake up, and I feel like everyone's asking me to do things - I just get a spike of anxiety, that I have to find a way to function. People want me, which is what I've always wanted. But on the other hand, what I also desperately want is for everyone to leave me alone all the time.
You're the new Marlene Dietrich. Or Stanley Kubrick. Or someone else ending with 'ick'.
Yeah, that's what they feel when people ask them to do things - "ick!"
So, we met in where...
It was in Lichfield? Or Wolverhampton?
Sorry, I mean, we met in Ware.
We met in Ware! The perennial joke about Ware.
What were you doing there? It was pretty amazing seeing you in the basement of the old Wine Lodge.
I was doing some comedy, per request, for Chris Purchase, who's a wonderful comic who has lots of gigs in random cities in this country that I haven't been to yet. Ware is fairly local.
You weren't trying stuff out, away from prying eyes?
No, I should have been, because apparently as soon as you leave Edinburgh you have to start writing your next show, otherwise you end up as the rest of us are, going, "what, I have to sign up in the programme and I have no idea what I'm doing?"
I get the impression that stand-up wasn't your original plan... Where are you from originally?
I was born in Los Angeles, and I grew up in a city called Diamond Bar, which is in the suburbs of LA. It wasn't even a city when my parents moved, but this place is now a gated, moneyed community, Snoop Dogg has a house there. And my dad still has the house there but my mum moved away, because they needed to break up for so long.
One of those break-ups where it feels like a wedding: "congratulations!"
"You've moved on with your lives! You can at least be happy with the years you have left." So who knows if there was a dream - I think when I discovered theatre in high school I wanted to be an actor, because it felt like it fit. I used to watch a lot of stand-up on TV, people like Emo Philips, Judy Tenuta, Elayne Boosler, then I started to see more solo performers - Spalding Gray doing Monster in a Box or whatever - "oh, that's a thing".
So when I went to university, I did a bunch of theatre and wound up focussing on independent devised theatre, I had a teacher who was a mentor in that. All of the skills that I had in writing, and the things that I wanted to do as a performer started to come together, because there's nothing you can't do at that point.
It was far more satisfying to be able to create things for myself on stage, and say what I wanted to say in the universe. And when I went to New York City, if you're not a movie star you don't get cast in Broadway. Unless you do musicals.
Why move to New York?
Because it was closer to where I went to university, in Connecticut.
And no-one stays in Connecticut...
Connecticut hasn't got shit. Connecticut has New York. My parents were splitting up at the time so I didn't feel like going home, and I won't say that I don't like LA, because it's got things going for it, but the spectre that Hollywood casts over the arts there is really limiting.
And I grew up with that, that feeling that I didn't belong in society at all, because I didn't look like what I was being shown. I just had to believe that there was more life out there.
Much of the trajectory of my life has been pursuing that feeling of 'oh I get people here and people get me,' so I just keep moving to more inclement weather, further and further east, backwards in historical movement. Because I feel like people get realer, or have more of an appetite for the kinds of things that I like to do.
We always assume that LA is full of terribly 'ambitious' people.
I'd agree with that in a general sense, but New York has the most ambitious people I've ever met - the ambition in Los Angeles is tinged with much more delusion, people want to be pretty and make a lot of money off of that. It's less about being good, more about being recognised, and coveted.
If you've found your niche it's a good place to be, it's beautiful, but it's easy to be profoundly alone there, in a way that London and New York will never be, because you're always around people.
You started doing theatre in New York?
I started doing everything - stand-up, which I put down, and moved on to other things, then came back to.
What sort of material were you doing then?
I don't know: young stuff, smoking weed, things I saw in commercials.
General observational stuff - no big issues?
No, because who's concerned about them where you're 18, 19? Sure, you think you're concerned about the big issues, but you have no real grasp on them. When you take on bigger issues later, you have to go 'ok, it's ok for them not to laugh every second - I can do more dick jokes in the other set.'
Every year in Edinburgh you see more comics label their shows as 'theatre', which basically allows them longer gaps between the laughs.
Absolutely - that's the difference between a one-woman show and a stand-up show: if I say something and you laugh it's comedy, and if you don't, it's performance art.
I moved to New York, and continued to do my solo performance stuff, and eventually wound up working with a theatre company called The Neo-Futurists: any plays I performed in were experimental, or devised, or original works. That was probably the better part of my twenties, in the early 2000s.
I think that all informed what I'm interested in. What I really love doing are the one-woman shows, but it's cool that I can create a stand-up hour, something with an arc, but funny. That's the challenge.
And if it's just funny, but not changing the world - three stars.
It's interesting to me, I appreciate that there are awards and reviews in this country because it means that stand-up is taken seriously, and its more part of a culture and a monetised culture - you can make a living as a stand-up here.
But that's not something I'm accustomed to at all, in the States. It's subjective. Some people will come to the show and be like, 'for an hour I feel like a should get a larger point' but often that larger point is just 'be good to each other guys!' or 'and then my dad died!'
So basically what they're saying is [points at my hot beverage] 'I want salt in my hot chocolate, so I can taste the salty and the sweet.'
As critics, we can't help going 'I discovered a thing!' even if that thing tastes horrible.
Right. But some people just want the hot chocolate - that's what they came out for, to see stand-up, in Ware and everywhere else, they're not coming out to hear about someone's dad dying.
Having said that, your shows all sound themed?
They do, and they are. But this is the first full-length stand up show.
This is Evolution, then: how would you describe it to, say, an elderly relative?
Ha - I'd say 'you're not gonna like this grandma,' because I talk about sex, a lot.
There's a spectacular bit I saw you do in Ware: the nose analogy. How did you end coming to Britain, by the way?
Boyfriend. That's why anyone goes anywhere really.
As an actress, were you tempted to tell everyone 'I'm 22!', or whatever, like people from LA are supposed to do?
A reinvention - yeah, I suppose I could have.
But comedians tend to be pretty frank about stuff...
Which is cool, although there is an increasing bent towards 'oh we want this fresh new face that just came out of Cambridge' - so there's an incentive to lie. But it takes a decade of doing stuff before you've got something to say.
This Soho Theatre show is the one with the dick-pics poster...
... which is proving harder and harder to take to other places. I'm doing it at Soho, and they're working with the National Theatre, and so have kids coming through at the same time that my show's going to be there. So we can't do the dick poster. I'm just gonna do a sad poster with my sad face on.
Flaccid dicks would probably be fine...
No-one wants to see that.
How did it come about?
There's a bit in the show where I talk about dick pics. And every piece of marketing is a canvas for someone to draw a penis on, so what better way of curtailing that than 'I've put all the penises here.' If someone draws a penis on, it becomes high art.
When I was dating lots of guys and would get a dick pic, I would just keep it: 'it came into my yard, it's mine now.' Those aren't ALL mine, I got some from other friends. There are 200-plus penises on that thing.
200 individual penises?
No, some are repeated, flipped around or whatnot. But I think there are something like 60 or 70 different penises.
I'd love to know what the other people in this café are making of this conversation. Anyway, what's the next show about?
Who fucking knows, I'm just collecting material. I don't know that it's going to be about capitalism, but I find that I'm far more obsessed with it these days than I have been in previous times.
I was walking past 'The Walkie Talkie' and The Shard just now thinking 'is it ok that I kinda like those'?
I think it's useful that we're questioning that. Maybe more of us are than we ever did before.
You have to with that guy in the White House. Are you happy to be out of the US right now? Or would you rather be in there shouting against it?
Yeah, I'm happy to be gone. I'll fight in my own ways, but I don't want to be there right now - it feels different, the air feels different. It's demoralising and I don't know that calling my congresswoman every day will make me feel better about any of it. It feels like everything's changing, and there's nothing to be done, because the only people who can impeach the guy won't.
It's tough - you try not to think about it, because it's so depressing, but ignoring it would be worse.
That's what you're not supposed to do. It's the mark of a free society, not having to worry about your freedom everyday. And unfortunately it's not a free society. Coming to the reality of that is probably more important than anything.