You are coming to New Zealand as part of the International Comedy Festival, and you’re bringing your show ‘Look At Me’. Tell me a little bit about it.
It’s a docu-comedy show, documentary mixed with comedy. So it’s gonna make you laugh, it’s gonna make you think. It uses documentary techniques as well as comedy to talk about more difficult subjects. It asks the question: is what we appear to be who we actually are? How much do our outsides change who we are on the inside?
The reason that I ask this question is because in real life, I myself have been the same girl in very different bodies. I used to be a UK size 20, and I’ve also been a UK size 4, so both ends of the scale (pun intended), due to eating disorders. That got me thinking. What if I changed my body even more? Could changing who I was on the outside change who I actually was on the inside?
There are a lot of different subjects that might not have been the most obvious thing to start with a comedy show. We talk about mental health, we talk about facial disfigurement and physical disabilities. I work with some charities in the UK to talk about physical differences. Within the show we find out the similarities between everybody’s bodies.
Do you think society is becoming more open to talking about mental illness?
I think that society is definitely becoming more open, but it’s not an easy conversation to have. It’s a dialogue that is beginning to happen more frequently but it’s not yet something that is normalised in society. So one of the reasons that I wanted to do this show is because so much of our everyday conversations are based upon how you look: ‘You look well’, ‘oh you’re looking great’.
I would much rather find out how you are on the inside, how you are feeling. I think we are having a lot more conversation, the dialogue is happening, but I think we need to fuel the fire, and I think comedy can do that in a really good way, breaking down barriers by making people laugh about more difficult subjects.
Was it difficult incorporating that into a comedy show?
Difficult wouldn’t necessarily be the word. For me, I find my experiences absurd and ridiculous, but then being a human is absurd and ridiculous in so many ways. So I can only laugh at it now, even if they are very dark experiences that I have had. For me the only way that I can reflect on them with any level of sanity now is to laugh – and laugh at the constructs that we as society have about our bodies! We’re constantly putting our bodies down!
Today, I posted a picture of how beautiful the sunset was. “How beautiful are springtime evenings, as beautiful as your face… yeah that’s right I said it, you’re absolutely gorgeous!” I had a friend post a picture of herself, saying, “I beg to differ”, [but] to me she looks absolutely amazing and incredible and gorgeous because her body is surviving. She’s got the flu, but her body is absolutely beautiful in every real sense of the word. It’s fighting that infection and keeping her alive. I think that’s beautiful!
It’s funny that you say that, because one of my favourite things to see is women supporting women, and giving so much love to each other. Do you have any compliments you love to give or receive?
At the beginning of the show, I ask the audience to shout out any word that they are thinking of when they look at me. In the UK, generally, the audiences need a bit of warming up. They might not be massively forthcoming. In Australia, they’re quick off the block, straight away [they’re] gonna shout out any word. I love it when somebody gives me a curveball that I’ve never heard before. I’ve done this show quite a number of times now, and I love it when somebody uses the word ‘confident’. Because I think confidence is something we unpack in the show, and to appear to be confident is not always what is seems to be.
I think that words can be extrememly powerful. Whether they’re positive or negative, I think that words have the power to stay with us. When somebody gives me a compliment, I can use that as a kind of shield against the negative voices that I have in my head. [Like] when my inner negative voices might be saying something really awful about me to put me down and try to make me not achieve what I could possibly achieve. I love being complimented on my charisma, or my intelligence. I like it when people say that I’m surprising. Because I think to surprise people is good.
Once, there was one person who said “human”. Afterwards he came up to me and said, “I was the person who said that you were human, and that to me is the greatest compliment that you can ever give anybody, because to be a human means you are beautiful, you are amazing, you are fallible and you are insecure.” To be a human is so nuanced.
You said that you took on different personas. When you changed your appearance, did you find that it radically changed how people treated you?
This is one of the reasons that I wanted to do that show. Would people treat me any differently, and also would simply changing the way I appeared change how I feel? Actually there were many surprising results. I hadn’t anticipated how much I would enjoy man day. I enjoyed it perhaps a little too much, and I learnt something about the difference between confidence and arrogance. All of the days were surprising, genuinely. I could do an hour-long show about each day. We can’t, there are other shows in the [comedy] festival, I’ve heard.
For me, possibly the biggest contrast to how I’m normally treated came on the day when I was dressed revealingly. I was wearing a hidden camera as well as being filmed, so you get to see directly how people were looking at me on that day. In particular, I found that the most shocking.
Being an international comedian... You must get to do and see some cool things. What’s the coolest thing you’ve ever done?
I get to meet some pretty amazing people. That’s the best thing. I love chatting to audiences afterwards. It can be quite lonely touring on your own. When you do a show as personal as my show, like... everything in the show is completely honest. Anyone can challenge me on any point that I raise in the show.
Having people come up to me afterwards, and tell me their stories, or tell me what the show means to them, it means an awful lot. I’m sharing who I am with them, and I’m discovering who I am through this process with them. You get to meet some people who are also on pretty amazing self-discovery journeys and it kind of feels like you’re collecting a little family. Together we might even change the world.
Best pizza topping?
I don’t eat pizza... The reason for that is that in my on going recovery from eating disorders, there are certainly foods that I find are trigger foods. So I can’t eat them in the same way, and pizza is one of those . Unfortunately for me. I do eat a lot of other things, now. But unfortunately pizza… I think it’s high fat and high carb foods I just find very triggering. But I tend to stuff my face with other things. Cherries! I can’t get enough of cherries.
Twitter or Instagram?
*Agonising deliberation* Oh God! Okay my instinct is Twitter, because those interactions I’ve made on twitter, they mean a lot to me. Instagram is like, all about the filters. I am on Instagram (@juliette_burton), and on Twitter as well (@julietteburton). But on Instagram I just spend ages trying to change the filters, whereas on Twitter you can have proper witticisms, which is important!
The one currently living person whose brain you would love to pick?
Best TV Show ever is....
Oh! I have to pick just one? Oh God! I’m gonna have to say Friends.
Good choice! That’s a classic!
In terms of like, analysing scripts, Friends Series One is pretty amazing. For the first scene of Friends, the first seven lines tell you everything you need to know about four characters, and that’s pretty intense.
One place you’ll definitely be visiting in New Zealand?
So this is my first time in NZ, and I would like to throw that back to your readers. I don’t know anything, other than it’s meant to be very beautiful. I’m gonna be in Auckland and Wellington, and I don’t know where to go. If I had like a couple of hours, where should I go? Help me!
One word to describe Kim Kardashian’s most recent nude selfie?
I haven’t seen it! I wouldn’t want to pass judgement on the way that she expresses herself with her body. I’ve done a nude shoot, I think that every woman’s body is her own to use, in whatever way she wishes!
Juliette Burton is in New Zealand next month as part of the International Comedy Festival. She has shows in Auckland from the 3rd-7th May at Q Theatre, and in Wellington from 10th-14th May at BATS Theatre. See the International Comedy Festival website to book tickets!