Comedy performer Juliette Burton was recently invited to Whitehall to meet Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg at an event giving out awards to ‘Mental Health Heroes’.
“Were you up for an award?” I asked.
“No,” she told me. “I was invited as a ‘celebrity ambassador’ for the mental health charities MIND and Time To Change. At the event, I met this guy called Harry who worked for the Department of Health who knew all about me. He knew I do voice-over work and shows and I was rather confused but also kind-of liked it. The explanation was that apparently I was one of only seven people there the staff had access to biographies of.”
“Did you meet Nick Clegg?”
“No. But I did slurp my wine very, very loudly during his speech, which I felt was opposition enough.”
Juliette has just moved down to London from Edinburgh, where she lived for three years.
“All of the industry is centred in London,” she explained, “so it’s a lot more practical living down here, but I do miss Edinburgh desperately.”
“Until recently,” I told her, “I’d always had relatives in Edinburgh. It is the place I’ve always felt most at home and the irony is I’ve never had a home there. I always reckoned, if I won the Lottery, it would be a house in Edinburgh and a flat in London.”
“I loved living in Edinburgh,” said Juliette.
“But now,” I prompted, “in April, you’re starting a new monthly comedy show in Shoreditch.”
“Yes. Juliette Burton’s Happy Hour.”
“And how long,” I asked, “does Juliette Burton’s Happy Hour last?”
“About two hours.”
“So that’s interesting,” I said.
“Well, yes,” agreed Juliette. “Happy Hour is longer than an hour and it’s hosted by someone with clinical depression.”
“Are you going back to the Edinburgh in August with a new Fringe show?”
“I’ve been working on Look At Me with Kevin Shepherd, who’s directing it. I’m doing it at Dave’s Leicester Comedy Festival on 22nd February and at the Brighton Fringe on 28th of May.”
“Ah,” I said, “that’s your broadcast journalist background showing. Getting the plug in… So why do you need a director now for Look At Me? Is it slightly different from the version that played the Edinburgh Fringe last year?”
“Yes. I’m being a bit more free with my ad-libbing.”
“How?” I asked, “given it has to run the same length.”
“I’m cutting out some things and allowing myself to be a bit more ‘me’ – so a bit less ‘performer’ and a bit more ‘me’.”
“Because Kevin tells me I’m naturally funny, which I never thought I was – and I’m still a bit skeptical about that. He tells me I can relax a little more and not hide behind a script. “
“But why no new Fringe show this year?” I asked.
“Because the three new shows I am working on are all rather complicated and will take longer to put together. I’m going to try to get one, if not two, of them at a preview stage by autumn this year.”
“There’s The Butterfly Effect, which is about how much impact somebody can have on the world and about how, if we want to see change in the world, we need to be the change we want to see in the world. Something like that. The Dalai Lama and all that.”
“He’d be a good audience for a comedy show,” I suggested. “He giggles a lot.”
“And then there’s Daddy’s Girl,” Juliette continued, which is one I really want to do.”
“And which I know we can’t talk about,” I said.
“Yes,” said Juliette. “It’s about something I can’t yet divulge everything about. It’s something that is extremely close to my heart and I’m really keen to do it. But there are lots of other exciting things happening at the moment. I think Dreamcatcher is the most likely show to be ready first, though a lot might change in the coming weeks. It’s a very exciting year.”
“Why are you doing THREE new shows anyway?” I asked.
“Because I have lots of ideas and I can’t stop myself.”
“But it’s a lot of psychological pressure,” I suggested.
“I love that kind of pressure,” said Juliette. “I love creative pressure. Dreamcatcher is about our relationship with reality – and it’s funny. It’s how to make psychosis hilarious. I want to take time to make sure it’s fun and that I don’t try to cram too much into an hour. I need to make it the most accessible and light show I can while keeping real meaning. There ARE ways to make psychosis funny and you were the one who inspired me to do it.”
“I made you psychotic?” I asked.
“When you did your first blog chat with me, I was so scared about telling everybody about my psychosis because I thought they would all judge me. But the reaction they had was so warm and welcoming that I thought: Well, maybe I could be a bit braver with this. And then a bit braver and a bit braver.
“Then, at the end of last year’s Edinburgh Fringe, Paul Levy from Fringe Review asked me if I thought I was unravelling more and more in each show. I thought that was very astute of him and it has stayed with me for the last few months because there are so many people out there doing all these amazing shows that do not involve them psychologically challenging themselves.
“Recently, someone said to me: Are you sure you want to be exposing yourself so much psychologically on stage? And I have been thinking about that and I think I want to really connect with people in a meaningful way and the truest stories are the most exciting. So why not just tell the truth? But make it funny in the process.”
“When Paul Levy said were you unravelling,” I asked, “did he mean Are you going loopy? or did he mean Are you revealing – unravelling – more secrets – more of yourself – in each successive show?”
“I hadn’t thought of it like that,” said Juliette. “I might choose to hear it that way next time I hear it in my head. I thought he just meant Are you unravelling mentally?”
“Did you tell him Yes or No?” I asked.
“I think I said Yes. If we’re all going to go through life and it’s all going to be a little bit painful, then why not connect with other people about what you’re going through, so that you’re not alone?”