Comedy actress writer Jo Burke wants to scream about her life in her new show

Jo Burke iScream designed by Steve Ullathorne

Jo Burke is slightly worried about her new show

Jo Burke is slightly worried about performing her new show. She is performing it at the Brighton Fringe for three nights in May. Then at the Edinburgh Fringe in August.

“I’m on the Edinburgh train again,” she told me, “but with far fewer suitcases. I started writing the new show in my head from the minute I realised I had taken on too much at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe.”

“Why too much?” I asked.

“Because I took up not one but two shows that I had written and was producing and was flyering for and was teching… and one of them involved hoofing up with a projector and a projector screen and I had basically made my life as difficult as possible and I was exhausted. I had done Edinburgh four or five times before and that was the worst one I had had – I did not enjoy a single day.

“If you look at the reviews and audiences, I took up two 4-star shows and that side of it was all great but, personally, I was absolutely miserable. I know that’s how you are supposed to feel when you are performing at the Fringe but, up until then, all the other years I’d been up, I’d always really enjoyed it. It was always hard work, but not THAT much hard work.”

“And,” I asked, “your show this year is called…?”

iScream

“With a very good poster,” I said.

“The spec I gave the designer, Steve Ullathorne, was basically the Carrie poster, because I love dark humour and my shows are always dark.”

“Good use of blood,” I said. “And your show is basically about your three-and-a-half weeks of hell at the Fringe in 2014?”

“No,” said Jo. “Not that. I specifically did not want it to be a rant about Edinburgh because, if you’re not a performer it would mean nothing to you. Just the first five minutes are about last year – to put it into context – then the rest of the show is entirely different.”

“And you’re slightly worried about it?”

Jo as her Mary Magdalene character

Jo as her Mary Magdalene character

“Well, I have only ever done character shows – I have never been ‘me’ on stage for an hour – so this is my first ‘personal’ show and, because I’m an all-or-nothing kind of girl, I think maybe I have over-shared. It really is warts and all. You get me on a plate, basically. It is not necessarily pretty or clever, but it is definitely me… the kind of shit that’s gone on in my life.”

“You wrote a dating book, didn’t you?” I asked.

From Strangers With Love, yes.”

“Is that in it?”

“No. The normal things are covered that a stand-up does when they talk about themselves. But they are covered in a non-normal way. At the moment, my head is in this world of terrifyingly opening myself up to the public whereas, in the past, I have not been ‘me’ on stage.”

“Actors,” I said , “often claim stand-up comedy is the most difficult thing to do, because you have to be yourself.”

“Yes,” agreed Jo, “I never wanted to do comedy. I just shifted into comedy because the need and wish to perform over-rode the fact that comedy wasn’t really what I wanted to do. However, I seem to be able to do it.”

“You called yourself a writer earlier,” I said, “as if you put being a writer above being a performer.”

“I think I probably am. I think I would never not write, whereas I can see myself not performing. At the moment – though it’s been a bit interrupted by preparing for the iScream previews – I’m towards the end of writing eight monologues that I’d like to put on as a single show – four female monologues and four male monologues. They’re basically different characters at the same rough life stage. The overall title is Broken, which is what it is about.”

When I chatted to Jo, she had come straight from attending a course – Master Practitioner in Neuro-Linguistic Programming.

The real Jo Burke

The real Jo Burke, after her Neuro-Linguistic Programming

“Why are you doing that?” I asked.

“Because,” she told me, “as a writer, I have a natural interest in why we do things and how we are capable of changing those things. Intrinsically, everything you do informs your writing. So there is quite a clear clue as to what’s been going on in the iScream show – I’m not going to say what, because I don’t want to give it away.”

“What’s been going on with what?” I asked.

“With my writing and where I’m at… It just makes you realise patterns that are maybe not helpful that you’ve been doing. Things like self-sabotage and unhelpful thought patterns.”

“Doesn’t sound very linguistic to me,” I said.

“Well, how people speak is a massive clue to how people are feeling about themselves and other people. I mean, everyone has a friend and every time you meet them it’s all negative and, when you walk away, you feel drained.

“I’ve gone from what I would consider being a walking re-action to everyone, to deciding how to react to everything. Or not. If you suffer from road rage, you can notice what is building up and choose whether or not to get into that state. A lot of people don’t realise they have a choice: they think it’s just a knee-jerk reaction to a situation: If this happens, I WILL lose my rag or feel sad or eat biscuits. Everyone’s got these patterns and habits.

“You can’t really be a writer and not be interested in – and I don’t mean just a comedy writer, because I write other stuff as well – I don’t think you can be a writer and write about humans and the human condition and not be interested in why we think like we do and where those thoughts come from.”

Jo is previewing iScream at the London Theatre in New Cross this Thursday, then at the Leicester Square Theatre on Good Friday.

Rather obviously, I asked her: “What if you get crucified?”

“I will rise again on the third day and do another show on the Monday,” she told me.

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Filed under Acting, Comedy, Psychology, Theatre, Writing

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