Comedy unravels a sticky subject

One-woman show gets audience relaxed enough to confront racism.
Desiree Burch talks about her own experiences as a woman of colour.
Desiree Burch talks about her own experiences as a woman of colour.

If you're a woman of colour working in the arts, doing stand-up, involved with academia or just living your daily life, you will confront racism on a regular basis, says award-winning comedian Desiree Burch.

Her one-woman show Tar Baby - the title does double-duty as a reference to the folktale of Brer Rabbit and the Tar Baby and the racial slur - tackles the story of race in America. Co-written with playwright Dan Kitrosser, it uses stand-up, current events and Burch's own experiences to take a humorous look at race.

That's right, she says, it's a comedy about race because that's the kind of work she does and she can't imagine talking about such a serious subject without humour.

"I think it would be hard to make it all work without humour; it requires that to allow people to dig a little deeper and to get them relaxed enough to do some 'work' which might just be listening to other people talking about things that don't get talked about often enough or see things from another's point of view."

Burch, who started working on the show in 2011 and has performed it - off and on - since 2013, says it combines her own experiences with wider social narratives. There's strong language and even audience participation.

"I am honest in talking about my own experiences but there's also the audience participation ... which I know can be scary, but it's really the best way to engage with the themes, to make it funny and engaging."

Last year, Tar Baby received a Fringe First Award for new writing at the Edinburgh Fringe and it was shortlisted for the Amnesty International Freedom of Expression award. The Los Angeles-born, New York-trained comedian, actor and writer also won the 2015 Funny Women Stage Award for stand-up.

Now living in London, this is her first trip below the equator.

Preview

What: Tar Baby
Where & when: Spiegeltent, NZ Herald Festival Garden, March 3, 4 and 6; Te Pou, March 5.

- NZ Herald

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