"Talking about mental health isn’t to be feared. It’s vital we are more open because there is no shame" Idle chit-chat with Juliette Burton
After a Twitter request for suggestion of comedians to talk to, we were recommended Juliette Burton, and to show that dreams can happen we were able to snag some of her time to discuss the trivial (who's funny), the serious (what's her new tour about), and the seriously serious (mental health). Also highlighted is the one way nature of the conversation. All things considered she handled out silence without too much of a fuss.
Hey Juliette, how the heck are you?
I’m very well thank you. I’d love to ask how you are but I’m aware this is meant to be a Q&A, it just feels very one-sided, y’know? So, how are you? And if you answer my question with a question that’s just deflecting which’ll lead me to worry about you…
What have you been up to today?
Ah! Answering a question with a question! I’m worrying now… But I’ll play along. Today I’ve had a meeting with my director about my new show I’m creating for Edinburgh Fringe 2019, I fed my friend’s cat (it goes dogs, cats, some illness = all better than humans), then I had a meeting with a representative from the mental health charity SANE then I had a lovely lunch with a friend and now I’m talking to you so all in all a lovely day. And in the midst of my first national tour which is even lovelier, can you believe? What’ve you been up to?
And where are you right now?
Ah, answering a question with a question again. U ok hun? Well, I’ll answer politely even so… I’m sitting in a pub in London above a well-known comedy venue. I’m seeing a show tonight, getting inspired during the creation process of my new show. I’m always creating something new, but I am currently also touring my current show ‘Butterfly Effect’.
Give us the big sell; tell us about your current show ‘Butterfly Effect’, in two sentences?
Excellent follow on question! Fantastic active listening there… ‘Butterfly Effect’ in two sentences:
Last year I felt powerless over all the shitty things that were happening in my world and the wider world so I decided to get my power back I’d focus on the one power all of us have which is how we treat people so I did random acts of kindness every single day to see if it could help me and others. Can kindness change the world and would you #DareToBeKind?
Describe your comedy style.
Warm, welcoming, friendly, anxious, silly, goofy, narrative, heartfelt, authentic, sparkly, projections, quest-driven, mental health-focused.
And tell us something about you that we won’t know.
You might already know I was sectioned under the mental health act when I was 17 and spent my 18th birthday in hospital. So… I love eating octopus, cherries and frozen yoghurt. Not all at once.
How was your Edinburgh Fringe? You got some pretty knockout reviews.
I adore every Edinburgh Fringe. It can change lives. It certainly changed mine. The Fringe is exhausting, and my show always comes first. I’m not out partying every night, I try to rest as much as possible because the show and my audiences genuinely are all the really matter. Without an audience the great reviews, sold out laurels and awards mean absolutely jack shit.
Having said that I am very delighted to have sold out every single show for the last four Edinburgh Fringes in a row. Butterfly Effect also received 5 star reviews and awards in Edinburgh in 2017 and 2018. And the national tour so far has included sold out shows and incredible reviews and audience responses too. So all in all, I’m chuffed. And exhausted. And delightfully baffled by it all!
Apart from yourself (obvs…) who’s the funniest person you know?
I’ve never seen me perform so I really wouldn’t know whether I’d laugh at me or not. That’s up to my audience! But the funniest person I know… my friends are hilarious. I keep excellent company. I need friends who’ll help me laugh through my tears. That’s one of my survival strategies for my depression, anxiety, eating disorders – surrounding myself by people who can help me seek out the light in the darkness.
You’ve been to (and are going to) a few corners of the country on tour - I wonder how Havant and Hemel Hempstead will be - but where’s your favourite place to do a set?
I’ve loved doing this tour because of the people I’ve met and feeling the different personalities of each audience and each town. For different reasons I’ve loved every place: at the Jersey Opera House I sold out, at The Lowry in Salford I left on a huge euphoric high, in Harrogate and Leeds and Havant and Peebles I was so impressed by the beautiful venues, at the Leamington Comedy Festival in Leamington Spa and at South Street Arts in Reading I felt so connected to my audiences like never before… but every location has been memorable. Honestly I love performing anywhere where audiences turn up to see me.
There’s a lot of talk about female comedians on TV and comedy bills, what’s your experience of being a woman in the comedy world?
I don’t really know how to answer that because I’ve nothing to compare it to! I’ve always been a woman, so I’ve no alternative experience! In lots of industries it’s difficult to be taken seriously, there’s unchecked privilege all over the place, there’s unnoticed favouritism, there’s discrimination, there’s prejudice. I’ve had men come up to me telling me how hilarious my show was and how they’ve never seen a female comedian before but they’ll see more from now on. I’ve had men reject my flyer in Edinburgh at the Fringe because they’d “already seen two female comedians and I’m done with feminism”. I’ve had women say “I don’t like feminist comedy”. I’ve had men in the industry assume they can take advantage physical or professionally because I’m a woman and I’ve been side-lined when I’ve stood my ground. But that’s entirely why I wanted to work in comedy – it gives me a voice. More than any other industry I’ve worked in comedy really gives me strength and the chance to speak my mind to people who want to listen. My career and my feminism are inherently interlinked.
You’re very open and honest about your mental health; how difficult is it to talk about those things so publicly?
It’s no longer difficult at all. A lot of people say “it’s very brave” and I think this misunderstands that talking about mental health isn’t to be feared. It’s vital we are more open because there is no shame. Listen to my podcast Positive Mental Attitude if you want to hear how little shame I have surrounding my conditions.
If we open up more then it invites other to be open. If we’re all a bit more open and honest then we might feel more connected. And that might just save lives. Because loneliness is a killer.
And does comedy help your mental health, or is it a challenge?
It’s a challenge but it also helps because it’s a challenge. It can be difficult to get on stage on certain days – but I know through experience that by the end of my show I will always, ALWAYS feel so much better. I’ll feel differently. Yes I might not feel “cured” but I’ll feel a shift of sorts.
I have anxiety disorder and performing is a way to give myself a reason to feel appropriately anxious. It pushes me to strive to be the best I can be, to entertain every person in there. My OCD makes me want to sell out because I hate seeing empty seats – it disrupts the pattern and symmetry of an audience! So please sit on my front row – it helps calm me down! Performing when being hit hard by my body dysmorphia or my eating disorders is an amazing way to give two fingers to my conditions – I refuse to let them rule me or inhibit my achievements. So I perform to spite them often.
Also, hearing that laughter of recognition from an audience helps me feel less alone. I feel more connected thanks to my audiences enjoying themselves. So it’s a challenge, a great challenge and one that brings me back to myself.
If anyone reading this is having challenges with their mental health (in any form) right now, what would be your one key piece of advice?
Go see your GP. And contact Mind or ReThink Mental Illness for more information on support or advice about your condition or your struggles. Perhaps you deflect questions to avoid talking about yourself, that might be a sign of low self-esteem or difficulties with depression… Have you ever thought about contacting Mind or ReThink?
You’re involved in a number of charities, but if I made you pick one to tell us about which one would it be?
Another deflected question! I see what’s happening here… Well I just mentioned two very awesome charities. I’m an ambassador for ReThink Mental Illness and they’re brilliant for information, practical advice and support and Mind is their sister charity too with information on a wider range of conditions.
You’re very(!) active on Twitter, is that hard to keep up?
Yes! I don’t feel like I do social media enough or in an effective way sometimes! I know people who plan plan plan and pre-schedule releases. I tend to just say what I’m thinking when I’m thinking it! Sometimes I do take time away from social media though for the good of my mental health – it’s vital to live in the real world. But I also love my social media family – they are the family I’ve made for myself, my “pocket family” i.e. the family who live in my pocket who I can contact, reach out to, connect with whenever I want. I love them for looking out for me. And I hope they feel I look out for them too. Sharing my articles and show info on Twitter and Facebook and Instagram means I can connect with those incredible souls in a 1-2-1 way but to lots of them. It’s not hard to keep up. It’s hard to keep balance. But rewarding.
When was the last time you were starstruck?
Oh, good question. This sounds pretentious but I don’t get starstruck often. I used to work as a journalist and from early on would interview big names and purposefully reminded myself they’re just humans, no better, no worse, equally as flawed as the rest of us. Why should they be held in higher regard than a wonderful beautiful person who works in accounts and comes to my show and thinks they don’t matter but actually are stunning and special and wise and generous and brave and amazing? Heroes are heroes because of how they treat people – kindness is truly heroic.
Having said that, I did meet Michael Palin and Dawn French, both of which I went giddy over. And if ever I met Stephen Fry I might lose the ability to speak. Which my friends and anyone who’s seen my shows can tell you would be a feat in itself!
Tell us what other comedian we should be keeping our ears out for.
You’ve likely heard of my favourites but Felicity Ward is smashing it. Bec Hill is a brilliant and beautiful soul. Abigoliah Schamaun is hilarious. Women generally are rising up. So support live comedy and support women in the comedy industry.
What’s the question we should have asked you today but haven’t?
My therapist has told me not to use the word “should” as we can always replace it with the word “could” instead – it’s more freeing and less punitive.
So you could’ve asked me…what good bit of advice has your therapist drilled into you recently?
Finally, how do you take your coffee?
Weak and white, like my men.
No, I’m currently very into cappuccinos. Because my mum had them often. And she’s amazing. So drinking them, logically, might make me a bit more like her. Right? Also, I do love a cortado. Because I’m pretentious, clearly.
Thanks so much for your time Juliette, hope you’re enjoying your tour!
I am! And thank you for asking questions…even if you didn’t answer any of mine! Sending you love! And my therapist’s number.
If you want to find out more about Juliette you can visit her website, follow her on Twitter, like her on Facebook, or check out her Instagram.
To find out more about the charities Juliette mentioned, visit the Mind website, and the ReThink Mental Illness website. All joking aside it's important. If you have any concerns contact your GP or talk to someone. Anyone.