Desiree Burch is an award-winning comedian, actor, and television presenter. Originally from California, she has found success in the UK having featured on popular television shows, such as Taskmaster, Mock the Week, and QI. Ikon Magazine sat down for an interview with Desiree to discuss her narration of the hugely popular Netflix show Too Hot to Handle and to delve into her particular style of comedy.
Desiree’s narration straddles the line between tenderness and teasing
Too Hot to Handle is one of Netflix’s most popular reality shows. Now in its third season on Netflix (released at the beginning of this year), and with a fourth season recently confirmed, its success is arguably due to the narration by comedian Desiree Burch. Too Hot to Handle certainly has an interesting premise. Whilst it resembles many of the other popular reality shows – beautiful people in a beautiful location seeking love (or, let’s be honest, just a bit of fun) – Too Hot to Handle aims to put a proverbial spanner in the works. This comes in the form of forced celibacy. Each time a contestant breaks this honorary code, a portion of the prize fund is deducted. The aim is to build meaningful connections with other contestants without relying on physical intimacy. Of course, as the contestants on the show are chosen specifically for their self-confessed superficiality and sex-crazed mindset,asinine antics are sure to ensue.
The show may be unique, but it is Desiree’s narration that gives it heart. As a comedian known both for her stand-up and theatre, she admits that the show is “so seemingly out of the wheelhouse of things I might be doing but it is quite a lot of fun.” Her job is predominantly to make us, the viewers, laugh and she succeeds through clever quips and witty remarks that poke fun at the contestants. However, there’s a warmness to her narration and she tells me that she often feels “a lot of tenderness towards these kids.”
Previously, she has noted how her narrator-persona takes on a motherly role but when I questioned her about this, she corrects herself and claims instead that her persona is to be more accurately described as the “cool aunt.”
She tells me: “Your mother might be a little more judgemental, but your cool aunt is going to be judgemental in a way that kind of makes fun of you. Like we’ve all done these things, you’re not fooling anybody, and I’m going to go ahead and call you out on it because I have nothing to lose and everything to gain by laughing at you. But you’re still part of the family. And nobody wants to make any one person feel excluded even when they do sometimes do things that’s really forcing yourself out of the group a little bit. We want to be able to show them in a multifaceted light.”
Desiree’s style of narration staddles that line between tenderness and teasing. She notes how there was a significant tone change from the first season to the second: “I think there was a big leap between series one and two as far as all of us understanding what the identity of the show was and what we could say and not say.” Certainly, the first season has a slightly harsher tone with the contestants’ reactions to rule breaks being more on the extreme side. However, Desiree’s narration helps to keep it light. She’s right that by the second season, the show feels like it has found its identity. It’s lighter, quirkier, and with just the right amount of drama. And while things might get said in the voiceover booth that push the limits of acceptability and never make it in the show, Desiree is always careful to treat these people with respect: “I’m usually looking at it with the eye of ‘are we treating people fairly?’”
For Desiree, and probably for a lot of viewers as well, the show has almost a healing effect. Desiree is correct when she says that “we’ve all been there” – we’ve all done questionable things in our past that we might regret – the difference being that “we don’t all typically get watched by millions of people while we’re doing it.” She tells me that “to be able to forgive them their flaws and their faults and their silliness and their mistakes, is to be able to forgive oneself for the dumb things that we did when we were twenty.” I certainly agree.
The “multi-edged sword” of Comedy
There is a personal touch to Desiree’s narration of her show that comes from her experience as a stand-up comic. Desiree’s style of comedy is that of a storyteller. She draws humour from personal experience and as such, her comedy frequently touches on topics of “race, sexuality, body issues, or other things that fall under the umbrella of feminism.”
Comedy is such a personal thing, not only to the comedian but the audience members as well. Desiree describes comedy as more than a double-edged sword: “it’s a multi-edged sword to be perfectly honest.” With comedy, it is not so black and white between positive and negative outcomes. Comedy occupies a grey area where all outcomes are possible, and no outcomes are possible at the same time. You may be speaking about difficult or potentially controversial topics, hoping for the audience to have a certain reaction or connection to the words, but they may not – and that’s okay. What may resonate with one audience member, may not have the same impact on another. However, they both may laugh and appreciate the joke for what it is: funny. You take away from the experience what you want, and it can be different each time.
But the point, which Desiree makes clear, is that at least they have access to that voice: “I can give an opinion and ideally people can walk away and debate whether or not they agree with that opinion or not, but at least they have access to a voice that they otherwise wouldn’t necessarily have access to.”
“I think that as humans, we all both want to be left the hell alone and also longing for connection with each other”
Comedy gives a humorous voice to the outsider perspective. As Desiree says: “comedy dances over that line of being both the outsider and showing the perspective of being the outsider. [This] then allows everyone in the audience to recognise that because they all feel like the outsider in some way, which makes us all come together.”
Desiree is hopeful for the future of comedy and seeing more people who share her same profile occupying the space. She jokes that in several hundred years’ time, instead of pushing for more representation, people will be saying “we’re sick of big black women talking about how they know everything because we have so many of them doing it!” But until such a time, Desiree appreciates having this “space to play and have enough people who recognise themselves in my stories to want to hear me do them more.”
Desiree is producing a series on her YouTube channel titled Profiles in Fatness. Through a series of interviews, she traces the roots of fatphobia and dismantles body myths.
Profiles in Fatness is a six-part series with episodes releasing every consecutive Thursday.
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