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Juliette Burton: No Brainer

By | Published on Monday 31 July 2023

We last spoke to Juliette Burton in 2016 when she was performing her show ‘Decision Time’. After a few years away from the Festival, she returns this August with a short run at the Gilded Balloon of her new show ‘No Brainer’.

It’s billed as “not another awareness-raising show, but a change-making show”, so I was eager to find out more. And, given Juliette is a long term Fringe favourite, I also wanted to get her tips on how to get the most out of performing at Edinburgh’s big summer festival.

I sent some questions her way to find out more.

CM: Hi Juliette. Can we get straight into the topic of your new show and find out a bit about ‘No Brainer’? I think the title might give us a bit of a clue, but can you tell us what it’s all about?
JB: As the title suggests, this is a one-person comedy show about how our brains work… or sometimes don’t.

My brain hasn’t worked as well as I’d like it to. A couple of years ago, at yet another major malfunction moment, I realised I had to fix this once and for all. It’s a rebuild show – rebuilding a brain, a life, a world.

CM: You usually have some important/serious points to make – does this show have a message?
JB: Abso-flipping-lutely it does. I love seeing shows that change my perspective. All my shows have that aim.

For example, in 2014 and 2015 my show about body image left people with the message not to be “body confident” but that their bodies are amazing and worthy of respect. My 2017 and 2018 show about kindness celebrated how small acts of kindness can truly change the world.

This year, in a show about how our brains work, I want people to discover, in this nonsense world, you make sense. Our brains are programmed to help us survive. With some effort – or in my case A LOT of hard work – we can literally change our minds.

CM: What kind of format does the show have? And for anyone who hasn’t seen you at work yet, how would you describe your performance style?
JB: It’s me on stage, doing narrative stand-up with heart. There’s multimedia – get there early for the best view! It was described at a preview as “infectious enthusiasm” and “funny, sciency, moving”.

In my shows I chat very openly about my history of mental illnesses, including being sectioned under the Mental Health Act, being diagnosed with fifteen mental illnesses, and being in therapy for more than 20 years.

Why wouldn’t I? It’s a part of what makes me who I am. I am who I am because of this and in spite of this.

These past experiences also inform my performance style: fun, glittery, honest. You’re safe in my front row, I don’t pick on audience members – audiences are my heroes! Without them it’s just me in a dark room alone looking at my mental health history, nobody wants that!

CM: What was the inspiration for the show? What made you want to work with this theme?
JB: A couple of years ago I finally realised “going” to therapy is not the same as “doing” therapy. So I started to do some proper hard work on myself, to address the source of my problems. If a brain was a car, I looked under the bonnet instead of driving with the “check engine” light on. I learned a lot.

It started really helping me with my lifelong mental health challenges. Maybe other people could handle their mental health challenges – y’know like the state of the entire world right now.

Maybe some don’t want to go through hours of self-help or therapy, or to interact with the ridiculously underfunded mental health services.

Maybe they’d prefer it in a comedy show. I know I would’ve preferred that. Having said that, this show doesn’t replace actual treatment, it just gives a bit of cool info that might help.

So many people talk about mental health in their shows at Edinburgh… some might say too many people do. Awareness raising has been done to death. Now it’s time for change. Systemic change, personal change.

CM: You’re absolutely no stranger to Edinburgh and know by now the highs and the lows – what made you decide to return this year?
JB: Edinburgh as a festival and as a city felt like home from my first visit back in 2005. I’ve been going to the Festival almost every year since then, I lived in the city for four years, and I’ve performed solo shows at the Fringe since 2013. I sold out four years in a row. But I’ve not been for the last four years.

I wanted to return this year with a short run, because this show deserves to be seen. I also want to check back in with my spiritual home. Has it changed? I know I’ve changed profoundly.

One thing that already seems to be the same is the connection with audiences. They are the reason I’m returning. And they’re the reason I’m gearing up to create even more shows.

CM: Of all the shows you have performed in Edinburgh, which one do you have the fondest memories of?
JB: ‘Butterfly Effect’ and ‘Look At Me’.

‘Look At Me’ was my 2014 show that I rewrote and sold out in 2015. It took me on tour in Australia and New Zealand with the lovely people at Gag Reflex and got me known in the industry.

It was about whether what we appear to be is who we are – how much do our appearances affect our identity? Having been very thin due to anorexia and very plus sized due to binge eating disorder, and everything in between, I wanted to explore where confidence comes from.

It also explored body image, sexism, ageism, disability, gender and my own mental illnesses. My shows involve a lot of research and through that research I met some of my lifelong friends in the disability community.

‘Butterfly Effect’ was my 2017 sold out show that went on to sell out again in 2018 and went on a UK tour. It was a tale of kindness and how small acts of kindness can change the world. It also revealed some of the more intense mental health experiences I’ve had including psychotic hallucinations.

These stand out amongst the rest because they both caught the wave of a zeitgeist at the time and yet don’t seem to have aged as general topics. Personally and societally, how far have we come and how far have we still yet to go?

CM: What are you looking forward to most about being in Edinburgh this August?
JB: Chatting to audiences and performing every day. To have that joy of playfulness, playing every day, we need that, particularly after the recent years we’ve had.

Comedy is a way of finding the light in a dark world or a dark mind. If I sneak in some learning into my shows, that’s great, but I won’t be disappointed at all if people leave having just had a great laugh!

I also want to see lots of shows myself. And I’m looking forward to pints of bloody mary at my old local pub.

CM: As someone who has survived the Fringe many times, and someone who is performing a show about fixing broken brains, do you have any advice for other performers on making it through the Festival?
JB: Fantastic question! It’s vital to learn from the mistakes of others. So please, learn from mine.

Don’t push yourself too hard too fast. Enjoy the chaos. Don’t try to control anything. Embrace the madness. I’ve been sectioned under the Mental Health Act. Most of society doesn’t embrace the creativity of madness and the madness in creativity. Edinburgh Fringe is glorious and collective insanity.

Eat well, sleep well. Stay WARM. Take time away from the intensity and see other people’s work. Maybe even come see mine! If you do, afterwards, stick around and I’ll gladly chat in the bar to offer more pearls of wisdom, aka lessons I’ve learned from my mistakes.

CM: I’ve asked you before about your past, and how you got into performing, so I’m not going to bring that up again. But it would be interesting to know what you’ve been up to since the last time we spoke, when you were doing ‘Decision Time’ back in 2016. What have you been up to in that time? How did the pandemic affect you?
JB: Firstly, thank you so much for covering ‘Decision Time’ in 2016. That was a show about whether I should say yes to a marriage proposal. I said yes. Then we broke up in 2018. We’re still best friends.

We’re like a less annoying Chris Martin and Gwenyth Paltrow, except I’ve never sold candle-based merchandise after my shows.

After touring with the aforementioned show ‘Butterfly Effect’ in 2018, I moved to London, wrote the show ‘Defined’ about whether our labels define who we are. I was on UK tour with ‘Defined ‘in March 2020 when we went into lockdown. All my live work got cancelled. So I moved to online.

I worked with NextUp Comedy to bring some mixed bill shows called ‘Happy Hour’ to virtual audiences. The Guardian called me “the Fringe favourite”, which I love. At the same time, I did anything to make ends meet – market stall work, café management, dog walking. I also worked my arse off to create book proposals and do mental health facilitation.

Honestly, it was rough. To see the arts undervalued, to realise how isolated I was. I lost… a lot. We all did. Whether it was normality, a sense of direction, the illusion of control. I lost some of my most vital supports, like my connection to friends, to my therapist, to audiences… it was dark.

Which is why coming back to Edinburgh right now means so much. After dark times, it’s the moment to let the light in. After all that hard work, it’s time to play and have FUN.

CM: I asked you back in 2016 about where you thought you might be in ten years time. Again, I am not going to repeat myself: but do you have any particular aims and ambitions for the future? Any long term creative plans?
JB: I’ve got three shows I’ve been writing, all three are close to my heart but with big appeal.

My ambitions are to advance my career intentionally and with balance. There’s a force in me that can’t be held back. Now I’ve got these firmer foundations within myself and around me, I feel excited for what I can build upon them.

I need to read what 2016 me said… I remember her as being a VERY different person to the woman I am now.

CM: Can you tell us about your new podcast?
JB: I can! Thanks for asking! It’s called Juliette Burton’s Not So Lonely Planet.

Sometimes, life on this planet can feel a bit lonely and this podcast, like my shows, aims to address just that. I don’t want anyone to feel as alone as I have felt in the past, so this is like a big warm audio duvet hug around your ears to help you feel less alone, more connected. There’s joy in the world if we seek to find it.

The podcast is about exploring our planet via the enthusiasm of the nerds who live in it. I get to meet a different nerd each episode who geeks out to me about their fandom then recommends another nerd to chat to about something totally different in the next episode.

From cheese to knives to London history to cemeteries, it’s a chain reaction of enthusiasm and you get to come along for the ride. It was also made with the fabulous people at Hat Trick Productions. I’ve wanted to work with them ever since I first fell in love with comedy.

CM: What do you have coming up next, after the Fringe run? Where can we catch you next?
JB: After I’ve slept a little, I’ll be on tour with ‘No Brainer’ in September performing in Bridgewater, Swindon, Didcot, Greenwich, Halifax and Luton, and then I’m writing new shows and back at Nottingham Comedy Festival on 4 Nov with a brand new work in progress show.

If this is a rebuild show, the next shows are going to be packing a punch with a brand new intentional and directional force. So best get prepared by coming to this year’s show!

Juliette Burton performs ‘No Brainer’ at Gilded Balloon Teviot from 2-11 Aug. See the edfringe listing here.

LINKS: julietteburton.co.uk | twitter.com/JulietteBurton

Photo: Steve Ullathorne