Spiegeltent, Aotea Square, Auckland

03/03/2016 - 06/03/2016

Auckland Arts Festival 2016

Production Details

“Smart, original, refreshing and maybe even necessary” New Yorker

In a nutshell:
Provocative and confronting / Games! Cotton candy! White liberal guilt! / ‘Beat the s?#t’ out of racism

Making her New Zealand debut Huffington Post‘s ‘Favorite Female Comedian’, Desiree Burch, challenges the notion of a post-racial America in this interactive carnival of race and capitalism.

With a socially conscious comedic style reminiscent of Richard Pryor and Louis CK, Burch uses stand-up, current events and autobiography to speak to America’s growing majority of minority experiences.

Following a Fringe First award-winning performance at the Edinburgh Fringe, Tar Baby takes a funny and inclusive look at the scary and divisive subject of race.

Spiegeltent, Aotea Square
Thu 3 & Fri 4 March 2016, 9:30pm
Sun 6 March 2016, 5:00pm
$29 – $264

1hr 30mins no interval

You can also experience this at TE POU Theatre, New Lynn 

Warning: Strong language, possible audience participation!

Actors and writers masterclass with Desiree Burch Click HERE  

Theatre , Stand-up comedy ,

1 hr 30 mins, no interval

Compelling way to bring racism to the fore

Review by Janet McAllister 06th Mar 2016

This clever, funny one-woman show is about the extremely sticky tar-baby problem of personal racism. Not the most sexy topic, as African-American performer Desiree Burch points out, but hey, we can do a deal here. 

“You want to say you’ve seen a very important show about race,” she suggests wryly to her predominantly white audience, and in return, “I want you to buy me as a household name.” 

The uncomfortable pun on “buying” a black person is deliberate, as she leads us through an ironic carnival including “slavery time” – “everybody’s least favourite time!” [More


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Invisible Woman

Review by Nathan Joe 05th Mar 2016

What does it mean to be the other? To be otherised is to be made invisible. To not only be unseen, but also to only be seen for what people think you are. You exist, simply, as blackness or a vessel. A void to be filled with contradictory stereotypes and assumptions. To be pigeonholed, tokenised or, worse, erased. I’ve been, to my shame and embarrassment, both on the receiving and giving end of this. 

In case you aren’t aware, Tar Baby is a solo show about racism, performed by African-American comedian Desiree Burch. Perhaps you’ve already started to picture the sort of show this is. That’s the thing with prejudice, it’s painfully predictable and reductive. Yes, the show makes fun of black stereotypes. But it’s never obvious. This isn’t a self-congratulatory piece of theatre for people to pat themselves on the back for attending. [More]  


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Only the most empty-hearted sociopath could leave unaffected

Review by Nik Smythe 04th Mar 2016

Desiree Burch is large and black and she’s here to address whatever it is we’re likely to make of that inescapable fact.  Partly to show off, partly to sell tickets and most ostensibly as a hopeful means to the idealistic end of actually sorting out racism, once and for all.  Then we could all move forward together without confusion, hatred or fear, or any of those other pesky forms of tension that interfere with different cultures’ ability to understand and accept (not merely ‘tolerate’) each other. 

Before the lights are raised to reveal her visage, Desiree speaks from the darkness, directing us to breathe together and experience the oneness of being before anything more is said or seen and judgments are invariably formed.  This ethereal preparation is, in retrospect, most apt and even necessary to create the open listening space required to digest the ensuing performance. 

She acknowledges that no-one really wants to watch a 90 minute show about racism, nor does she really want to perform one.  On the other hand we all want to be able to say we did so, to ease the discomfort of our guilty/ confused/ paranoid consciences.  So to make it worth the ticket price she’s couching the inherent messages of irony, confusion and unresolved anger in the theatrical vernacular of a wholly entertaining circus show. 

First up, as a ringmaster, she turns the various European colonies’ slaving history into an interactive song-and-dance number, fittingly about being bought and sold.  This is one of numerous participatory segments, by and large designed to give the audience a direct analogous experience of the kinds of persecution minorities everywhere are subject to every day, and by all accounts all the more so in the US: “land of hate, rape and colonialism” in Desiree’s own darkly poetic words.  

With her naturally funny personality, arguably developed in part as a defence mechanism against a lifetime of dealing with society’s ingrained prejudices, Desiree has the house frequently roaring with laughter, often tinged with guilt as she exploits the very stereotypes being decried.  It’s worth noting this Auckland Festival crowd is predominately white and middle class, along with a few indigenous and minority peoples, although none with obvious African descent that I noticed.  In fact, it turns out New Zealand’s African-descended population sits at just 0.3%, as reported in today’s timely Herald article on alleged police harassment.

Doubly appropriate, given the Festival Garden’s high-brow carnival-style atmosphere, is the congruent carnival theme running through her various segments: cotton candy stalls, sideshow freaks and so on.  One of the more progressive events involves contestants being given an opportunity to take typical race-based generalisations (e.g. ‘All Irish are drunks’; ‘The Chinese are responsible for the Auckland housing crisis’, etc) and reframe them in more positive, realistic terms, which are then rated on the classic ‘test your strength’ hammer and bell device with results ranging low to high between ‘Donald Trump/KKK’ and ‘the Mountaintop’.

The title refers to the famous folktale, popularised in the western world by the now notorious ‘Uncle Remus’ stories.  Relating the tale to us in the black American slave-style we are used to, Desiree points out that this story has existed in variant forms in cultures all over the world going back centuries or more.  The fact that the Tar Baby metaphor – being a trap designed to take someone down by their own aggression and/or stupidity – has since been reduced by bigotry to a simple derogatory term for dark-skinned peoples highlights the depth of uneducated ignorance hindering the quest of said peoples to this day. 

One of the critical factors in the situation remaining a ‘hot mess’ is that every individual has their own personal knee-jerk attitudes and/or considered philosophies about race and racism.  Many people want to do the right thing by the minorities of the world but mixed messages from government, the media and general society make it hard to be certain how to respond. When does sensitivity become patronising, for instance? 

The prevalence of vocal support, with people cheering her righteous affirmations and audibly wincing at the stereotypical slurs, suggests she is for the most part preaching to the converted.  It seems unlikely any ‘self-respecting’, confirmed and proud racist would even consider attending, let alone seriously consider the issue.  At least we liberals get to question ourselves yet again, to assess whether we have any misconceptions or double standards lurking within our ideologies. 

Therefore, by the end of the highly confrontational rollercoaster ride examining what has to be the planet’s biggest ongoing socio-political issue, Desiree’s valiant attempt to ‘solve racism’ is about as successful as this review in comprehensively defining the problem and providing a workable solution everyone can agree on. 

Nevertheless we’ve been properly entertained by her frank, soul-baring performance, and only the most empty-hearted sociopath could leave unaffected. 


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