Desiree Burch: The Former Dominatrix Narrates Our New Netflix Obsession, Too Hot To Handle

The American comedian talks to Grazia about sex puns, sex-positivity and the sex that isn't happening on Netflix's new hit.

Desiree Burch

by Rhiannon Evans |
Updated on

If you're wondering to watch on Netflix next, can we please reassure you that the answer is: Too Hot To Handle. The reality show sees 10 hot young (and 'horny') singles put on an island for what they think is going to be the most exotic and erotic summer of their lives. Except, shortly after they arrive, they're told they're not allowed to touch each other (or themselves) 'romantically' for the entire time, if they want to win the $100,000 prize. Amazingly, every time someone 'rebels', money is knocked off the prize total. So obviously, that's brilliant television.

Throughout it all, saying what we're all thinking, and making us laugh is narrator, Desiree Burch. The comedian, originally from LA, moved to London and is now a recognisable face for anyone who has watched UK TV shows like Live At The Apollo and Mock The Week. Not only is she funny as hell, but her experiences in her pre-comedy life as a sex worker (which she discussed in her 2017 comedy special, Unfuckable) make her the perfect candidate to navigate the, er, ins and outs of the sexual politics playing out on screen.

We caught up with Desiree for a very in-depth chat about all things Too Hot To Handle - the interview doesn't contain spoilers per se, but does touch on things that happen in the first few episodes.

There's a lot of television available right now - what would you say to encourage people to choose Too Hot To Hande?

Well it’s a new one – most of the world has finished Netflix, so it’s new! For those who both enjoy the young single reality genre, and those who don’t, there’s a lot to offer in terms of the unfolding humanity of these lovely very young and very attractive and seemingly oblivious people. It starts to become arresting as they learn a bit more about their humanity.

Did you have fun with all the sex puns?

I would come in and the producers and writers would have a script and then I would maybe add my own twist or be like, ‘I don’t know what you’re trying to say because I’m American and all the production team is British’. So sometimes it would be that cultural translation thing. And also it’s about how do we say this without being reductive or sexist or an asshole. It was an interesting look at how we talk about these things.

The contestants practice Shibari
The contestants practice Shibari ©Netflix

Do you think that, having done sex work, you brought an element of sex-positivity to the show? Even though the show is about abstaining, these are people who are very highly sexed and open about that...

Obviously I have done sex work and when we get to the part where it’s about Shibari and all the restraints and stuff, the producer was like, ‘OK, so you know how to pronounce it?’ and I’m like, ‘Yeah yeah yeah, I’ve had some experience.’ But it was cool they even had those workshops because it is a different way to learn about engagement and sexuality and enticement without actually consummating the act. There’s a lot to be explored rather than, literally, the ins and outs of sex. Like if you say you’ve had good sex, that could mean a lot of different things, some of it is about the aftercare or connection or intensity – some of it is just about the acrobatics. Most of us probably had a lot more sex in our 20s but had a lot better sex as we learned what we liked and what it means to really connect with someone, which takes some experience and wisdom and self knowledge. So I’m happy to bring that positivity to it, because I watched these people discovering that. It’s really beautiful and it’s not really a window we get to have into other people or ourselves.

Which characters did you love. We're kind of fascinated, for many reasons, by Matthew...

Yes, Jesus! It’s so funny because all of these people slowly reveal who they are to you, like Matthew comes in in his sweatpants and then takes it all off and you’re like, ‘Holy crap!’ I also love the dynamic of him and Kelz [trying to find out who kissed and lost them $3,000]. I totally understand that point of view that’s like, ‘OK, all this is cute… but you’re cutting into my cash right now’. I get both the, ‘Oh this is hard to resist’ but also the ’Let’s play the game, because we’re in Mexico or wherever shooting this thing and it’s a fun holiday, but we’re giving time in our lives and exposing ourselves, so let’s walk away with some money.’ I’m surprised they didn’t have more explosive blow-ups. Chloe I find hilarious. Just the way she expresses these things. Like when she says, [in an Essex accent] ‘Animosity’ like, ‘I did a smart.' And Kelz has side-eye reactions that would crack me up and David just like... he led with a butt massage. Dude, who does that? I’d never met any of them, but they’re so engaging and funny. Like when Sharron is like, ‘I’ve been through so much,’ and you’re like, ‘Mate you’re 20-nothing you’ve been through four things and I understand they are massive in your life, but…’ It’s just really cute.

Matthew from Too Hot To Handle

I mean, when Bryce comes in and says has sex with a new person EVERY DAY…

Oh my GOD! I was losing it when Bryce was introduced. Can’t you just imagine him in 1977 with a Hawaiian shirt on and a gold chain? And it’s beautiful to watch as the show goes on, where that protective, uber-masculine identity comes from. Clearly he’s got a very bruised self-esteem and ego that compels him to find another woman to come onto a boat and have sex with him. If you’re having sex with someone every day, you’re not remembering names, it’s not about connection - it’s about filling a void. And for someone to go through a process of recognising that, by having to abstain and sit with what is compelling you to do that, I think it’s really powerful for people to watch. But yeah, he’s hilarious. The keyboard? There’s so much going on. Where is this inflated ego coming from?

Too Hot To Handle cast

Do you really think that by abstaining from sex and touch, the contestants are really learning something?

I think so. It takes a while to learn a lesson - typically as a human being we have to learn a lesson over and over like 25 times for it to change us, so this might be just the first couple of seeds planted for people. But I think any time we abstain from a reaction to something – because sometimes sex is a reaction, like I need a release – and any time you take a moment to slow it down, or you stop and sit with those feelings, you learn something about what is driving and motivating that. A lot of us right now – not to make any comparisons, it’s a different thing to be on an island to make lots of money – but I think a lot of us are discovering we do turn to food or drink or sex or work as a way to lose part of ourselves and that at some point we are all forced either by a challenge like this, or circumstances beyond out control, to not jump into that thing. And having to sit longer with the frustration of that is a very important lesson. It’s like what they talk about in meditation and yoga – feel the annoyance, feel the itch and then don't respond and by doing so, you do learn something. It takes a lot of practice, but the beginning of that awareness and perception is a massive paradigm shift for most of us.

Too Hot To Handle is available to stream on Netflix now

READ MORE: Everything You Need To Know About Too Hot To Handle, Netflix's Wild New Dating Show

READ MORE: All Our Favourite Quotes From Too Hot To Handle's First Episode

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