While Beyoncé’s meteoric rise to fame with Destiny’s Child propelled her to stardom, Luisa Omielan, only a year younger than Beyoncé, and her path to sell out shows at Fringe, shows in New York and the Soho theatre has been less direct. Her comedy show ‘What Would Beyonce Do?!’ documents her break ups and depression, and the pain of every student’s fear of moving back home. With her one-hundred-miles-an-hour tempo of talking, and our mutual bonding over Beyoncé, speaking to her is like catching up with a best friend you’ve known for years. In fast-forward.
Where Beyoncé fills an entire Super Bowl area, the O2 or a Glastonbury pyramid stage with audiences of adoring teenage girls and young professional females who are the living embodiment of ‘all the women who independent throw your hands up at me’ Luisa has Soho theatre in London as her stomping ground. “Soho theatre are my bitches” she brags, with total justification as she definitely knows her target demographic: “After the Guardian gave me a good review, there have been so many 50 year old women at my gigs but really I want young and drunk people who have arrived after a few cocktails.”
Apart from the five star reviews which accidentally gained her a middle aged audience for a couple of shows, WWBD initially took off from word of mouth and sold out from day one of her Fringe run. That one month in Edinburgh, with an atmosphere so thriving every night is like New Years Eve, has the power to make or break a career. She says with relish that “with free fringe it becomes pack mentality. If you’re a dick then the audience turn on you.” While Luisa isn’t “a dick” in the slightest she admits that her gigs in America are inevitably tougher then on her home turf. When she performed in LA she came to the verdict that “in LA the audience is a lot more self aware and as everyone’s a performer they’re quite judgmental. So when you get a laugh from an audience in Hollywood you feel like you’ve earned it more.”
Yet this judgement is equally apparent within the comedy scene itself. Here, her excellent ability to impersonate comes into its own. Putting on a low, pretentious, serious, deadpan voice, reminiscent of Stewart Lee she says “comedy gets a bit ‘oh this is so series and clever, look at my word play and me being clever. When actually, I like pop culture as well as jokes. This kind of comedy gets dismissed as being low brow but I want to join them together as equal.” For Luisa, the divide in comedy is not between men and women – “the ‘women aren’t funny’ argument is bollocks” – but between these intellectual snobs of comedy, the big dogs who take it too seriously, and then the comedians like Luisa who are there for a big party of a gig.
She says that the comedy clique who take comedy overtly seriously (surely a paradox) would take issue with her set because “I’m not a geek. I’m pretty and cool and I like cool music.” This unashamed confidence, which isn’t at all misplaced, sets her apart from the older generation of self deprecating comedians. Even though Luisa dismisses the gender divide, it’s true this set are predominantly men. The men who are on panel shows every week, who make comments about their weight, their lack of sex life, complaining about their wife and kids. It’s refreshing to see that Luisa’s set explores some some personal issues in her life, in an incredibly upbeat way.
Luisa and her no-holds-bard personality is open, sweary and impossible to dislike. So instead of heckling, the only interruptions in her show are the excitable crowd who shout out ‘you’re better than that, love!’ and ‘he sounds like a dick’ed!’ when she retells stories of her ex boyfriend. Comparing her show to Adele’s outing of her evil ex boyfriend 21, on behalf of all wronged twentysomethings everywhere, I ask her whether her ex has been to see the show. “Nah, she says, he can get it when it’s out on DVD.” She has an ability to get young women to relate to her, similarly to Queen Bey herself. Short of getting an entire stadium of women swaying their arms to the left, she does get a surprising amount of not only fangirls but young women using her as an Agony Aunt. Putting on an even more exaggerated form of her South London accent she tells me about the messages she gets on Facebook from fans “soooo right, I met this guy back in 2002 and he said this but then that happened and oh my god then this happened, what should I do?” Her response? Usually “hi babe! He sounds like a penis.” Despite hearing about the mentalist fans who ask her for boy drama advice, I find it impossible not to open up to her. When I tell her that “yeah, before any first date I listen to Check Up On It by Destiny’s Child so I can hype myself up for-” before I’ve even finished the sentence she starts serenading me with the chorus.
The fact that she loves making people laugh (and quoting 90’s girl groups is the way to my heart anyway) is a given. Part of the joy of comedy is the buzz of having a room full of strangers, with no emotional tie to you, laughing with you at your experiences. Gaining their trust, making them feel invested in your story, and engaging with them. On having sell out shows she says “It’s the biggest ego boost ever. After the show, I feel famous, I get a standing ovation of a hundred people, and then I’m on a night bus back home to my flat, and I’m like, where’s my standing ovation?”
While WWBD takes the cult of celebrity into an original and creative, personal and unique way, Luisa has criticisms with the X Factor generation who take the gaining of fame as seriously as her alter ego pretends to: “People aren’t educated enough to know what’s important and to take it a pinch of salt. I’m thirty, Beyonce’s only a year older than me, where’s my sell out tour and my millions? The X Factor generation thinks ‘surely I deserve it all’ and yet it’s not happening.” Whatever this all is is never defined but reality television portrays this as being handed to you on a plate, presented by Simon Cowell complete with his creepy wink, as he thinks about about how much money he can make from you. In the face of this Luisa testifies that “there is so much gratification from working hard.” And that sounds like something Beyoncé would do.
‘What Would Beyonce Do?!’ , The Old Fire Station, Oxford. Friday the 1st of November, 7.30pm.