Straight-talking Luisa Omielan’s free show in 2012 won her transatlantic acclaim and a radio pilot. This year, the comedian has a more personal agenda in mind, finds Jay Richardson
If 2012 was Luisa Omielan’s “year of dreams” – the year her Free Fringe, word-of-mouth hit What Would Beyoncé Do?! broke out as a booty-shaking, bona fide phenomenon; a high-energy, musical romp through her trials and tribulations that’s still playing in theatres internationally – then for 2014, her aims are simple: repeat her unprecedented success. And “find a penis”. Ideally, with a man attached. That the two may prove mutually exclusive is an outcome the headstrong comedian isn’t entertaining.
“This is part two, what happened next after Beyoncé,” she explains. “And it’s about feeling happy when things are trying to knock you down.”
Defiantly facing down depression, body image pressure, “thigh gaps” and the pejorative label “crazy bitches”, but in “a fun way”, Am I Right Ladies?! takes its title from Beyoncé’s mantra, a demand for sisterly solidarity and plea for reassurance. “It’s just acknowledging those things and telling them to ‘f*** off!’” the 31-year-old growls. “And actually, I just want a penis. That would solve everything.”
Notwithstanding the fact that she’s currently homeless, her belongings in storage as she performs in Montreal, Edinburgh and New York in rapid succession, I suggest would-be boyfriends might wonder if they can take her seriously. She howls, exasperated.
“It’s not a character!” she protests. “I feel more myself on stage than I do in real life. It’s such an opportunity to be completely yourself and express everything you wish, think and want. It’s liberating!
“I want a penis, I can’t make it any clearer! I’m hoping the press pick up on this and share the message because it’s just not happening. I don’t know what I’ve got to do!”
Omielan’s willingness to share her desires and insecurities is an inextricable part of what makes her such a compelling, vivacious performer, especially for young women. Her (admittedly free) London previews of Ladies?!, drew audiences of more than 150 and she was turning away half as many again, virtually unheard of in a World Cup year. Even without television exposure, she’s beginning to get recognised on the street. “I got told I was an icon for women, yesterday!” she gushes.
What makes this all the more remarkable is that prior to 2012, she couldn’t get booked. “I was finding it really hard to get clubs or industry attention.”
Yet now that she’s appeared in Dublin, Helsinki, Singapore and Toronto this year already, “I’ve got to remind myself that I’m lucky and stop complaining that I’m lonely. I’ve got to make the most of the opportunities because I don’t know how long it will last.”
Even so, she says, “I definitely have a real problem. I was in Toronto, in a king-sized bed, by myself, thinking: ‘this is beautiful. Who’s going to share it?’”
Maybe it’s the fact that she once went speed dating in a wedding dress. Or quips about catching chlamydia in a nightclub as a teenager. Because honesty and openness have their pitfalls. After all, she was outraged when a newspaper disclosed some of the more personal aspects of Beyoncé ahead of its post-Fringe run in London.
Perhaps potential suitors are intimidated by her sharing so much of her life onstage? “I don’t believe it,” she counters. “I just think ‘man up! You’re not intimidated, stop being a dick!’
She softens. “Just come and say ‘hi’. They might be worried that they’ll be put in my show. But the right man would be proud and say ‘yay, good for you’. All the men I know have strong mothers, strong sisters. I just need to find a man who’s been brought up well, then I’ll be alright.”
Although Ladies?! has fewer musical sequences than its predecessor and “more straight stand-up, more jokes”, it’s “my kind of stand-up,” she affirms. Unsparing routines about “anti-depressants and emotions” might put off some. “But a lot of the time, those emotions are quite valid,” she says. “And normal. And expressed in a funny way.”
Despite, or more accurately, because of the buzz surrounding her, Omielan is also back on the Free Festival. She loves the “vibe”, and the fact that it feels “accessible” but “exclusive … like an underground nightclub that only a certain number of people have been invited to. It’ll be sweaty, messy and dirty.” Also, she says, “I didn’t want the pressure of filling a 150-seater and charging £15, worrying about ticket sales rather than putting on a good show. I love the Free ethos and I can make good money at it.”
While the festival is going on, she’s awaiting feedback from the BBC on her Radio 2 pilot, which aired last month. Further episodes of Luisa Omielan’s Party that she’s hoping to write will focus on what it means to have immigrant (Polish) parents and “following your dreams and them not always working out”.
For this ambitious performer though, a transatlantic career now seems a distinct possibility. Training at the Second City improv school in Chicago was crucial for sharpening her crowd interaction. And at the prestigious Just For Laughs Festival in Montreal last month, she performed a rare run of full shows, an honour previously only bestowed on the likes of Eddie Izzard and Dylan Moran. An agent is sending out audition tapes on her behalf and, she says, “it’s nice that I’m taking baby steps over there. It’s kind of the dream I’ve always had, I’ve always had my eyes on America.”
She’s yet to cross paths with Beyoncé and Jay-Z, but her friend, Canadian comic Caroline Rhea, has at least put her in touch with another of her inspirations, Whoopi Goldberg. And the pair have talked about the Sister Act star producing Beyoncé in America. What’s more, she says, “when I did the show in New York, Caroline invited the stylist for Jay-Z’s music videos. So I’m getting closer to Beyoncé all the time. Hopefully, one day she’ll be able to see it!”
Regardless of what transpires elsewhere, Omielan appreciates that it was Edinburgh “that made my career, I wouldn’t have one if it wasn’t for the festival.” She worries about “whether I can follow myself”. But whatever happens, “there’s going to be lots of women screaming, so brace yourself!”
Originally published in The Scotsman
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