Luisa Omielan

Luisa Omielan

Nominated for the Barry Award at the Melbourne Comedy Festival in 2015 for her show What Would Beyonce Do?, two years after debuting it at the Edinburgh Fringe.
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What Would Beyonce Do?! The book

Review by Steve Bennett

It’s something of a failing of the comedy industry, and especially broadcasting, that it hasn’t yet found a way to fully harness Luisa Omielan’s proven appeal to a younger, more female-skewed audience that has not previously been well-served by the business. Maybe with the arrival of her first book – called, like her breakout live show What Would Beyonce Do?! – publishing could provide another way through.

She does, in many ways, have the voice of a generation. The voice of someone who believes she can – indeed deserves – to have everything; that X-Factor cliché of the contestant who thinks their life is destined for the glamour and success they see everywhere, a sentiment the young will relate to and the old will roll their eyes at, given the unattainable entitlement.

The ensuing gulf between that feeling of being special, unique and deserving of your special place in the world and the mundane reality of a dull zero-hours-contract job can, in its extreme, be toxic. (You might even end up blaming immigrants and the EU for not having the life that’s your birthright, and where would that leave us?) 

But Omielan has found a way of making comedy – and now a hugely entertaining read, too – from that frustration. Plus the one thing that sets her aside from most ‘follow your dreams’ is that she has genuinely worked hard for success. Beyond the treadmill of the comedy circuit every aspiring comic must run, she’s invested money she doesn’t have in big gigs to build and cement a likeminded audience.

Although she longs for the untouchable glamour of Ms Knowles, she is unflinchingly honest about the actuality of her world; from the sloughs of depression to her desperation for a boyfriend, to the financial straits she finds herself in, despite being what seems like a comparatively successful comedian. She certainly feels very acutely that common comedown of being the centre of attention on stage at a gig one minute, then the cold, lonely trip home on the night bus the next. 

This is all covered in the book, the sort of warts-and-all honesty that comedy thrives on. And for millennials, as the phenomenon of YouTube stars attests, authenticity is everything. In What Would Beyonce Do?!, that sometimes translates into a lack of finesse in Omielan’s trains of thought, her language or her literary construction – but it is undeniably written in her unaffected voice, and all the more potent for it.

What Would Beyonce Do

Like her stand-up shows, her life story is punctuated with wider musings about what experience has taught her, as well as kicking back against some of society’s more stifling and illogical conventions. She takes us from entertaining her grandmother’s friends, to flunking drama-school auditions, to enrolling on a comedy course, to that first flush of Edinburgh success to a routine about the thigh gap going viral. But the things the adventures have taught her are what’s important.

She’s certainly  driven by a defiant sense that society or the media won’t tell her what to be – feminism if you really must put a label on it. She won’t be ashamed of liking sex, of being depressed sometimes, of not having that stupid ‘thigh gap’ – who made these rules anyway? The book’s certainly likely to provide succour to anybody feeling pressured by such external forces.

What would Beyonce do? Well in any situation she would do things her own way, which is where Omielan finds a shared mantra, both practically (from crowdfunding her own specials to jettisoning agents and tour promoters) and artistically (abandoning an ITV2 pilot which sounded like a car-crash in compromise).

So she might not yet have the Beyonce lifestyle she craves, but maybe a publishing deal is another step on that long and treacherous stairway to get there.

• What Would Beyonce Do?! by Luisa Omielan is published by Century, priced £14.99. Click here to buy from Amazon for £13.48

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Published: 15 Jul 2016

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