Editor-in-Chief Chelsie Henshaw interviews Luisa Omelian about being a woman in comedy, what gets her inspired, and her new show ‘God is a Woman’

Written by Chelsie Henshaw
Last updated
Images by Andy Hollingworth

Hi Luisa, thanks for joining me today. First of all, would you tell me a little bit about yourself for those unfamiliar with your work?

I’m a comedian, I’ve been doing comedy for fifteen years. I did a show called ‘What Would Beyoncé Do’ that was a breakthrough show and became one of the biggest stand-up hits out of Edinburgh according to The Guardian. I’ve toured that show for five years. I created my own little genre of parties with jokes in and my audiences were very much the girls and the gays, all from different backgrounds, races and religions.

I appeal to a very diverse audience and that was really important to me when I first started comedy because I felt like that audience, my audience, myself and my friends were being ignored in comedy. And so, I did a show that was for us and then I did a show called ‘Am I Right Ladies?!’. In this there is a joke from when I performed ‘Am I Right Ladies?!’ at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival. I put the joke online and it went viral, it has had over 50 million views now; it’s about not having a thigh gap.

Then I wrote a show about politics after my mum passed away quite suddenly. I felt that the system had failed her care and I wrote a show about it and the BBC turned it into a documentary called ‘Politics and Bitches’. Now I am working on my new show called ‘God is a Woman’ which is about religion, divinity, the divine feminine, life after loss and how we can step forward together.

I’m a comedian and you’ll love my shows. And to the people who haven’t heard of me, I’m probably the most famous comedian you haven’t heard of. I’ve built an amazing following and my audiences are incredible and I love them.

Why did you want to go into comedy and how did you get into it? 

I’ve wanted to do it since I was about four years old. I’ve always wanted to create comedy and I’ve just followed that drive. You wouldn’t do it by choice because it’s just too hard, it was just a vocation that I wanted to follow and perform. I’m lucky that I’ve built a following and an audience because if it wasn’t for the audiences, I wouldn’t be able to perform. I don’t come from a performer’s background, a performing family, drama school or anything like that, I just pursued it by different side hustles: taking acting classes, taking myself to Chicago and training over there. I have just pursued, pursued and pursued it.

You have clearly achieved such great success yourself. Who would you say is your biggest inspiration for material/style?

I want my audiences to feel after a stand-up show how I feel after watching Cher at a concert

To be honest, I don’t really look to other comics and go I want to be like that – I like doing my own thing. My inspiration comes from everyday life and the people in my life and around me. I have a lot of brilliant, intelligent friends that make amazing points that make me think ‘I want to share that.’ I have friends that are hilarious that make me want to tap into the frivolity and funniness that I have with them.

I watch Cher in concert with her longevity and tenacity, I want that. I want my audiences to feel after a stand-up show how I feel after watching Cher at a concert. I want my show to make you cry and be sad and then laugh and be happy. I get inspiration from all over. I want my shows to be eclectic, they’re not just straight stand-up shows, they are more of an experience, and I love that.

I think it is important we give voice and time to all things, for example, relationships are just as important to our lives as politics – it is all relative. There’s also a snobbery in comedy: ‘that’s not important’ or ‘you shouldn’t be focusing on that.’

You’re currently touring with your show God is a Woman – what was your inspiration for this? How do you navigate the subject of religion in the show?

Religion is a very sensitive subject; it’s hard to navigate. I think it’s important to make things accessible, and through making things accessible you can have an honest conversation. So that’s what I do with the show, it’s about looking to where the patriarchy comes from, as well as the rules from our everyday life. You might not even realise it, but the working week comes from the Bible, even the unequal pay of women comes from the idea that for many, many years women weren’t allowed to be educated, read or write whereas men were. So, the progress there was different 

Comedy is still very male-dominated, it’s an industry that is misogynist, sexist, classist. It acts like it isn’t and there’s a tokenism, but it still is and that’s just in comedy; across the board it is still there, glaring.

What struggles did you face as a woman entering such a male-dominated field?

I find it frustrating that I don’t get on as many TV platforms as I’d like. I know a lot of male comics that I started with who are pretty much household names now and when it comes to women, there’s maybe one or two. We have to work so hard, and our quality of work has to be excellent each and every time, and it’s still not always enough to break through to the main scene in the UK and I find that incredibly frustrating.

And then there’s a sense that you should be grateful for what you get and grateful for what you have, but it comes to a point where you work for 10-15 years, and it just feels rigged. Don’t get me wrong, there are ways forward, it just takes longer, and comedy is hard for everyone, especially during the pandemic. I would just like to see some more opportunities. 

Would you have any advice to women wanting to enter the comedic field? 

My advice is to just get on your hands and knees and start scrubbing and just work, work, work, gig, gig, gig. Don’t rely on the fact that you’re a female and tokenism to get you there, you’ve got to be as good as the best person on the bill. You just have to knuckle down, focus, and keep working.

God is a Woman is not your first popular show. Could you tell us a bit more about your previous shows ‘What Would Beyoncé Do?’, ‘Am I Right Ladies?!’ and ‘Politics for Bitches’?

‘What Would Beyoncé Do?’ was basically graduating and finding myself moving back into my mum’s house even though I had a first-class degree, and being like what I’m the same age as Beyoncé, how has this happened?

‘Am I Right Ladies?!’ talks about body image, mental health, and anti-depressants, but with a Dirty Dancing soundtrack.

‘Politics for Bitches’ was a call to arms about inequality in the world and the fact that the system isn’t there to catch you when you need it.

The difficulty of coming up with new material is severely underestimated, isn’t it? Would you say that people sometimes view comedy as a lesser form of art?

My shows are all bodies of art and I love each and every one of them

100%. Comedy isn’t taken seriously as an art form and that’s sad because it absolutely is one of the purest art forms out there. When you look at politics and what’s going on in the world right now, it’s comedians shining a light on it. And the fact that sometimes you get a comedian held to more account than politicians is disgraceful because comedians are just shining a light on what’s going on.

My shows are all bodies of art and I love each and every one of them. They’re very precious, beautiful, thought-out, intelligent pieces. People think stand-up is just jokes but there’s a lot more to it than that.

Stand-up comedy is often viewed as effortless, yet I would imagine it is far from that?    

Yeah, people always think it’s an overnight success when, in reality, it takes years to get good in comedy; you need the experience of playing North, South, an all-female room, an all gay room, a rowdy room, a shy room, a room with lights on, a room with no lights on etc, you just need all the experiences.

There are plenty of people that you see in comedy that are brilliant but aren’t household names and it’s sad because they’re geniuses, just doing their thing. My biggest advice to anyone reading is don’t go see someone just because you’ve seen them on the telly, see them because you’ve heard something amazing, look at what audiences are saying about them.

Some comedians are claiming that we are facing a ‘crisis’ in comedy because of woke culture. Yet, some argue that it is still possible to be funny whilst being woke and inclusive – do you have an opinion on this?

Everyone is always punching sideways instead of up, where the systemic inequality is

I don’t think people should be worried about wokeness. Wokeness is just having an understanding of the world right now, recognising inequality and not adding to it. Everyone is always punching sideways instead of up, where the systemic inequality is.

You must be so relieved to be back on the stage after the pandemic. 

1000%. I just wish more audiences would come out to theatres, they are still quite hesitant, but theatres are doing everything they can: socially distanced seating, everything is cleaned and masks are encouraged. I have a podcast about it called Notes on Tour which gives you an idea of what to expect when you come to a venue.

Please come out and support us, we haven’t worked for 18 months. The lighting and sound guys haven’t, the stage manager hasn’t, the comics haven’t so, come out.

How do you think the industry has adapted and changed following the effects of COVID-19 on entertainment?

People have learnt to be more self-sufficient, they’ve gone online and done Zoom, created their own YouTube channels and have been building their audiences online. Sadly, many comedians, especially those not from wealthy backgrounds, had to go back to work. It is really sad because what you are going to see is a generation of wealthy comics that can afford to do nothing and just gig, but they’re not going to be reflective of society.

For example, what about the comic that has had to go back to work in Aldi? It is incredibly difficult, and again it is just an uneven playing field. But comics are a smart bunch, really intelligent, and creative, they find ways to make it work and that’s what we’ve been doing. 

Why does Bernie (your lovely Bernese Mountain dog) make such a good stage companion? 

She’s the best, she’s the bomb on stage, you’ve never seen anything like it. She’s very well-behaved on stage – in fact it is the only place she’s well-behaved.

Why is comedy so important to you as a form of art?

Doing stand-up shows fulfils me

Because it is the only place where I’m allowed to have an authentic voice and actually be able to go on stage. In this day and age, my only currency is to be funny, so as long as I can be funny, I can have a job. If I haven’t got that, I can’t work, but it is all I want to do. For me, it’s a vital lifeline to a career, an audience, my purpose; doing stand-up shows fulfils me.

Finally, how would you sell your show to our readers?

You’ve never seen a comedy show like it, it’ll blow your mind, just buy a ticket. Take a gamble, come along.

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