There aren’t many stories about the genesis of a show that are quite as inspiring as the one behind comedian Luisa Omielan’s What Would Beyoncé Do? When the show was born at Christmas 2011, Omielan was at the lowest point of her life. She felt that her burgeoning career as a stand-up had stalled, there was a big, shocking family crisis to deal with and her on-off boyfriend had finally called it off for good.
“I was a mess. When you break up with somebody and they go on to soar and fly and they’re so happy in their career, they meet someone else and you’re there going: ‘I can’t get up, I’m broken,’” confesses Omielan with the same intimate frankness that runs through her show.
Seeing her in such a state, her friend persuaded her to use the break-up as the subject of her set at a gig on Boxing Day.
“I went on stage and talked about how I genuinely felt, that I’d been dumped and everybody saw it coming but me. I just ranted about how I had a right to be angry about my ex. I got a standing ovation on that Boxing Day. All from a 20 minute set.”
Buoyed by the experience and feeling more optimistic, she went on to write what has now become her début solo stand-up. The Beyoncé idea stemmed from a conversation a few days later.
“I met my friend just after Christmas, it was midday and we were watching the telly, both wearing onesies, and she said: ‘Babe, you know we’re the same age as Beyoncé?’ I thought: ‘What has happened to our lives? Oh, what would Beyoncé do?’ Hang on a minute – that’s a fun title!’”
She soon realised that her stand-up material and various Beyoncé tunes belonged side by side and began to piece together the show. Omielan previewed it, hiring rooms here and there, and by the start of the Edinburgh Fringe she had performed the show an incredible 32 times.
The final touch came when she had a minor epiphany regarding the finalé. “I used to end the show on a Cher song because I love Cher. My friend said: ‘That makes no sense. You can’t do an Edinburgh show called What Would Beyoncé Do? that ends in a Cher song.”
Having previewed it so many times, by the time the Fringe show opened it already had a buzz around it. Given that it’s not uncommon at the Fringe for an audience to consist of three people and a dog, to Omielan’s surprise she had a full house when she turned up for the first show.
“I got there and there was a queue around the door.”
The fire brigade capped the amount of people allowed in the room but the ladies toilets were at the back of the room.
“I’d sneak girls into the toilets and say, wait in there, then when it begins you come out. That was our game plan but they cottoned on to it,” laughs Omielan.
When you see the show it’s no surprise it was such a resounding success. As well as being hilarious, it’s also joyous, triumphant, empowering and brutally honest. Consequently it attracts all sorts of people from comedy and theatre lovers to partying Beyoncé fans – she’s even had hen-dos in.
Omielan completes this tour with yet another Soho Theatre run, then she’s off to New York next year for a three week run produced by American comedian Caroline Rhea. “The irony is that it was from that low point that I finally got the career that I wanted, that I always wanted. It’s kind of beautiful that it’s the show that brought me out and up.”
What Would Beyonce Do? Library, Lancaster, 30 Nov
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