Luisa Omielan is a Bafta-winning comedian who rose to global fame with her 2012 comedy show ‘What Would Beyonce Do?’ which spawned a book and a BBC special. The Wee Review spoke to Luisa ahead of her ‘Bitter‘ tour dates in Glasgow and Edinburgh.

You performed ‘Bitter’ at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe, where I saw it. Now you’re coming back to Scotland in March and April. How has the show evolved since last Summer?

It depends – when [in the run] did you see it? How was it? Did I leave the stage crying or was it alright?

You didn’t leave crying, no.

When I first went up to Edinburgh I hadn’t written the show, so there wasn’t a show. The whole point in doing it at the Monkey Barrel in the afternoon felt very low-key. It was just to explore the idea because all my shows are really on the money with how I feel at the time so they’re very relevant to what’s going on. Now, I can’t shake this feeling of bitterness and resentfulness or regret or you know, ‘Have you made the right choices?’ The social contract seems to be broken. Things don’t work how they used to. It’s such a naïve way of looking at it but I always thought if you were good and you got your grades and you did well and said please and thank you, it would be good, right? And for so many people, that’s just not the case and we’ve sleep-walked into this kind of hell. And I don’t know what else to do. I don’t do any other job apart from comedy and it’s also what I love doing but I was like, ‘How are you gonna tackle this yuckiness with a stand-up show?’ So I thought I’ll just have to do Edinburgh and figure it out and see what happens and… hopefully it’s got funnier?! It’s got more of a shape and it’s more of a definitive show but it’s still pretty much the same in terms of its intention.

I recommended ‘Bitter’ to a lot of people last year, and found myself not wanting to describe it as a ‘stand-up set.’ What would you call ‘Bitter’? What kind of show is it to you?

It’s so funny because it’s the same with ‘What Would Beyonce Do?’ People wouldn’t call that a stand-up set but I’m a stand-up so it’s the same with this. Even though it’s a very different kettle of fish and a very different vibe, I’m just a stand-up talking about what’s going on. But I would say that for all my shows, very often the positive critique I get is, ‘Oh, that’s not like a regular stand-up show’. I mean it is, it’s my regular stand-up show. It’s a good question. You’re probably better equipped to answer that than me because for me it’s just a continuation of the same. But I hear you.

It’s also felt very in vogue for a while to have a ‘Nanette‘-esque, epiphany show – a life-affirming set that ties up elements of the human experience really neatly. Would it be fair to say ‘Bitter’ is anti-that?

Yeah, but also – I did ‘What Would Beyonce Do?’ before ‘Nanette’ came out, and that was a very life-affirming show, so I was kind of part of that culture. I’ve been there, done that, got the t-shirt – just never the Netflix special. So I’ve seen those shows and I believed in them at the time, and I still believe in them now. This is the biggest challenge I have with this show – that I haven’t got a happy ending. I haven’t got an, ‘and here’s the solution to it all,’ and I keep telling myself, I don’t know why you expect a comedian from Farnborough to have the answer to the world’s issues right now. It’s beyond my remit! I don’t know the answers. And then every time I try to shoehorn a hopeful ending in, it just feels inauthentic so if the show is ‘Bitter’, it has to be authentic. It still has to be entertaining and it still has to illicit empathy or educate people – it does those things. But in terms of an, ‘Oh, I’m gonna leave with an answer to my problems,’ my answer is – guys, we need to burn it all down. So unless I give out boxes of matches at the end… I mean that could be funny! Do you know what, why have I only just thought of that?

How do you feel after the show, especially after performing it so often? Is it cathartic or draining or both or neither?

Miserable! Fucking miserable! I don’t want to keep looking so closely at what’s gone wrong or for so long. I want to cut the ropes and fly. It’s very affirming and it makes me feel good and it helps me validate a lot of things, where I go, ‘yeah, that is bullshit,’ but at the same time, it doesn’t do me any favours just to keep thinking about those things. I only want to do this once. For where I am as an artist, I need to go through this shitty bit to figure out what I’m doing next, because I’ve given my all and dedicated my adult life to performing shows and it’s killed me. I’ve loved it but it’s killed me and I don’t know what I’ve got to show for it and I’m looking around going, ‘How sustainable is this?’ It’s not. And the world is changing. Before, people had the money to go and see someone they’d never heard of at the Edinburgh Fringe and go take a risk. Whereas now, they want a sure thing. They want to know who they’re seeing because they’re only going out and are only paying for one ticket. It used to be that Free Fringe rooms would have queues around the door, and the only day I saw that was on the 2 for 1 day. So it’s not just an internal battle, but also externally – you go shopping and you pick up a couple of things and it’s like £45. I’ve only got some lemons and some cream. Why is it 45 quid?! I just think the temperature’s being turned up everywhere. Sorry, this is not selling the show at all is it?!

Again, you’ll be performing ‘Bitter’ in Edinburgh and Glasgow soon. Do you notice the difference between a Fringe audience and a more typical Scottish audience, particularly in Glasgow?

Yeah, very much so. Fringe audiences tend to be quite liberal maybe. It’s funny – sometimes you do Free Fringe shows and they’re like, ‘Go on then,’ and you’re like, ‘Mate, you haven’t paid to get in. What you chatting about?’ And then when they’ve paid for a ticket they’re the most well-behaved, phenomenal audiences. In Glasgow I’ve had some of my lifetime favourite, on-my-death-bed-I’ll-remember-those-shows shows. I’ll always remember doing ‘Politics for Bitches’, which was about my mum passing away. You know you have this stereotype of the Scots being drunk or whatever. There was a woman at the back of the room and she was quite drunk, but no more than anyone else anywhere else in the country. But every now and then she would just pipe up. And I’m talking about my mum passing away, and this woman was like, ‘Everybody on your feet!’ And I was like, ‘What the fuck is happening? Oh God. What are you doing?’ And she was like, ‘Everybody! I want us to toast to Luisa’s ma.’ And I was like, ‘Oh fuck me!’ Immediately my eyes welled up. That’s not where I thought she was going at all with it. She was so invested in the show and she was so into it and listening and involved. And then the whole room stood up and gave a toast to my mum. I was like – I don’t know how I can follow that! At the end of the show I got a standing ovation and I was so happy. If love was a gift in the room, I received so many. It was just beautiful. The audience was going wild and I was like, ‘Oh guys, thanks. It’s too much. Come on now, stop.’ And I didn’t realise Bernie [my dog] was on stage behind me doing a poo. That’s why they were going feral. There’s me thinking, ‘I’ve smashed this.’ And then they crowd-surfed a poo-bag from the back of the room and it was the best. It was just magic. You couldn’t write it or recreate it. And only in Glasgow, I think.

That was also the night I was raising money for my mum’s charity and I raised a record amount of money. Glasgow was the most generous city of all the tour dates. Everywhere was generous, don’t get me wrong. It was just a very special evening.

You’re very active on Instagram and you were laying out some really interesting questions about ageing on your Stories recently – questions that probably tie back into ‘Bitter’. What surprised you about the responses?

I felt like I was, not dying, but shedding skin or something’s changed and I don’t recognise the world, I don’t recognise rules, I don’t know what’s happening. Then I posted about it and I must have had two, three, four-hundred messages of people saying they feel the exact same. They don’t get what’s going on. I’m 41 now and before lockdown I was 36 and before my mum died I felt like I was on this trajectory and I didn’t know what I was doing but you hustle because it’s all gonna work out. But then she died and lockdown happens and you come out of it and go – suddenly I’m older but I haven’t lived those years. So these two or three years where you might have been going out dancing, pubbing, meeting people… and then you’re not, and you’re older now. So I’m 41 but I couldn’t tell you what I did at 39, 40. What did we do with those years? And they’re quite key years if you’re a woman who wants to have children or whatever. So if you didn’t do it in lockdown, do you do it now? How do you do it now? It’s going out dating or trying to meet somebody and trying to navigate. I think it’s our generation. Our mums and grandparents stayed married because they had to so if they were in an unhappy relationship they stayed married most of the time or for as long as they could survive it because they needed the counterpart to look after a family and put food on the table. Whereas our generation don’t need a counterpart. We can do it on our own, but then we’re staying single for longer. My mum at 40 had five small kids. She was a proper grown-up and I’m still waking up everyday going, ‘What the fuck are you doing with your life?’ I thought 40 meant a detached house with a Volvo and your career sorted. Kids, marriage. And it’s not that at all. So I just tweeted about this and didn’t think anything of it. And the number of people who got in touch and just said, ‘It’s a thing. People don’t tell you, but when you move from 30s to 40s, it’s definitely a thing.’ But I think Covid has had a huge impact on us in a way that we probably don’t recognise or understand or give kudos to.

Now, I want to go out, but not for long. Crowds sometimes make me feel a bit… it’s cool but I couldn’t do it every day all the time. It’s too much. I just wanna go home and have an electric blanket on. But then how are you gonna meet people if you don’t make the effort? So many questions, so many questions…

A really serious question, then…

Is it about Bernie or Beyonce?

No, neither!

Oh really? This is gonna be good then. Normally when people say this it’s, ‘Is Bernie coming on stage?’ and, ‘What would Beyonce do?’ I dunno mate, leave me alone.

No, it’s even more pressing than that. Is Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit actually the better film?

See, I love them both so much. I think I love one for the shock of when she turns the choir around. So that first moment when you realise they can sing is amazing. But for me, that same point happens in Sister Act 2 because now you know they can sing, but when Jamal goes, ‘Oh Happy Day… when Jesus washed’ [in Mariah whistle-note fashion]. Oh my God! Everything exploded everywhere. My whole brain went. It recreated that same moment from Sister Act 1, but I didn’t see it coming and it blew my mind. So they’re both as good as one another.

I’m asking, of course, because, ‘God is a Woman‘, one of the shows you performed at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe, leans into Sister Act 2 very much. Will be able to see God is a Woman again?

Yeah, it’s on YouTube. I filmed ‘God is a Woman’ the stand-up show in Glasgow at the Oran Mor because it’s one of the most beautiful venues in the country. I wanted a gay church and that’s what Oran Mor is. I’m developing ‘God is a Woman: the Musical’ which is basically Sister Act 1 and 2 and The Lion King all put together about Mary Magdalene and I love it. If that doesn’t sell it, I don’t know what will. I don’t know how, I don’t know when, but I want to make it happen.

Apparently a sequel to Sister Act is in the works.

I know, I’m so gutted. My dream when I first started my career in comedy was that I wanted to be in Sister Act 3.

What should your part in that film be?

Anything they’d fucking have me as. That’s another reason I’m bitter. I’ve worked so hard – there’s no reason I shouldn’t be in the running for that. And life has just been like – nope!

‘Bitter’ comes to the Oran Mor, Glasgow Sat 30 Mar 2024 and Monkey Barrel, Edinburgh Thurs 25 Apr 2024