Well, I say, was there anything else you might have done? “Like what? Tell me what I could have done other than comedy? And done well in? You’ve clearly never been to any of my previous temp jobs because you wouldn’t be asking such a silly question, my friend.”
Omielan is outspoken about her desire to be famous and she talks about everything that happens to her. The good and the bad. And she’s happy to take interviewers to task when they ask foolish questions (I give her plenty of opportunities, unsurprisingly).
It’s Wednesday, mid-July, and Omielan is in an upmarket cafe in central London. Eggs Benedict on the menu, she says. “It’s a bit too posh for my liking,” she says. “I prefer a dirty fry-up place, but we are where we are.”
This month she is bringing a new show to Edinburgh this year. It’s entitled Politics for Bitches. There will be a BBC Three series of the same name in the autumn.
She admits she watches Question Time and sometimes struggles to understand what they’re talking about. And, let’s face it, right now things are a real mess. So, she wants to break things down, try to help people to understand why politics matter.
“Let’s start from the beginning. Let’s talk about taxes. What are taxes? Why do we pay them? How do they work? Let’s talk about housing. How is housing political? Let’s talk about the #MeToo movement and Black Lives Matter.
“It’s just trying to make things clearer, I guess, just to empower people with information.”
Does she feel empowered? “No,” she admits, “I feel: ‘F***ing hell, it’s so big and complicated.’”
The question, I guess, is why this sudden interest. What has made her become a little bit political. And the answer is, I’m afraid, a tragic one.
“My mum passed away last year from cancer and it was quite brutal. I mean, it was very brutal. I just feel like I’m not in a position to not pay attention anymore.”
If the link doesn’t feel obvious she is happy to spell it out. “Cancer is political. If you look at every billboard people are always raising money for cancer charities. It’s a huge multi-million pound industry and so when you meet somebody or know somebody who has been diagnosed with cancer you almost feel protected or safe.”
“What I found criminal is my mum didn’t get the support and didn’t get the care she deserved or was entitled to. And this is a woman who had paid tax all her life and yet was sent home to die horribly. How does that work? How is that fair?
“How have we enabled a culture where you’ve got one nurse with 10 beds who hasn’t got time to give screaming patients pain relief because she’s got nine other patients to get to also in pain before she gets to you. That is political.”
The facts of her mother’s death, as Omielan lays them out, are as brutal as she says. Her mother went to the doctor 12 times before her concerns were taken seriously. She had to wait six weeks for a colonoscopy appointment only to be told at the appointment that it wasn’t an appointment for a colonoscopy but an appointment to see if she warranted one and it was felt she didn’t.
Omielan eventually took her to A&E where they did tests and she was told she had stage four stomach and bowel cancer. She died seven weeks later.
It’s a horror story. When she tells me all of this there’s a question I have to ask. How are you Luisa? “I’m doing what I can. I’m doing what I can. Comedy helps me a lot. It gives me a chance to talk about it.”
Connections. That’s what this is all about, she says. “Why were there no doctors? She had an appointment with an oncologist, for example. He was only available on Mondays and his next available appointment wasn’t for three weeks and that was a bank holiday, so it was four weeks until we saw a cancer specialist. He was working privately the rest of the time.”
Omielan is clearly angry and hurt and grieving and someone who is finding out how the world works and isn’t happy about it. She worries about how zero-hour contracts are ever going to lead to taxable income when Deliveroo drivers might work 35 hours a week, but only get paid for 10 because they’re only paid when they collect food.
“In a three-to-four hour shift they might only get two restaurant collections. They get £3.95 per collection. That means in a three-four hour shift they’ve taken home £8. How do you collect tax on that? Yet these kinds of jobs are increasing by 100,000.”
You might at this point be wondering where the comedy is in all this. It’s not a query Omielan feels needs much discussion. “I don’t make it into comedy, but I’ve always been a comedian and I’m a comedian first and foremost, so funny is what I do. It comes out anyway.”
She’s bringing her dog Molly to Edinburgh. “She’s really the show. She’s what you are paying for.”
Edinburgh, Omielan says, gave her a career. “Beyonce was one of the best debut shows of all time to come out of the Edinburgh Fringe. I’ve not come from a big machine with corporations backing me. I’ve built a career from regular people coming to see my shows and paying for tickets and that’s how I’ll continue to build one.”
Omielan says she knew she wanted to be a comedian from the age of four or five. Born in Birmingham and brought up in Farnham, she grew up watching Carry On films and clowning with her Polish grandmother. “She didn’t speak English and I didn’t speak Polish, so we communicated through body language. I loved making her laugh.”
She went to university, and then did a lot of those aforementioned temp jobs. What was the worst of them, Luisa? Photocopying hundreds of sheets of paper and putting them in order, she says. “You’re paying me £10 an hour to count paper? I’d rather be broke.”
Eventually, someone told her about the concept of open mic comedy nights. It was a revelation.
“I’d go to open mic nights in London and nobody can say: ‘No, you can’t go on.’ Nobody can say: ‘You need to pay £100.’ Nobody can say: ‘You need to wear this uniform or you need to come from this school or you need to be part of this private members’ club.’
“You get up and if you are funny you win. That’s all there is. Funny is the only currency. And that I could bring. That I was rich in.”
She qualifies the bullishness slightly. “Sometimes I was rough. Depended on what day you got me on.”
In any case, Omielan would get up on stage and talk about herself, about her love life, about her body image, about body shaming about the way guys call girls sluts because they have a sex life. In Am I Right, Ladies?! Omielan stripped off to show her Spanx control underwear and body fat. In everything she does she is saying this is who I am.
“That’s all I ever did. That’s all I ever did. That’s why I never got an agent or did well in competitions. They were like: ‘This isn’t funny.’ But now I’ve started a culture. I did it with Beyonce and Am I Right …”
It’s why she’s now talking about her mother’s death. “I’m a comedian and cancer affected my life so I’m going to talk about cancer, yeah.”
The night before we talk I watch Am I Right, Ladies?! online. In it she talks about how in the past she used men’s interest for validation but no longer. I want to ask her about this but phrase it stupidly.
“That’s a really random question,” she says, as I stumble over my tongue. “I won’t lie. That’s probably one of your worst questions you’ve asked me.”
She relents, though, and spells it out for me. “Beyonce’s all about me being validated by love and Am I Right … was the tonic to that, to say actually I learned that I didn’t need to be.
“A lot of my friends, their whole thing was to find a guy and get married and find validation from that. My thing was I want more than that because I haven’t met a guy who has validated me. If anything, the people I’ve met have made me feel worse.
“So, it’s quite empowering to find something that I created, that didn’t depend on somebody else’s love and respect. It was a call to arms, really, for women, and for men, to find something for yourself, that makes your heart sing, find something that’s yours that somebody cannot take away, that is not dependent on somebody else.”
Luisa Omielan believes in self-empowerment. Luisa Omielan thinks she has funny bones. Luisa Omielan has had the hardest of years but she’s still standing. Funny is a currency and she’s rich in that.
Luisa Omielan: Politics for Bitches is on at the Gilded Balloon Teviot Debating Hall in Edinburgh at 9pm until August 26 (except August 14 and August 23).