Tag Archives: Jongleurs

Comedian Luisa Omielan is targeting young girls, gays and Beyoncé fans

(A version of this piece was also published by India’s We Speak News)

Luisa Omielan after her show at the Comedy Cafe last night

Is there life after the Edinburgh Fringe for a Free Festival show by a relatively unknown comedian? Well, judging by last night, Yes.

I went to the first night of Luisa Omielan’s eight-week run at London’s Comedy Cafe Theatre and she got a standing ovation from a full house whooping for a show which had played to full houses and multiple 5-star reviews throughout the Edinburgh Fringe.

The show is called What Would Beyoncé Do?

“It’s about how Beyoncé songs have helped me,” Luisa told me last night. “How I think I should be a diva but it hasn’t quite worked out that way. I showcase Beyoncé songs to highlight how very different my life is to what Beyoncé has.”

My eternally-un-named friend saw the show with me. She (admittedly off-colour and with a possible ear infection) thought the pre-show music was much too loud. So did I. But, after the show, Luisa told me:

“It was to get the audience hyped. It’s not a show where you just sit down and don’t get involved. It’s very much a Yeeeaaahhhhh!!! Paaaarty!!!! show.”

She has performed in various shows at the Edinburgh Fringe for nine years, but What Would Beyoncé Do? was her debut solo show there and last night was her first ever full-length solo show in London.

The Beyoncé poster/flyer designed by Luisa

“From the first day in Edinburgh,” Luisa told me, “it had a full house of 12o people in the audience. About a week in, the fire brigade came and said: You can’t have this many people in the room! and they capped it at 75 and, after that, I was turning away maybe 20 or 30 people a night. They came because of the title and because I got listed as One To Watch and it was a good poster. Title and poster count for a lot.”

“You’ve done a lot of improv and been in other full-length shows at the Fringe,” I said to her. “You are very experienced. But doing a full-length solo show is different. Have you found it scary?”

“Yes,” she replied. “I cried twice before I went on tonight. Petrified. When I went to Edinburgh, I went completely by myself. I planned and dealt with every aspect of the show myself including the poster and the PR. But I was quite confident because I thought I’ve done the Fringe before. This’ll be fine. Whereas here tonight… I’ve never done a London show. I felt I had a lot to prove. There are 99 seats in the Comedy Cafe. How am I going to fill friggin’ 99 seats?

But my Twitter followers went up by 400 during Edinburgh and, because it’s a free show (on the Free Festival/Free Fringe model) people feel ‘invested’ – they really support with the social media networking. So I’ve been using Facebook and Twitter to promote this show.”

“Are you an improviser or a stand-up?” I asked.

“I’m both” said Luisa firmly. “I see them both as my strengths, both as my art forms and I want a show which combines the two.”

“And you want to be an actress…” I said.

“No,” Luisa corrected me. “I want to be what you just saw. I’m doing what I want to be. I’ve never wanted to be anything else but a comedy performer, since I was about four or five. I did do acting at college (she studied Performing Arts) but my thing was always I wanted to be famous for being me. I wanted to be like Whoopi Goldberg or Robin Williams – where they’re a personality. Whoopi Goldberg gets booked as Whoopi Goldberg. I wanted that.”

“When I was watching the show,” I told Luisa, “I was impressed by the audience control.”

“Well,” she said, “over a year ago, I went to Chicago for three months, to the big improv school at Second City and studied clowning over there, which I loved. And clowning’s all about raising and lowering and raising… it’s all audience control.”

“You wanted to move there?” I asked.

“I would have done,” Luisa said. “If Edinburgh hadn’t gone well, my plan was to go back. But Edinburgh went amazing.”

“So you’re going back to Edinburgh again next year?”

“Yes, with the same show at the Free Festival.”

“The same show?” I asked.

Luisa singing – and dancing – at the Comedy Cafe last night

“Yes,” she replied. “Because this show is perfect for my target audience. The people who come to my comedy show are people that wouldn’t necessarily go to a comedy show normally. So there’s a lot of my target audience out there who need to know I exist.”

“And your target audience is…?” I asked.

“The young girls and the gays, because they identify with what I say and what I talk about.”

“You had a significant scattering of black people in that audience,” I said. “That’s strangely unusual in a normal comedy club, though I’ve never known why.”

“But that’s who I want to appeal to,” explained Luisa. “An urban crowd. Absolutely I want to appeal to that audience because it’s all-encompassing. The show is a party. In so many comedy shows you see the same old thing. I don’t fit into that environment. So I did my own thing and they came and, now I’ve found that niche, it’s very important that I build an audience and a following from the bottom up.”

“Where does that go if you’re stuck with young girls and gays?” I asked. “Doesn’t that mean you don’t hit the mainstream audience?”

“I think you’ll find they are the mainstream audience,” said Luisa. “If you get the girls and the gays, then the rest of the world follows.”

“Aren’t comedy audiences mainly young males, though?” I asked.

“People say they are, but there’s actually lots more women coming to comedy now and I want to try and encompass more women in comedy and get more women to go. You look at Jessie J or Beyoncé… Men didn’t pay for that. Women paid for that.

“Women pay for entertainment, not men. Men might pay for football. Women will decide what film you watch, where you go, what you go see. Women will decide that. Women are spending the money. This old men v women thing is bullshit. I have no time for that. Women will pay for a show. I want women in my show. End of. There’s no What about the men? Fuck ‘em. They’ve got Jongleurs. Go to that.”

“So Young heterosexual males piss-off?” I asked.

“No, not piss-off. But there’s plenty of comedy out there. This is my comedy for my target audience which I have found. There’s enough of them there.”

“Have you based your stage persona on someone else?” I asked.

“Who?”

“That’s why I asked,” I said.

“No,” said Luisa firmly. “I’ve based myself on me.”

“Who were your idols?”

“Whoopi Goldberg, Robin Williams, Steve Martin, Cher, Beyoncé.”

“Steve Martin’s different,” I suggested.

“Yeah, but in his films, he’s very physical and clowny.”

“You dance very well in the show,” I said.

“You’re joking,” laughed Luisa. “I can’t dance at all. I just dance with conviction. Improv is all about conviction. If you’re pretending to die, do it with conviction. If you’re dancing and you’re nervous about it, you dance harder and that’ll get you through.”

“I saw an interview with Fred Astaire,” I mused, “where he said Ginger Rogers actually couldn’t dance… but she could act dancing brilliantly.”

“Exactly,” said Luisa. “You do it with enough conviction and people will believe you. And dancing is a big thing with Beyoncé.”

“But what if people don’t know a lot about Beyoncé?” I asked. “That excludes them from the show?”

“No, because they just see someone dancing silly and enjoying it for dancing silly’s sake.”

“But why should I – if I’m a 26 year-old comedy-goer – go see a show about Beyoncé with Beyoncé in the title if I don’t know about or like Beyoncé?”

“Well, there’s plenty of other shows for you to go and see!” laughed Luisa. “I’m not the only choice, God bless you!”

“Maybe you are the only choice.”

“For my audience, yeah.”

“So you are playing the Comedy Cafe here every Tuesday for eight weeks,” I said, “and then…?”

“I want to tour with it next year. So it’s me building a following and attacking it from different angles, making a good comedy show free and making it accessible. When I got 5-star reviews in Edinburgh, the next day I got comedy-savvy-goers who would come and be boring and sit there and think Oh, this is very interesting blah-blah blah-blah blah. My audience was alright those days, just a bit dead.

“But when I had groups of girls – black, white, Asian – dressed up to the nines coming in for a night out, that’s when I’d have that big reaction you saw tonight where it would blow the roof off. They’re the people that I’m trying to get. The people who don’t normally go to comedy and especially wouldn’t go to Jongleurs on a Friday or Saturday night. They’re the people I want to come to my comedy show and it’s a show that’s honest and truthful and relevant and it’s not pretentious, pretending to be something else or being clever with wordplay. If it’s not for you, by all means don’t come. But, if you want a bit of a party with jokes in, you’ll love it.”

“You don’t need a PR,” I told Luisa, “You are your PR. Have you seen Beyoncé perform live?”

“Yeah,” said Luisa. “She’s amazing. I nearly died. The way she performs – I thought I wanna perform like that… but with stand-up.”

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From comedians to murderers – Janey Godley, Bob Slayer and Myra Hindley

Janey Godley - not a woman to annoy

Last night, I go to see my chum Janey Godley compère in the spectacularly-designed Jongleurs comedy club at Oceana in Watford.

After the show, when we leave the first floor nightclub, we have to descend the stairs slowly, preceded by bent-over girls on stilts, gingerly picking their way down the steps like new-born foals. When we eventually get out of the building, we find the pedestrianised section of the long, wide high street outside has been hit by some sort of drink-and-drug fuelled cluster bomb and/or has fallen through a wormhole of time-and-space into an alternative universe in which Hieronymus Bosch has designed a fuzzily-lit surreal dream of a slow-motion Ibiza night. It is like the rush hour in dreamland.

There is a group of girls on stilts in Venetian Carnival style red costumes talking to tall men on stilts in formal black suits. Further along, multiple queues stretch in swaying straight lines out from buildings’ entrances into the street, police vehicles are parked higgledy-piggledy, as if dropped from on high, drunken men and short-skirted girls on mobile phones sway in and out of huddles of testosterone-drenched lads and a girl in a bikini dances to indistinct music in slow motion inside a slightly misty giant plastic bubble.

When I get home, the surrealism continues from the other side of the world with an e-mail from comedian Bob Slayer in Australia.

It reads:

__________

Last night, I was walking home across an Adelaide park at 4.00am and I just could not walk any more, so I crashed under a tree and went to sleep. I woke at 8.00 or 9.00am to the sound of monkeys. It turned out I was next to Adelaide zoo.

The sun was starting to roast and I was so hot all I could manage was to roll into deeper shade. It only got hotter and I finally managed to stagger out of the park at midday and get to the nearest air conditioning to cool down which, appropriately enough, was at the hospital. They do the cheapest breakfast in town.

The man whose house I should have been staying at – Matthew – is coming to my gig tonight with a blind date. That is very brave I think, especially as he has told me a great story that I will repeat to the audience.

A couple of Christmases ago, he is wandering up to the bottle shop and he meets two girls. He gets chatting and invites them back to his house. He has intimate relations with one of these girls and then, the next day, they tell him that they live in a care home.

He drops them off and foolishly gives them some cash. The next he hears about them is in the local paper.

It seems, with cash in their pocket, they do not go back to the home. They go out on the lash. And one of them is found dead. Murdered. (Not the one he got intimate with.) The next thing is the police turn up to question him. They ask him to let them know if he hears from the other girl, as they are worried about her.

A couple of days later, he is driving along and sees her in the street. He stops, picks her up and takes her home. He chats to her and she agrees that he should ring the police. They come around almost instantly, which surprises Matthew, but not when they handcuff the girl and tell him that she did the murder.

So I am living with a guy who fiddled a murderer.

I met a murderer once at the premiere for the movie Killer Bitch, which I introduced at the Curzon Mayfair cinema in London. The so-called Black Widow did 28 years for murdering three husbands and claiming on the insurance. While inside, she was Moors Murderer Myra Hindley‘s hairdresser.

On the week she got out of jail, she married a man that she met on day release.

The Killer Bitch premiere was full of assorted hoodlums and fighters including Stormin Norman Buckland – bare knuckle boxing champion of England – and, taking up the entire back row, a motorcycle gang that kills Hells Angels for fun. In-between was the football hooligan that Donal McIntyre put away, fighters, gangsters and assorted criminals.

My opening line on stage was “You are all a bunch of poofs!”

I have never raced to the punchline so fast… which was that they were poofs compared to the lovely old man who had married the Black Widow on the week of her release from prison.

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Lewis Schaffer and the unreported theft of all his Edinburgh Fringe jokes

“You haven’t been to that Scientology place on South Bridge, have you?” I asked Lewis Schaffer. “They call it the Hubbard Academy of Personal Independence, presumably so people don’t know it’s Scientology.”

“No,” he replied.

Well something strange has happened to him.

American stand-up comic Lewis Schaffer is a former Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award winner and no wonder – he just can’t stop attracting publicity.

This last week, he did a double whammy.

On Thursday, the genuinely very amiable and charming comedy agent Brett Vincent used Twitter to accuse Lewis Schaffer of stealing a joke.

Brett tweeted:

“Hey @LewisSchaffer – I have heard from 3 sources that the first joke in your show is 15 minutes in and its a Ben Hurley gag from 2006? True?”

New Zealand comedian Ben Hurley is one of Brett’s acts.

The gag was: ‘’I lost a good friend in the World Trade Center. I remember telling my friend: Mohammed, stay in flight school! Practice the landings!’

Lewis says he had actually come up with the gag himself straight after the 9/11 terror attacks:

“I have fond memories,” he said in a press release, “of telling the joke in early 2002. It’s the joke that got me banned from Jongleurs. I brought the joke back this year because of the ten year anniversary of 9/11 to remind me of all the good times… A comedian is judged by how soon he or she makes a joke about a tough subject. For instance, I made the very first joke about Madeleine McCann’s disappearance – the day before I kidnapped her. Maybe that was too soon.”

I had tea with Lewis Schaffer at Fringe Central in Edinburgh yesterday afternoon and it was not the spat with ever-affable Brett Vincent which was obsessing him. No, it was the fact that he was living in the Now.

“I am living in the Now,” he told me. “It’s all good.”

“You’re saying meaningless things again,” I told him. “You’re being very American.”

“No I’m not, John. I’m living in the Now.”

That’s when I asked him: “You haven’t been to that Scientology place on South Bridge, have you?”

“No,” he replied.

“So why,” I asked, “have you suddenly decided to live in the Now?

“Because I realised I’m 54 years old. I have too much shit going on in my life. I have more past than I have future. When you’re 20, you can live in the past because you don’t have much of a past. Now I’m gridlocked. My Now is that I have a show to do but I’m sitting here with you. I’m not even worried about my show in half an hour.

“It’s going good because I’m living in the Now. I’m not going to remember the bad things that have happened to me. I only know that right now is good.”

“And Now is good?” I asked.

“Yes. I got a review today which said my show was over in a flash. Well, it must have been good if it seemed to be over in a flash. Only good shit is over in a flash. Bad shit goes on and on and on. Name anything bad that’s over in a flash besides premature ejaculation.”

“So it’s all good now?” I asked again.

“I had my bag stolen yesterday.”

“Is that good?”

“That’s bad. It had all my jokes in it. I had all the jokes for my show stolen. I was flyering yesterday and I left my joke book in my bag outside and someone stole it. Well, it wasn’t a book, it was a sheet… sheets.. And it had the money from my show. It’s the second year in a row this has happened, though I don’t know how I remember that, because I am living in the Now.

“Every year I make a list. You remember my lists, John? In 2009 it was

“I am not shambolic.

“I don’t hate the audience.

“I don’t think this country is completely shit.

“Discussions confuse people.

“I know Madeleine McCann is not as important to others as she is to me.

“I lost all those lists, all of them; they were in my bag; four years worth of lists. I lost them. Maybe that’s good. They were in the past. Maybe I have to do a new list because now I’m living in the Now.”

“Have you reported it?” I asked.

‘You can’t report it.”

“Of course you can. Someone might find it. It’s the sort of crime where they steal the bag, take the cash and then they throw the bag aw…”

“But,” Lewis interrupted, “They would read the notes and the jokes inside the bag and say to themselves This is Lewis Schaffer’s bag – and they might have given all my jokes to Ben Hurley.”

But you don’t need a list of jokes,” I said, trying to be positive. “You don’t tell jokes; you tell stories with jokes in them.”

“I tell jokes!” Lewis complained.

“But if you can remember the stories,” I persisted, “you’ll remember the jokes. You have been doing your show twice weekly in London for the last year. You’ll remember the jokes because you know the stories.”

“I live in the Now,” Lewis told me. “Those stories were yesterday’s stories. How can I remember them in the Now? You know how critical the reviewers are: they only want to see new jokes. They don’t want to hear my Award-winning Holocaust joke again.”

“It’s the best Holocaust joke I’ve ever heard,” I told him.

“You said that already,” Lewis mumbled. “I have to do a show in half an hour and I have lost my book of jokes. Well, my sheets of jokes; and notes; and my lists.”

He became very serious. He looked me in the eyes:

“What would you – John Fleming – do if someone said to you You have to be on stage in half an hour and do an hour-long comedy show?… Would you think to yourself: I’m shit because I didn’t prepare?… No you wouldn’t, because you didn’t know you had to prepare.

“That’s what I feel about my life. I didn’t know I had to prepare.

“No-one told me. When I was crawling out of my mother’s vagina, no-one told me I had to prepare for an Edinburgh Fringe show. Did you know it was coming? I didn’t know. It’s not as if it’s an annual event. They just spring it on you!”

I looked at Lewis.

“I don’t remember the past,” Lewis said, looking me in the eye, very seriously. “I am living in the Now.”

I said at the beginning of this blog that something strange has happened to Lewis Schaffer.

I take it all back.

He is the same.

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