Mo Omar's Voice of LST
Being crowned Leicester Square Theatre’s New Comedian Of The Year competition in 2017 was a turning point in Mo Omar’s stand-up career… even if the conditions weren’t exactly auspicious.
The Somali-born, Welsh-raised comic had dabbled in performance as part of writing group in Swansea and first entered the Leicester Square contest in 2016 - although his heat didn’t exactly go well. ‘I did poetry,’ he said. ‘Which was a mistake. And I’d borrowed this watch which didn’t fit me properly, so I spent the set fiddling with that.’
Twelve months later, and starting to make his name on London’s open mic scene, Omar had a far more successful competition, making it through to the final - although even then what he wore proved an issue.
‘That night I was between places and staying at a hostel,’ he recalls. ‘I hadn’t even got all my clothes from the old place, so I had to go to Primark. The clothes I wore on stage and for the photo afterwards were the only ones I had.’
His victory was cause for celebration - not least because the prize covered a deposit to get him out of the hostel. Outside the venue he ran into Scottish comedian and troubadour Phil Kay. ‘I didn’t really know who he was, but he insisted on singing a song for me,’ Omar says. ‘But then he forgot my name. All the while I was trying to go home. I had a really bad stomach bug, that only properly hit me after the gig.
‘Two days later I got a call from an agent and I was still ill in bed in the hostel. She said, ‘Been out have you?’ but it was a genuine illness!’
Luckily the agent believed him, and off the back of his victory at Leicester Square, he was signed to the powerful Off The Kerb company, whose roster includes Michael McIntyre, Alan Carr, Romesh Ranganathan and Jo Brand.
‘My agent helped me get organised,’ he said. ‘I’d just been drifting around the open mic gigs. She said there were no promises about where my career would go, but she got me gigging.’
He also got support from David Hardcastle, who runs the competition, and theatre owner Martin Witts. ‘They’ve been really supportive,’ he said. ‘I’ve done their new material night at the Museum of Comedy a few times too, so it feels like I’m still involved. From the outside the Leicester Square Theatre seems like this really big deal, but the people who run it keep it really personal.’
He’s even been to the theatre as a punter – using a portion of his fee from appearing on Harry Hill’s Club Nite on Channel 4 to buy a ticket to Stewart Lee’s Snowflake/Tornado there in December 2019. ‘It’s the first big show I’d ever brought a ticket for,’ he says. ‘It was fantastic.’