For ‘Fleabag’ Aficionados

Why should you read this article about the hottest comedy in the world right now? Here’s how the author, John Lahr, puts it:

In other words, Phoebe Waller-Bridge may well be the person so many of us are hoping to become, so let’s try and find out what, exactly she’s all about:

Illustration by Paul Davis

Louche Cannon
by John Lahr

Roseanne used to end her stand-up act this way: “People say to me, ‘You’re not very feminine.’ Well, they can suck my dick.” Phallic fun used to be the province of men—a mission broadcast by the totemic Fool in cap and bells, whose scepter is actually a penis, that emblem of transgression, the source of panic and elation. In earlier, primmer days, the great American comediennes—Fanny Brice, Judy Holiday, Lucille Ball—got away with mischief by ditzy indirection; nowadays, in our unabashed, newly liberated times that echo with the impudence of independence, when facing down the male gaze, comediennes increasingly prefer the headbutt to the velvet glove.

The latest recruit to the bumptious tribe of phallic women is Britain’s Phoebe Waller-Bridge, who tonight brings the curtain down on her sold-out limited engagement at London’s Wyndham’s Theatre, based on the 2013 Edinburgh Festival Fringe one-woman show from which her now internationally famous TV series was minted.

Anarchic Pedigree

“I wanted to see someone who was never relenting, who was furious—furious—and not even for good reason,” Waller-Bridge said about inventing Fleabag. (“Flea” also happens to be her family nickname.) The Eureka! moment—an outlandish semaphore of Waller-Bridge’s anarchic pedigree—comes at the end of Fleabag’s first-ever TV episode. As she leans back in the seat of a taxi, in the midst of an over-share with the cabdriver, Fleabag hoiks up her skirt, gropes in her underpants, and pulls out the stolen golden statuette from her hated stepmother’s studio. In her fist, she clutches the headless female torso, which looks nonetheless like, well, you know. Instinctively, unconsciously, in one startling, outrageous gesture Fleabag has goosed her audience and, at a stroke, also pronounced her priapic comic mission. She’s a louche cannon….

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