The other day I was being briefed before recording a series of BBC local radio interviews to promote this year’s Funny Women Awards. In conversation with the cheery male producer, we inevitably came around to the big female comedy news story of the moment, Fleabag.
I was more than happy for Funny Women to promote Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s success as a comedy writer and performer in pursuit of promoting our search for new female comedy talent, but I hadn’t really given much thought to the broader impact of her achievement which is to change the narrative around female characters.
Establishing that I am of an older generation with grown up kids in their thirties and twenties, the producer asked me how I ‘felt’ about Fleabag, and whether or not I found the main character’s behaviour ‘disturbing’ given that I have a millennial daughter. In other words, was I offended or shocked in any way. I explained to him that, in over 16 years of working with women in comedy, not a lot surprises me and I take a genuine interest in how perceptions change across the generations.
A lot of us working in comedy have been aware for some time of the impact that Fleabag would inevitably have. Its legacy will go far beyond the realms of comedy drama and, now that the media and the creative industries are catching up with how attractive a ‘naughty’ character can be, ‘Fleabag’ types will be cropping up everywhere, including a definition in the Oxford English Dictionary no doubt. Look out for them in advertisements, magazine articles and the world beyond where female stereotypes are crying out to be radically subverted. Bring it on!
In a recent conversation with a cross-generational group of women we discussed if any of us has encountered a real-life Fleabag. My first inclination was to say ‘no’ but then I remembered a particular friend who had shocked me with her promiscuous behaviour and sexual exploits when we were in our twenties. If I’m honest, I think I was secretively in awe of her having myself opted for the safe haven of a dull (and inevitably doomed) marriage. So many of us did this in the eighties – I’m glad that today it is far more common to try before you buy!
Maybe that’s what Fleabag taps into so successfully, the subversive part of us that longs to break the mould that is still perpetuated between the pages of glossy magazines. She is identifiable on so many different levels and it’s time to expose the ‘grubbiness’ and pain of real life. Instead of the usual serving of secretive, steamy male sexuality that is so prevalent in everything from cop shows to sitcoms, here we have a predatory female in the guise of a hapless ‘girl next door’, seemingly harmless but on a mission to get what she wants, even a priest.
It’s no wonder that the marketers and creatives want a bit of this. They are sharpening their very pointy pens in anticipation of how they can turn Fleabag into an advertisers dream! Let’s just make sure Fleabag doesn’t lose her edge in the translation. Waller-Bridge herself is already writing on the new James Bond movie – Odd Job and Jaws will have nothing on the female villains she’s likely to turn out, but then again, we’ve already had Killing Eve…
Whatever the Fleabag legacy, we’ll soon all get bored again and be looking around again for something new to tantalise the viewing taste buds. What I am really excited about though, is how the stereotyping of women is slowly and successfully being subverted. There are exciting things to come, I’m sure of it and that’s why the Funny Women Awards are so important.
We also have HERlarious our new brand for exploring how we can encourage women to have a voice in the workplace, advertising, politics, business and all walks of life. Please join us to discuss how Fleabag is changing the narrative, at our next HERlarious – Comedy for Creatives event on Thursday 9th May at Twitter’s London HQ. Amidst the workshops and live comedy, we’ll be asking some seriously sassy women, of all ages to discuss the Fleabag legacy and more.