Empowered women empower women –t-shirt I bought in the Newseum


I never heard of Phoebe Waller-Bridge until one day when I was watching the Emmys. Who is this woman who keeps winning and seems utterly and charmingly incredulous that she’s standing there holding the hardware?

I soon found out she was being honored for writing and acting in Fleabag, a BBC and Amazon series. I hadn’t heard much about it, but now it was on my radar.

In the very first episode, she’s in bed, laptop open, watching Barack Obama give a speech. Soon you realize her hand is under the covers. Yes, she is masturbating to Obama.

The artist in me was instantly at attention. Who admits that? Apparently the answer is Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Emmy-winning writer. (Has she seen the Al Green moment? Hahahahahaha).

Over the course of any artist’s career, we are told to be scathingly honest and unflinching in our expression. But it is the rare few who have the courage to bare all on the page, the canvas, the stage. We temper, modify, hedge. We want to be fearless. We do. But so often we don’t succeed. I rank myself pretty high on the “be naked on the page” goal, but I could still strip away a few layers.

As I watched Season 1 and then Season 2 of Fleabag, I was entertained, aroused, saddened, shocked, and uncomfortable in my own laughter because it came from a dark, weird place. I watched the whole series again recently, this time bathing in the knowledge that this artist and her collaborators were fully exposed.

I wondered if anyone had informed President Obama about the aforementioned self-pleasuring scene. It brought to mind a riveting interview Saturday Night Live comic Darrell Hammond did with Howard Stern years ago, explaining that, yes, women had asked him to do his Bill Clinton impression in bed. Ah, the lure of powerful men.

In any event, imagine my delight at seeing Obama’s recent list of favorite movies of 2019 with an addendum called “A quick list of shows that I considered as powerful as movies” and at the top – Fleabag Season 2. For those not familiar, that was the season known for the hot priest, not the hot president. I get a real kick out of knowing Obama appreciated the mingling of love and dysfunction enough to put it on his list. It was like a full circle moment. The man likes edgy. How hot.

All of this is why I am writing about Phoebe Waller-Bridge on the first day of 2020. Because, dammit, she is my inspiration to start this year. There are other terrific choices I could have made (like Nancy Pelosi), but on this day my artist is taking over and anointing a gutsy, marvelous 34-year-old the person who has something to teach me in this moment.

I was recently browsing The Strand bookstore in New York when I saw a plain, navy blue cover with gold letters that said: Fleabag, The Scriptures. It’s all the scripts from both seasons of the show with some notes by Waller-Bridge at the end. I left it there, wondering if it would be one of those books I’d be enamored with for a day.

However, for days I kept thinking about the darned book. Right up to the point where I went to a sale at my local bookstore thinking they wouldn’t have it but it was the first thing I saw when I walked in. Next thing I knew I was rifling through my wallet looking for a Visa gift card I got for Christmas. The cashier informed me it was the last copy. Happy day.

A bonus to seeing writing in script form is that it’s a reminder that the films and shows we watch started as words on a page. I’ve on occasion advocated that my artistic coaching clients buy copies of scripts to hammer home the point that they, too, can put pen to paper and create something fierce.

Waller-Bridge writes:

“ … I was teetering on the edge of a depression. From there I looked down into the abyss and at the bottom of it was Fleabag looking up at me, in lipstick. Her attitude. Her humour. Her ability to sum a person up and eviscerate them with a single, brutal insight is what drove me to write her.”

There is more in the notes, but that stands out. And, oh, a lined section at the end that invites the reader to add her own thoughts. This single line is at the top:

“Write like you’re not afraid.”

It’s a heck of a way to start a decade.