USA TODAY US Edition

Ama­zon’s ‘Fleabag’ bur­rows deep with caus­tic com­edy

- Pa­trick Ryan

As a bawdy, bru­tally hon­est woman in com­edy, Phoebe Waller-Bridge has got­ten every com­par­i­son in the book.

“I’m the ‘next Lena Dun­ham,’ ‘the ‘English Amy Schumer,’ the ‘next Sharon Hor­gan,’ ” Waller-Bridge, 31, says with a shrug. “I’ve ba­si­cally been linked to every other woman who’s writ­ten about sex. No guy is ever the ‘new Will Fer­rell’ — he’s just a co­me­dian. I guess it’s in­dica­tive of it be­ing quite a small pool.”

One in which the Bri­tish ac­tress and writer hopes to make a splash with her de­praved yet heart-wrench­ing com­edy Fleabag (stream­ing Sept. 16 on Ama­zon Prime).

Adapted from her 2013 onewoman show that played Eng­land’s Ed­in­burgh fes­ti­val, the six­episode series fol­lows a seamy Lon­don café owner named Fleabag (Waller-Bridge). She pro­vokes her sis­ter (Sian Clif­ford), steals from her step­mother (Olivia Col­man) and strings along her mil­que­toast boyfriend (Hugh Skin­ner) when she’s not mas­tur­bat­ing to YouTube videos of Pres­i­dent Obama.

Fleabag is some­one “I knew I had wanted to play for ages: a dark, un­apolo­getic, weird, pervy girl who’s re­ally dead­pan,” Waller-Bridge says. As in the play, the char­ac­ter fre­quently ad­dresses the au­di­ence di­rectly with re­pug­nant asides to the cam­era, which go from funny to frag­ile as she grieves the loss of her best friend (Jenny Rains­ford) and is pur­sued by her sis­ter’s loutish hus­band (Brett Gel­man).

On­stage, “so much of the hu­mor was know­ing that I have some­thing naughty or con­tro­ver­sial that I’m about to say, and play­ing that line with the au­di­ence of mak­ing them com­plicit in it, whether they liked it or not,” Waller-Bridge says. “I knew I had to have that el­e­ment (in the TV show),” with­out “mak­ing it too self-ref­er­en­tial or re­ly­ing on it to nail jokes.”

Fleabag ’s moniker comes from Waller-Bridge’s child­hood nick­name, Flea, and she says the story is based on ex­pe­ri­ences of her and her friends. “Funny enough, loads of peo­ple think they’re in it, like, ‘It’s me, isn’t it? I’m the brother-in-law?’ ” Waller-Bridge says. “And that’s (com­ing from) like, a 25-year-old woman.” Like Hor­gan’s Catas­tro­phe,

Fleabag‘ s first sea­son was ac­quired by Ama­zon shortly be­fore it pre­miered in the U.K. Like the stream­ing gi­ant’s other new sit­coms, Tig No­taro’s One Mis­sis­sippi and Woody Allen’s Cri­sis in Six

Scenes, Waller-Bridge had “a very

spe­cific vi­sion,” says Joe Lewis, Ama­zon Stu­dios’ com­edy chief. “The take on the re­la­tion­ship show felt so dif­fer­ent, and her ap­proach felt more like a three­hour movie, which is what we do. Ev­ery­thing about her is so hon­est.”

Waller-Bridge cites other fe­male come­dies — Ab­so­lutely

Fab­u­lous, Brides­maids and Girls — as in­spi­ra­tions with their de­pic­tions of fla­grant, fear­less women.

“It’s in­ter­est­ing, be­cause there are so many male-led come­dies that are all about (sex) and we’re all so used to it,” Waller-Bridge says. “My char­ac­ter comes out and (mas­tur­bates) a cou­ple times, and then all of a sud­den it’s, ‘Out­ra­geous! Un­prece­dented!’ That’s with­out a doubt be­cause I’m a woman.

“I re­mem­ber when the play first came out,” she con­tin­ues, “girls ac­tu­ally came up to me say­ing, ‘It’s so nice to hear some­one talk about fe­male mas­tur­ba­tion.’ And I thought, ‘Well, if I’ve given my au­di­ence any­thing ...”

 ?? HAL SHINNIE ?? Se­crets come to the sur­face when Claire (Sian Clif­ford) and sis­ter Fleabag (Phoebe Waller-Bridge) visit a silent re­treat.
HAL SHINNIE Se­crets come to the sur­face when Claire (Sian Clif­ford) and sis­ter Fleabag (Phoebe Waller-Bridge) visit a silent re­treat.

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