She is inappropriate, sharp, hilarious, and profound—oftentimes all in the same joke. You may know Phoebe Waller–Bridge as the creator and star of Fleabag, Amazon Prime’s tragicomedy that landed 11 Emmy nominations in 2019, but she is also much more. Waller–Bridge’s work started off with playwriting, but since her rise to international fame and seemingly universal critical acclaim, the comedienne has had her hands full with projects: creating Killing Eve for BBC America and Run for HBO, cowriting the new James Bond film, playing L3–37 in Solo: a Star Wars Story, and now remaking Mr. and Mrs. Smith alongside Donald Glover.
So what is it about Phoebe Waller–Bridge that makes her creative vision among the most sought after in Hollywood? When looking at Fleabag, you could point to how she’s unafraid to address the audience and drag them along on her misadventures. Or you could take notice of how she so often fails to be the “good feminist” that she so longs to be, but ultimately reclaims that power through her wry and defeated (but funny!) commentary. To better understand the answer to this question, you might begin by revisiting a show she created and starred in that aired just six months prior to Fleabag: Crashing.
In Crashing, Waller–Bridge stays inside the four walls of performance conventions, choosing to create chaos within them. The show follows all the tropes and tenets of modern sitcoms but isn’t quite like its television counterparts. The difference lies in Waller–Bridge's peculiar and uniquely enthralling writing. Set in a deserted hospital turned residence, the show follows the lives of a group of young professionals acting as the “property guardians,” struggling to navigate the harsh realities of their lives. Across the span of six short episodes, Crashing effectively delivers a storyline studded with well–crafted comedic acts that rapidly unravel the plot to reveal the very core of the characters’ deepest insecurities and glaring vulnerabilities. It almost feels too awkward to watch, but you’re enjoying yourself far too much to turn it off just yet. That might just be Waller–Bridge’s signature move.
Waller–Bridge has a knack for knowing what her audience desperately seeks to hide from the world—especially from ourselves. She has proven time and time again that, regardless of genre, her expertise is not simply thinking up an interesting story or delivering a quick–witted punchline. Her greatest strengths lay in her unshakeable self–awareness and allegiance to radical honesty.
Whether you’re watching her as an unnamed twentysomething fumbling her way through life in Fleabag, as ukulele–strumming Lulu in Crashing, or as L3–37 in Star Wars, Waller–Bridge’s characters are routinely caught between managing their rage and finding a sense of freedom—a fundamental struggle experienced by viewers across the world. She writes her learnings, uncooked and offbeat, into formats that whisk us into her world and make us long to stay. Waller–Bridge is a writer, an actress, and a comedian, and she is massively talented across these realms. But ultimately, it is her artistic integrity—her commitment to telling us her interpretation of the human experience as accurately as possible that keeps us watching.