(The wall just cracked.) It's up to you now – do you see your audience as by-standers or as your confidants? Fleabag has advice for you.

Published Jul 28, 2023
Reading time 5 min read

You know the feeling when you witnessed something so profound that you want to turn your life around in a moment?

I don’t know about you but I experience it a lot with films. The messages, the writing, the narratives.

So, when I went to see Barbenheimer yesterday (“Barbie” + “Oppenheimer” films, for my not-so-chronically-online navigators here 😉), I might’ve discovered a big hairy audacious goal of screenwriting. All thanks to the genius of these writers.

(Out of respect to the writers & actors strikes, I won’t cover these characters, or any other from upcoming films & shows.)

Today’s character – Fleabag – was suggested by my friend & fellow navigator, Kuba. Filled with wit and dark humour, the message is so simple it hurts – how do we get to a point where we can just accept ourselves?

(And there’s one element that played a vital role in Fleabag’s discovery that you can use in your creator branding.)

And the story goes:

London, a city of life and chaos. A playground for her – Fleabag.

There she was, sitting in bed at 2:37am, waiting for a late-night rendezvous. And then… she looked somewhere – at us!? – and said, “I think I’m going to make the face.”

She joked and talked to us, as we became privy to her intimate moments. (The wall is broken; you see, in this story, you and me – we are Fleabag’s confidants, a character on our own – in her story.)

“I have a horrible feeling,” she says, “that I'm a greedy, perverted, selfish, apathetic, cynical, depraved, morally bankrupt woman who can't even call herself a feminist.”

Confession or another quip? Welcome to Fleabag’s world.

What’s in it for us? Speak to your people directly, through your point of view. Break the fourth wall. Make your audience your confidant.

Behind The Character

We don’t know her name, so it’s only fitting to keep calling her Fleabag.

(And that’s by design – Phoebe Waller-Bridge, the creator and actress behind Fleabag, couldn’t select the right name, so she stuck with “Fleabag” and even carried it to other character; hello, “Bus Rodent” and “The Priest.”)

Funny, flawed, yet deeply damaged – she's a woman navigating life's curveballs while harbouring a deep-seated guilt and grief. Her way of coping? Oblivious to everyone in her world, Fleabag often stops, looks directly at us (in the camera), and spills her thoughts, emotions, and lots of dark (and sometimes unsettling) jokes to us.

Originally a one-woman play at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2013, Waller-Bridge carried over the "fourth-wall breaks" format into the TV series to maintain the intimate, confessional style of storytelling.

To portray the internal turmoil of the character, Phoebe Waller-Bridge didn’t want to rely on cliches. In response to the prompt at the storytelling night, she thought, “What would happen if my best friend, Vicky Jones, died? How would I heal from that? What if it would be my fault?”

Drawing upon her emotions and thoughts breathed life into Fleabag’s story, complex yet vulnerable. And for that – not only did the audience love Fleabag and turn the show into a cultural phenomenon but critics also praised it highly, awarding Waller-Bridge with Emmy and BAFTA.

(I collated my favourite analyses of Fleabag in this moodboard.)

Mapping Out The Narrative

Fleabag would talk to us directly in any situation: In the middle of being intimate with a partner, during the family dinner, or at the doctor’s.

We’re fully entrenched in her mind and soul. Everything Fleabag goes through? We see it from her perspective, filled with her emotions and thoughts, hear her monologues or receive her side looks.

The most enchanting device that makes the TV series and the character stand out is “fourth-wall breaks.” Yes, lots of shows use it but with Fleabag, it’s next level. It’s not a comedic gimmick but a way to peel layers off Fleabag as a character, experience her wit, humour, and intimacy, and build a deep emotional connection with her. We, the audience, become her confidant.

There’s a scene that breaks my heart and takes Fleabag’s acknowledgement of the audience up a notch: When we find out what happened to her best friend. In that scene, she runs away from a bank – but truly, she runs away from the camera, from us. Because you see and feel her shame and guilt. Exposed, she runs away.

It’s a stark difference to usual direct-to-camera talks where Fleabag feels confident and lets you in with a quip or a monologue.

That’s the next-level storytelling for me – where a character speaks from an emotion, shares thoughts, and invites us in. It’s not reserved for TV only; creators with the most loyal audiences tend to do it a lot, too.

Where Fleabag has her own show, you have your platforms to build a relationship with your audience.

So, for your TV show, consider this: Break the fourth wall.

Beyond dry knowledge and deep authority pieces, offer a glimpse of your personality and let your wit and humour shine.

Let me give you an example: Remember all the Threads hype? No matter whether you switched there or not, the overwhelming feeling people shared there was… a fresh start. There were no third-party schedulers, no expectations how to gain followers or bait engagement, no algo hacks.

People did what they do best – they talked. Off-the-cuff manually typed thoughts, sparks that triggered conversations, feelings about business, and in-progress experiments.

It felt like a big party everyone wanted to join. It felt like we all dropped one big fourth wall.

But who said you need a new social media platform for that?

My task for you:

Think of three ways to share what's on your mind, directly to your audience, with a twist: 1) Give your context and emotions (what triggered it?), 2) mention challenges (what makes you think about that and why?), and 3) spill all related thoughts. Bonus points if it connects to your curiosities or values.

Be it about business, or life encounters – the more you do it, the more you can uncover what resonates with your audience and nurture relationships with them.

We’re all a bit like Fleabag – navigating through life, one curveball at a time. Why not share it with others, and eventually accept the flow and ourselves?

Jannis sits on the left side of the boat, with hands on the wheel. Mariia sits on the right. Both look in the camera smiling. Beyond their boat, a rocky mountain is ahead, right at the edge of the lake.
Barbenheimer wasn't the only cultural event of our week – my husband Jannis and I took my family on the boat ride around the Traunsee lake. Can't believe we live in Austria now 🥹
Seeing Through Stories

Navigate the world of brand strategy, every Friday

Every week, I will send you a TV or book character breakdown and what made them iconic – and how you can apply those insights to your creator brand.