Fleabag and friends: make light of when life goes off piste

Phoebe Luckhurst
Get knocked down, get up again: actor Phoebe Waller-Bridge is the first guest on How to Fail: LOIC VENANCE/AFP/Getty Images

How to Fail, 50 mins.

A podcast that invites successful people to talk about their failures could descend into a monstrous humblebrag, as one person at the zenith of their career after another person at the zenith of their career uses some one-off blunder in their 20s to cue up a packed CV of unequivocal successes.

But that would be an absolutist take on the nature of failure and would underestimate the host of new podcast How to Fail, the brilliant Elizabeth Day, who you could probably trust to talk eloquently about anything, and who’s definitely the right sort to interview the great and the good about “the things that haven’t gone right”.

The series gets off to a roaring start: her first guest for the inaugural episode is the “feminist superhero” Phoebe Waller-Bridge, the firebrand behind hilarious TV sitcom Fleabag, who you could also probably trust to talk eloquently about anything.

Guest: Phoebe Waller-Bridge (Getty Images)

From the off, Day acknowledges that she is talking to an ostensibly very successful person. “What was it like to have your face projected onto billboards on Sunset Boulevard?” she asks Waller-Bridge, who laughs and then mutters something about her “massive face”.

Crucially, the acknowledgement of success precludes the podcast feeling fake or whiny, and it also tees up a probing, very direct discussion about the possibility for disconnection between public and private lives.

Yes, Waller-Bridge was on billboards on Sunset — but she also avoided looking at her face during the editing process, and finds having her photo taken by strangers on the Tube “the creepiest feeling”.

Fleabag: Phoebe Waller-Bridge stars in the BBC Three sitcom (BBC/Two Brothers Pictures Ltd.)

Waller-Bridge is also entertainingly candid about the pressure cooker of Rada and female representation (“all the young females are always having abortions or crying”), and the strangeness of not “fitting in the boxes” constructed by casting directors. Day deftly draws her out on relationships, “sticky one-night stands” and women’s rage.

Failure, it seems, is a Pandora’s box of emotive, urgent subjects. But How to Fail is also, crucially, funny and informal. Waller-Bridge is a hoot; in the second episode, Day is joined by the novelist Sebastian Faulks, and the pair discuss depression and isolation, but they also talk about failing your driving test and crap soufflés.

​Faulks, too, is game, perceptive about his failings and successes without ever being self-pitying or pompous.

If this is failing, it sounds all right.