Phoebe Waller-Bridge: “Karaoke tells you a hell of a lot about your mates”

Back in 2016, Fleabag creator Phoebe Waller-Bridge talked to us about her love of karaoke – the belters, the movers, and the Oscar-winning actress who is amazing at it

“The ones who say they can’t sing but actually can… those bastards. You can never look them in the eye again.”

These days, Phoebe Waller-Bridge is the hottest name in global film and television and winner of multiple Golden Globes, Emmys and Baftas. The creator and star of Fleabag and writer of global smash Killing Eve also appeared in Solo: A Star Wars Story on the big screen and was brought in to liven up the script for Daniel Craig’s upcoming Bond finale No Time To Die.

But back in 2016, just before Fleabag was first unleashed on BBC3, she talked to The Big Issue about… her love of Karaoke!

“The joy of karaoke snuck up on me. It used to be something I was absolutely terrified of and couldn’t imagine how it could be fun for anyone – on either end of the room, on the mic or off the mic.

“One of my best pals, Vicky Jones [the director of the original production of Fleabag], had been trying to drag me into a karaoke booth for months, so I went once, finally, to shut her up. We kept singing for hours and hours and hours.

On my better karaoke nights I have belted out a couple of Whitneys and felt like I got close

“It was one of the most uninhibited evenings of my life. It is all about the crowd you are with.

“Karaoke tells you a hell of a lot about your mates. I can’t sing. You have to be honest before doing karaoke with anyone. The ones who say they can’t sing, but actually can – they already have serious trust issues. Those bastards. You can never look them in the eye again. But I really can’t sing. Yet, suddenly, in this room with a few friends, you have license to pretend you can.

“I vascillate between good and bad karaoke nights. Vicky always tells me when I’m having a good night. On the better ones I have belted out a couple of Whitneys and felt like I got close. And Dolly Parton’s Jolene is great – you can really act it, it is all about the pain in the eyes.

“It has to be private. I wouldn’t inflict my voice in a pub. You have to feel safe. And it also tells you a hell of a lot about your mates. Lucky Voice and Karaoke Box are the two late-night places in London I go to. It is a brilliant way to finish off a night. We are usually roaring and singing at that time anyway, it is nice to contain it in a controlled environment with amplified sound!

“I remember my dad once telling me that Japanese businessmen love doing karaoke. And he said it wasn’t just because it was super fun, but as a way of assessing people’s character.

“I did go with one guy I only knew a little bit. He spent two hours hogging the song choosing machine and telling other people what songs to sing. He monopolised the whole evening and to be honest I haven’t really hung out with him again since.

I tell you who is an amazing karaoke singer: Olivia Colman. I heard her before we did Fleabag

“I think it is essential to have a cross section of abilities, though. If everyone is amazing, it becomes a singing competition. If you have someone terrible who really goes for it, there is something so gorgeous about those moments. They just belt it. I’m a belter. I am big on Disney songs that have a story – He’s A Tramp is my big one. Low, manly tones are good for me.

“Because I’m not a particularly good singer, it is important to put everything else into the moment. I also try really hard to sing well. I do want to be a good singer so much. So I act like I am. I do all the hand moves.

Phoebe Waller-Bridge in Fleabag
Phoebe Waller-Bridge in Fleabag

“I walked into Rada tone deaf and they promised me I would have a couple of tones by the time I left. But within a year of having discovered karaoke and doing it all the time, I had improved so much. It should be on the curriculum. It is so good for the soul and you get to read, listen and appreciate lyrics you had never listened to.

“I tell you who is an amazing karaoke singer, that you wouldn’t expect. Olivia Colman is just off-the-chain good. She has such an amazing voice and acts it as well – she can have you in tears. I heard her sing before we did Fleabag.

“We had karaoke at the wrap party for Fleabag at All Star Lanes on Brick Lane. Bowling and karaoke in the same bar. Incredible scenes.”

Phoebe Waller-Bridge is the creator and star of Fleabag on BBC3. Catch up on iPlayer

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