The comedy series The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, winner of an Emmy, has returned with a fourth season that can now be watched on Amazon Prime. The series continues to follow Midge Maisel, a former New York housewife turned stand-up comic extraordinaire, as she navigates the comedy circuit in the 1950s and 1960s, a time period often dominated by men. Although the show’s popularity cannot be denied, few viewers are aware of whether or not Mrs. Maisel was a historical figure.
In a nutshell, it’s a combination of the two. The fictional Gaslight Cafe, known as The Gaslight, is based on the real-life Gaslight Cafe, and many of the comics featured on the show are based on real-life figures from the era, including the legendary Lenny Bruce. Midge and her family, however, are all made up. Sherman-Palladino described Midge as “her own gal” in an interview with Women’s Health. Rachel Brosnahan, who played her, earned an Emmy for her performance, and the character drew from a variety of sources for inspiration.
Who is Midge Maisel?
The character of Midge Maisel has been compared to the late great Joan Rivers throughout the show’s four seasons. Like Midge, Rivers was a New York City-born comedian in the ’50s, and she, too, got her start at the Gaslight Cafe. And just as we see in Maisel, Rivers claimed that Lenny Bruce gave her a hand when she was starting out.
Sherman-Palladino told Women’s Health, “[As for] all those women obviously you think of them. “, referring to similarities between Rivers and Mrs. Maisel and other comediennes of the era including Phyllis Diller and Jean Carroll. She’s not really based on any of those people, but you owe a debt of gratitude to them since they were the forebears and trailblazers.
Even Sherman-own Palladino’s father, Don Sherman, was a major influence on Mrs. Maisel. Sherman, a comedian, and writer from the era had insider knowledge that informed the development of both the show and the character of Midge. Executive producer and Sherman-husband Palladino’s Dan Palladino reminisced to Women’s Health about how his father-in-law would “sit about and speak about the good old days in New York,” adding that the city was “truly stand-up comedy central during the ‘40s, ’50s, and going into the ‘60s.“
Is Midge Maisel based on a Real Person?
Amy Sherman-Palladino, the show’s creator, has indicated that Midge was somewhat inspired by comedian Joan Rivers. Both women are Jewish, both live in New York, and both have done stand-up at the real-life Gaslight Café, where Midge does an unplanned performance in the first season.
Rivers has also said that Lenny Bruce was instrumental in her early career (Midge also meets Bruce at a pivotal moment in her career in season 1).
“I’m a great Joan Rivers admirer; the world is sadder without her and will always be sadder without her,” Sherman-Palladino said in an interview with Vanity Fair. And she had that great conflict: she wanted to be acknowledged as a woman, but you can’t have that many balls and still be considered a woman. That’s not how things function, sorry.
According to Rachel Brosnahan, though, there is a major distinction between Midge and Joan (who plays Midge). Joan’s humor stemmed, in part, from her reluctance to accept that she ever did. “She always called herself the ugly duckling,” she said to Vanity Fair. That’s not Midge; she’s the antithesis. She will be the first to tell you that she is stunning and brilliant at her craft.
It’s weird, but it’s true that Sherman-Palladino often pulls on her recollections of her father, Don Sherman, a stand-up comedy when creating Midge.
Amy’s husband and executive producer Dan Palladino discussed the tradition of having comedians support jazz artists on stage. He mentioned Amy’s dad’s opening act for singer Dinah Washington in an interview with Women’s Health. He was Johnny Mathis’s opening act. Many famous performers in the music industry have him as their opening act.
“We learned the ups and downs of being a working comic from his story. And we got to know it intimately; Amy even grew up with it; but I was able to step back and view it more dispassionately.
Midge also serves as an opening act in the series for Shy Baldwin (Leroy McClain), a Black, incognito pop singer. After Midge made a remark about Shy’s sexuality on the Apollo show in season 3, she was let go.
Who is Joan Rivers?
American comedian, actor, producer, writer, and TV personality Joan Alexandra Molinsky, better known as Joan Rivers. Her humorous persona was notoriously self-deprecating and caustic, especially when directed toward the media elite. By many standards, she was ahead of her time as a comedic performer for women.
Which Characters are based on Real-Life People?
The character of Lenny Bruce (Luke Kirby), a stand-up comedian who forms a will-they-won’t-they relationship with protégé Midge Maisel, is based on a real-life celebrity from the 1950s and 1960s of the same name. Actress and entertainer Moms Mabley (played by Wanda Sykes), the Kingston Trio, activist Jane Jacobs, and comedian Red Skelton are just a few of the genuine people who make cameo appearances on the show.
Many fictional characters have at least some resemblance to one or more real-life historical individuals. The crooner Shy Baldwin, for instance, is “sort of a mixture of a bunch of different characters that were that popular,” as Brosnahan explained to Refinery29. Mathis recently came out as homosexual in public, and on the program, Shy is a closeted gay singer.
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The character of Midge’s talent agent, Susie Myerson (played by Alex Borstein), is based, in part, on that of real-life talent agent Sue Mengers, who Borstein met and admired. Cher, Sir Michael Caine, Dame Joan Collins, and Bob Fosse are just a few of the stars that Mengers has gone on to represent.