'The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel's Leading Lady Was Inspired By These Famous Comedians


Television in the streaming era has finally begun to start placing oppressed and minority voices at the center of their own stories — women and people of color are slowly but surely carving out a place for themselves in mainstream television. Amazon's newest series, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, features a Jewish woman, Miriam "Midge" Maisel, who, after her marriage falls apart, discovers that she has a profound talent for stand-up comedy. But since the show is a period piece taking place in 1950s New York City, you may be wondering: Is Midge Maisel a real person?

Though the character of Midge is a fiction that sprung from the brain of Gilmore Girls creator Amy Sherman-Palladino, she is planted firmly in the tradition of some female comedy legends: mainly, the late Joan Rivers. In preparation for her role as Midge Maisel, actor Rachel Brosnahan told Vanity Fair that she watched documentaries about the life of Rivers. But though Rivers served as an inspiration for Brosnahan, she also shared with Vanity Fair that the lives of the legendary comedian and Midge were far from identical:

While some of Midge’s story shares similarities with Rivers’s early life as a comedian, they veer apart from each other in personality. “Joan’s comedy came from a place of feeling like she never belonged. She always referred to herself as the ugly duckling,” explained Brosnahan. “Midge is the opposite. She knows she is beautiful; she knows she is great at what she does, and she will be the first to tell you about it.”

Creator Amy Sherman-Palladino, who brings her legendary fast-paced dialogue to her new show, also cited Joan Rivers as an influence for Midge's character. She shared with Vanity Fair how Rivers' particular sense of humor often alienated her from fitting into traditionally "feminine" circles:

I’m a massive Joan Rivers fan; the world is sadder without her, and will always be sadder without her. And she had that wonderful mix, that battle of wanting to be accepted on a feminine level—[but] you can’t have that many balls and be accepted on a feminine level. It just doesn’t work that way. It was such a wonderful dichotomy, and she crafted those monster jokes. And because we knew we were going to get an actress to do [this part], we felt like it needed to be more of a rant, of a monologue. Going forward, that’s how we’re looking at Midge’s humor. She’s going to learn how to control that and craft it a little more.

But Sherman-Palladino also drew from her personal experiences when crafting Midge's character. She told Vanity Fair that stand-up comedy has always been a part of her life:

Weirdly, my dad was a stand-up comic. So I grew up with a bunch of Jews sitting around trying to make each other laugh. And I knew Lenny Bruce’s mother when I was a kid, because she was sort of the godmother to all the comics. And I worked at the Comedy Store. So the show was not so much a conscious homage to any particular comic as it was something that was in my zeitgeist.

Sherman-Palladino has brought the kind of female-centric touch that made Gilmore Girls so famous to standup comedy, as Midge struggles to reconcile her life as a wife and her identity as a woman in the 1950s with her raunchy sense of humor and her burgeoning career as a comic. By combining personal experience with inspiration from real-life icons like Joan Rivers, Sherman-Palladino brings humanity and humor to the life of Midge Maisel. If you love women, comedy, and especially women in comedy, this new show is something you definitely don't want to miss.