In The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Rachel Brosnahan’s Midge Maisel is born of inspiration from a real-life comedienne. The Amazon Prime series returned February 18th for its fourth season with the recent announcement that The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel will end with season 5. With the Emmy-award-winning series nearing its final act, it seems important to take a look at the inspiration behind the show’s leading lady.

The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel follows Midge Maisel’s character, a contented housewife on New York’s Upper West Side, until her husband, Joel, a businessman by day and aspiring comedian at night, bombs his routine and ends their marriage. Outraged, Midge takes to the stage herself and finds that she is far better at comedy than Joel ever was. With the help of her friend and manager, Susie, and the encouragement and support of legendary comedian Lenny Bruce, Midge lands a spot in the big time, opening for soul singer Shy Baldwin, until her jokes go too far and she is fired from the tour. The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel season 4 finds Midge doing her comedy act from the stage of a dingy strip club until Lenny Bruce once again gives Midge the push she needs to get going again.


Created by Amy-Sherman Palladino (creator of Gilmore Girls), The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel features several characters based on real-life people. Lenny Bruce (played by Luke Kirby) plays the real-life comedian by the same name, Sophie Lennon’s character has similarities to comedienne Phyllis Diller, and Alex Borstein’s character, Susie, was inspired by female talent agent Sue Mengers. Likewise, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel’s Midge Maisel was inspired by the famous comedienne and actress Joan Rivers.

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Like Joan Rivers, Midge was born in New York to Jewish parents who grossly disapproved of their daughter’s career, and both Rivers and Midge went to prestigious schools, with Rivers graduating from Barnard while Midge attended Bryn Mawr. Though Midge saw greater success in the early stages of her career than Joan Rivers, both Rivers and Midge performed at the real-life club, the Gaslight Café, located in New York’s Greenwich Village.

Another significant tie between the two comediennes is Lenny Bruce. In The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Lenny does Midge a favor, opening for her at the Gaslight after she is blacklisted by Sophie Lennon. Likewise, Bruce once saw Rivers perform at a neighboring club, The Bitter End, after which he wrote her a note that gave her the boost she needed, telling her she was going to be a star. However, the largest comparison between Midge and Joan Rivers comes from their content, with both Midge and Joan Rivers shirking the trademark timidity associated with the femininity of the era. In an interview (via Vanity Fair), Sherman-Palladino spoke of Rivers, saying:

“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.”

Brosnahan (also known for her role on House of Cards) also points out (via Vanity Fair) that while Joan’s comedy sprung from a place of insecurity, Midge “is the opposite,” adding, “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.” So, while Joan Rivers may have inspired Rachel Brosnahan’s award-winning role, Midge’s character in The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is also a character all her own.

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All episodes of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel are available to stream on Amazon Prime.

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