Mrs. Maisel isn't the only thing that's marvelous!
It took her life to seemingly fall apart, for the Marvelous Mrs. Maisel to finally start living.
Published in March 2018 | Free Standup NYC
Article by: Andrew I. Bayroff
Comedy is very personal. Ask 100 people what comedy means to them and you’ll get 100 different answers. And no matter who your favorites are, for whatever reason, they make you laugh. They make you cry. They get you through a rough patch while you binge on Breaking Bad (let’s face it, This Is Us) and eat your way through a ½ gallon of Rocky Road. Comedy is a release, it’s cathartic, it’s a rush of adrenaline. And for the crazy ones that aren’t satisfied enough to be part of the crowd, they thrive to be in front of the mic. A safe haven for ridiculous thoughts, tirades, foolish ideas, and social commentary. And even though our marvelous Midge Maisel stumbled upon the limelight accidentally, she found the outlet she had no idea she was looking for.
Mrs. Maisel fell into stand up comedy, forging her way upon the stage in her housecoat, purse in hand, rambling about her life all the while unknowingly taking that first important step into stand up comedy. While her husband was ripping off Bob Newhart, Midge, brilliantly played by Rachel Brosnahan of House of Cards fame, was waxing poetry with her pent up silver tongue about her anal retentive mother, high strung father, and the shiksa secretary currently schtupping her husband. Sparks of Joan Rivers erupted from her while on stage. The unbridled, unforgiving, “how dare you” moments only Ms. Rivers could deliver, seemingly utilizing Midge as her vessel. It was raw, it was alive, and above all, it was real. As real as you’ll get. Unscripted, unplanned, nothing vetted, nothing fleshed out. Her first handful of performances were fueled by her life abruptly unwinding and crumbling before her eyes. The show gives the viewer a third person perspective that when things don’t go as planned, it can be one hell of a catalyst.
Midge could have easily withdrawn from her parents and children, fearing what lay in her future. However, doing so was not an option for Mrs. Maisel. Like many comics, life events, both positive and unfortunate, are leveraged to create material that not only allows the comic to move past the pain, or at least confront it but pass along the experience to their audience hopefully in a comical way. That said, once she burned through the unbalanced life that was her 5-hour energy shot for the stage, the fuel was exhausted and she bombed. Bombing feels as bad as it sounds. Imagine performing a joke you knew, you were certain, was a hit only to fall not only on deaf ears, but you can actually hear the building settling. Our mother of two found out the hard way that she now had to now become a comic, not just tell jokes, and write material. Even though bombing was “not her plan”, it became her plan to repeat the same mistakes.
What this shows fundamentally offers is a looking glass into the world of comedy that any comic or fan can appreciate. That no matter what decade, Midge’s story illustrates the unforgiving terrain and process comics go through to hone their craft. Late night open mics as well as booked shows, with indifferent audiences, hecklers, attitudes, bookers playing favorite, repeating the same jokes, different punch lines, different inflections, cadence, hand gestures, body language, until the joke illicit the reaction the comic is hoping for. And then, repeat and repeat again. The midnight and 1 am stage time is also commonplace in the comedy world. Getting bumped, losing your spot, no spots at all, or either having to follow a fellow comic that either killed it or sucked the air out of the room for the next few days. And even though there are bookers that do play favorites, no matter where I’ve performed, for the record, I have never seen anyone been bribed with a brisket.
Now, some comics call foul when Madge gained so much stage time so quickly in her young career. While that may ring true in today’s clubs and bar shows, this show is set in the 50’s, stand up comedy was not as rampant as it is today, with comedy specials seemingly coming out every month. Let’s also keep in mind, there were very few smart, sassy, housewives, ready and willing to drop bombs at The Gaslight. Which, by the way, is not unlike today’s cafe and bar shows. There are over 250 free shows throughout Manhattan, Queens, and Brooklyn in any given month. Some shows have loyal audience members that are return customers on weekly basis. Some of the modern Gaslights include The Grisly Pear Comedy Club, The Lantern Comedy Club, Huron Comedy at The Soho Playhouse, and Klimat Lounge, just to name a few.
As with any endeavor as daunting as stand up comedy, it cannot be done alone. We must also shine a light on some of her comedic sherpas throughout the first season. Susie Meyerson, Midge’s fiery, and all around wonderful pain in the ass manager, played by a veteran actor by Alex Borstein of MAD fame. She brings the grit to the game with years as a barnacle on the underside of the NYC comedy scene. Susie attempts to ground Midge, a comedy tether to reality letting her know that a few good spots at 1 am doesn’t equate to a career. Jane Lynch’s elegant portrayal of Sophie Lennon both in and out of her fat suit further interjected realism. For what you see on stage is certainly not what you will see behind closed doors. I’ll never eat at a macaroon the same way! And, oh yeah, there’s also Mr. Lenny Bruce. If your knowledge of stand up doesn’t predate, say, Amy Schumer, you slightly lose the impact of the groundbreaking presence of Mr. Bruce. If there were ever the precursor to the modern day philosophical comic, it’s Lenny. Years before his time, I humbly believe his riveting, sharp philosophical commentary paved the road for the comedy world to embrace comics such as George Carlin, Lewis Black, Bill Hicks, and others like them. Lenny played an almost second voice for Midge. Calming her neurotic Jewish persona, and reminding her to simply enjoy the stage time.
Stand up was born from the ashes of the post-vaudeville era by comics like Moms Mabley, Jack Benny, Bob Hope, George Burns, and Milton Berle. And since then, this sliver of the entertainment world has launched countless careers. If The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel was set in the 80’s or 90’s it would be polar opposite in both pace and content, which is why I appreciate the 50’s setting. Compared to today, and sure, the 80’s as well, the 50’s was a simpler time. Not easier, or slower, just simpler. Susie talking about how proud she was of her business cards, or what a big deal it was that she got a phone. People talked to each other. They interacted. I wasn’t alive during the 50’s, but damn if it would have been an amazing pin in time to be alive and be apart of the foundation that helped pave the road to what we now know as modern stand up comedy.
Even though we live in the world of Katt Williams, Chris Rock, Amy Schumer, and Maria Bamford, I urge you to give some of the above, early ground-breaking comics a chance. You won't be disappointed.
Andrew Ian Bayroff
Mark Anthiony Remirez
Like many comics, life events, both positive and unfortunate, are leveraged to create material...