The young, Jewish housewife Miriam 'Midge' Maisel (Rachel Brosnahan) sets the comedy scene ablaze in the late '50s after her husband Joel (Michael Zegen) leaves her for his secretary in The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. The show chronicles Midge's comedy career and the comic legends she meets along the way.
Did you know many of the characters in The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel are based on real people, including Midge herself? Here are our top five favorite Maisel characters based on real people.
1. Miriam 'Midge' Maisel
Back in the 1950s, an up-and-coming female comedian performed standup routines at places in New York City like the cozy Gaslight Cafe.
We're actually not talking about Midge here but rather the famous comedian who inspired her character: the late Joan Rivers.
The Gaslight Cafe (where Midge performs her first knockout standup routine and many more after) was an actual cafe in New York City. It opened in 1958 and closed in 1971, per Bustle. Sometime in between those years, Joan Rivers performed her comedy when she in the beginning stages of her career.
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel creator Amy Sherman-Palladino told Vanity Fair before the show premiered in 2017 that she was inspired by Joan Rivers' signature style of comedy when writing for Midge.
Amy explained, "I’m a massive Joan Rivers fan. ... 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. ... Going forward, that’s how we’re looking at Midge’s humor."
Fun fact: Per The Laugh Button, Joan Rivers said the next person on this list changed her life.
2. Lenny Bruce
What better way to bond with a comedy mentor than by bailing them out of jail after they get arrested for a standup routine?
That's what Midge does for Lenny Bruce (Luke Kirby) in Season 1, although she's completely unaware at the time of how famous Lenny is in the comedy world. Lenny acts as a mentor to Midge and a love interest. The comedy duo finally get together for one night only in Season 4, but Midge only agrees to be intimate with Lenny if he sees her as a comic first and not a conquest.
Lenny Bruce is based on the real-life comic Lenny Bruce.
The portrayal of Lenny in The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is pretty on-point with the real Lenny, who was known for his edgy humor. Lenny did perform at Carnegie Hall, just like he did in The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel Season 4 finale.
Fun fact: Lenny was blacklisted from TV for being a "sick" comic.
3. Sophie Lennon
In Season 1, Midge gets herself blacklisted from comedy gigs after she spills the secret of Sophie Lennon's (Jane Lynch) comedy act in front of Sophie's talent agent and the audience at the Gaslight Cafe. Sophie had established her career by playing an unpolished lady character from Queens who was nothing like her real, elegant persona. However, Sophie kept up her schtick because it was far more entertaining for her adoring fans.
Sophie's character was loosely based on the legendary comedian Phyllis Diller. Phyllis didn't put on a fat suit like Sophie did for her shows, but she did wear baggy clothing on purpose and adopted a larger-than-life hysterical housewife persona.
While Sophie had her signature line, "Put THAT on your plate!" Phyllis was known for bits like wearing too much makeup, eclectic costumes, and of course, her trademark laugh, per Biography.
4. Susie Myerson
Midge's sharp-witted manager Susie Myerson (Alex Borstein) seems to have a zingy one-liner that could cut a man in half in any situation in life. As Distractify has reported previously, Amy herself confirmed that Susie was based on the real-life talent agent Sue Mengers.
Who is Sue Mengers, you ask? She was a legendary talent agent, representing famous stars like Robert Redford, Barbra Streisand, Bob Fosse, Steve McQueen, and many, many more, per Wikipedia.
According to IndieWire, actress Jennifer Lawrence is slated to play Sue in an upcoming film about her life and legacy.
5. Shy Baldwin
Midge experiences the biggest break of her comedy career when she's hired to open for the famous singer Shy Baldwin (Leroy McClain) on his U.S./European tour. Although there was no real Shy, Rachel Brosnahan told Refinery29 that the character was a mix of several real-life legendary singers.
"He's kind of an amalgamation of a lot of different figures who were that successful, but Johnny Mathis comes to mind," Rachel explained.
There's a popular fan theory that the main inspiration for Shy's character was Harry Belafonte. As Esquire reported, Shy makes a jab at Elvis Presley in the show, which could be a reference to the real-life rivalry Harry had with Elvis. Shy also works with Moms Mabley (Wanda Sykes). In real life, Harry hired the real Moms Mabley for her first TV job.
You can stream Seasons 1–4 of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel now on Prime Video.