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What The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel Gets Right About Early Stand-up Comedy – Vulture

Comedy may still be a male-dominated industry, but stand-up as we know it wasn’t solely pioneered by men. Women like Phyllis Diller and Joan Rivers helped define the stand-up scene in the 1950s and ’60s, and played a pivotal role in the medium’s evolution. In Amazon’s The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, set in New York circa 1958, we see the evolution of one such groundbreaking, although fictional, comic: Miriam “Midge” Maisel (Rachel Brosnahan), a young, Jewish Upper West Side housewife and mother who is happy to help her husband, Joel, get open-mic spots with brisket bribes until she finds out he’s doing Bob Newhart’s act — and that he’s sleeping with his secretary. Midge suddenly finds herself alone, drunkenly stumbling onstage at the Gaslight Café in a fit of anger, where she discovers that she’s the brave new comedic voice that her joke-stealing husband could never be.

Midge’s journey throughout Mrs. Maisel’s first season can be described as an amalgam of Diller’s and Rivers’ experiences, as well as other real-life comedians who helped make stand-up what it is today, framed by the hindsight of modern feminism. (Series co-creator Amy Sherman-Palladino told Refinery29, “The story I really wanted to do was the story of a woman in the ’50s who didn’t hate her life,” citing the repression and unhappiness that plagued most women at the time.) Throughout season one, Mrs. Maisel weaves Midge’s origin story with scenarios and tropes from the era, borrowing from some of comedy’s real-life female trailblazers like Diller and Rivers, while mixing in details that might come years later (a topless comedy act), and others that happened to male comics (Lenny Bruce’s famous obscenity trial), resulting in an imaginative tableau of comedy history. Below, we take a close look at the people and places that informed The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.