The reason, as you might expect if you watched, is because it included the heartfelt reunion between Midge Maisel (Rachel Brosnahan) and Lenny Bruce (Luke Kirby), who has been a recurring character since the first season. Although Kirby just won an Emmy Award a few months ago for his portrayal of the groundbreaking comedian, the show’s creators admitted that, at first, they didn’t know how often they would bring his character back.
“We didn’t intend for Lenny Bruce to necessarily continue as much as he had, but Luke and Rachel were so good together that it was nice to weave it in and out,” creator Amy Sherman-Palladino said Thursday at a Smithsonian Associates event, where the show honored its costume designer and donated two of Midge’s dresses to the National Museum of American History. “Especially in times when either Midge was down, or she needed a little bucking up or she needed help.”
Sherman-Palladino said she was inspired by a story she heard about the time Joan Rivers (who may have inspired aspects of Midge’s character) bombed during a stand-up set early in her career. When she got back to her dressing room, Bruce had left her a note that said, “You’re right, they’re wrong.”
“I thought, ‘I want that for Midge.’ I want her to have that validation from someone who is the best of the best,” Sherman-Palladino said, adding, “It was also very important that this man, who in reality was the guy pushing comedy into the next phase of comedy … that he looked at her like an equal, like a comrade, like a pal, like a drinking buddy.”
Midge and Lenny first met in the series pilot, as she bailed him out of jail after he was arrested for obscenity during a set. Midge, who had just been dumped by her husband and taken an unexpected foray into stand-up, asked Lenny if he loved doing comedy. His answer sounded soul-crushing (“It’s a terrible, terrible job. It should not exist. Like cancer. And God.”) but the mischievous look on his face (which made it clear that yes, he loved it) inspired Midge to take the leap.
Over the seasons, he became so impressed by her skills that they wound up becoming friends. Though Season 3, Episode 5 hinted that they both might want to be something more — they spend a romantic night together after he sees Midge perform on tour in Miami — their relationship ultimately stayed platonic.
“I wanted a muse in a sense … somebody who is approaching comedy the way Midge was going to start approaching comedy,” Sherman-Palladino said. “A guy who was talking about life and who would just go onstage and talk off the cuff about what he’s thinking about or what he’s dealt with or what he’s dealing with.”
As everyone knows, Lenny will meet a tragic end; the real-life comedian died of an overdose in 1966. (The series, renewed this week for a fourth season, just made it to 1960.) Sherman-Palladino and her husband, executive producer Dan Palladino, are well aware that the show could eventually have to address it.
“He’s almost like a ghost wandering around the series,” Palladino said. He said they are also especially careful with Lenny’s dialogue, and they have never made up jokes for him. All the material he performs is from his real-life stand-up routines.
“Every comic today acknowledges Lenny Bruce as sort of the godfather of comedy,” Palladino said. “He kind of started it all. He passed the baton to people like George Carlin, who took the edginess even further and sort of showed the world that it doesn’t have to all be Henny Youngman, ‘Take my wife, please!’ It can go a much further distance without so offending the norms of society. And he paid a price for that, for sure.”
(Disclosure: Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)