Miriam “Midge” Maisel burst onto the small screen thanks to Amazon Prime in 2017, and she was instantly a force to be reckoned with. From her fast-talking style to her burgeoning brand of feminism, audiences were hooked. Fans were quickly taken with The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel’s leading lady and were eager to uncover her real-life counterpart (or counterparts). However, the truth is not a straightforward answer but rather an amalgamation of inspiring sources that made Midge a character all her own.
The Late, Great Joan Rivers
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel lead has some obvious and direct comparisons to Joan Rivers. Both are native New Yorkers born into Jewish families. They boast impressive educations, with Rivers graduating Phi Beta Kappa at Barnard and Midge attending Bryn Mawr for Russian Literature. Both are also inspired and validated by the great Lenny Bruce.
Bruce appears in The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel pilot and is a recurring character throughout the show. While pushing the boundaries of the comedy world, he forms an unlikely friendship with Midge, seeing her as an equal with a similar approach to comedy. Rivers also found validation from the real Lenny Bruce, telling Yael Kohen in We Killed: The Rise of Women in American Comedy, “When I heard Lenny Bruce I suddenly realized, I’m absolutely on the right track here… He was talking from his life experiences. I thought to myself, ‘My God, he’s doing what I’m doing.'”
Midge’s path to success bears little resemblance to Rivers’, but the similarities in their comedic styles cannot be ignored. Rivers’ comedy tended to err on the side of cruelty, a territory Midge avoids. However, they share a bold, fearless stand-up style. Their comedy is rooted in truth and vulnerability, with all of the shock value that comes with women being open and frank about their life experiences.
While most female comedians of the day were putting on layers of cartoonish absurdity, like Phyllis Diller, or stripping away their femininity to be accepted in a male-dominated profession, Midge and Rivers embraced their femininity. Creator Amy Sherman-Palladino told Vanity Fair, “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 was such a wonderful dichotomy.”
Another Unlikely Source of Inspiration
While fans have drawn connections between Midge and Jean Carroll or Phyllis Diller, the real-life inspiration for her character is much closer to creator Amy Sherman-Palladino: her father. Don Sherman was a stand-up comedian in New York City during the ’40s, ’50s and ’60s. As much as Midge is inspired by the famous groundbreaking women of that era, most of her inspiration comes from Don Sherman’s stories and experiences that he shared with his daughter and her husband/collaborator, Dan Palladino. Palladino told Women’s Health Magazine, “Through his experience, we got to know the highs and lows of a working comic. And we certainly got to know [it] up close—like, Amy grew up with it—but I got to see it from a more objective place.”
Ultimately, Midge is something entirely unique, crafted in the minds of the Palladino creative team. “While there’s a bit of all these female comics in Midge, there’s not a lot in Midge. We’ve kind of made her up out of whole cloth,” Palladino said. Strong female characters have been gracing screens big and small for decades, but there is something special about Midge. She is complicated and messy, hilarious and relatable. Audiences are eager to draw connections between Midge and real-life figures because she feels too real to be a work of fiction. Midge is the magic that made The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel a hit and has fans clamoring for Season 4.