Developed by Gilmore Girls duo Amy Sherman-Palladino and Daniel Palladino, Prime Video’s The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is one of the network’s most addictive TV series. The show’s titular character, Miriam “Midge” Maisel, played by four-time Emmy nominee Rachel Brosnahan, is undoubtedly the series’ star as viewers watch her navigate through an accidental thrust into the world of stand-up comedy. But while Mrs. Maisel is truly hilarious on her own, the world she’s inspired by plays a role in the jokes she tells, as well as the people pushing her to grow and evolve like Alex Borstein’s Susie Myerson.
However, while the 50s-themed comedy is entirely fictional, one character is based on a real person. Lenny Bruce, played to perfection by Luke Kirby, was a comic whose life was tragically cut short on August 3rd, 1966, when he passed from an overdose. While the series doesn’t act as though its depiction of Lenny Bruce is equivalent to a biopic or anything of the sort, various similarities stay true to the comic’s life and legacy. At the same time, Kirby is so intoxicatingly riveting in the role that from the moment he steps onto our screens, he steals the whole show, making it effortless to care about his story.
His Story Highlights Authenticity
To begin, Lenny Bruce’s life as a comic and as a character in the Prime Video show serve as a reminder that those who often make the world laugh are suffering in silence. In the TV series, we see small glimpses of it every time Lenny shows up because of Kirby’s performances, but the fourth season pushes this arc onto the forefront as it allows us to openly witness that there is darkness in his life he is fighting on his own. One night, Midge sees him on the streets and takes him home, and viewers later see how humiliated Lenny is because he believes she’s pitying him.
In the Season 4 finale, “How Do You Get To Carnegie Hall?” Lenny Bruce’s arc showcases what it means to fight for something you want. This gig is one of the most important performances of his career, and he leaves every laugh on the stage with honest humor that accurately reflects the state of the world in the 50s. Bruce was having conversations white men weren’t, digging into the ugly pieces of humanity and bringing them out even if that meant he’d potentially be kicked out of the venue or arrested. While factual elements are present within the series, it all comes down to emphasizing how vital truth is in Lenny’s life. What viewers see throughout every scene he’s in is a man who’s willing to stick his neck out to do something authentic, even if that gets him ostracized. In a show where most characters constantly try to prove something to all those around them, Lenny’s sole focus is being transparent in his art.
He’s The Most Important Man in Mrs. Maisel’s Life
There are numerous men in Midge Maisel’s life, but when it comes to Mrs. Maisel, the performer, and Midge as a woman trying to make her way into this world, Lenny Bruce’s role is irreplaceable. While Joel inspired her first comedic showcase, Lenny’s presence in her life allows her to understand the power and strength of making someone laugh even while the world continues to reject you. In the same episode where we see Lenny’s performance at Carnegie Hall, Lenny calls Midge out for the first time in a way that shakes the show’s trajectory.
When Lenny learns that Midge refused to open for Tony Bennett, he confronts her about the fact that when an opportunity passes, there’s no getting it back. He questions whether she understands this business and how things need to be done to become good enough to actually make it. “This is what I want. This is what I have worked for,” he says, pointing to the empty seats at Carnegie Hall, acknowledging that in this line of work, making it requires consistently taking every opportunity that arises.
In an interview with Gold Derby, Kirby said: “Truth is a really complicated word, and we all know that. […] I do think that Lenny sees in Midge a person exploring their truth. And we also know that Midge, for a long time, was exploring the lie of what life should be.” In a nutshell, Lenny Bruce has nothing to gain from Midge’s success. He doesn’t get a cut from her gigs as Susie does, and he doesn’t owe her any form of adoration or respect like parents or loved ones do because they’ve known her for years. Lenny Bruce is in a position where he’s willingly going out of his way to uplift her because he genuinely believes she’s funny—sensational, as he put it in Season 3, Episode 5, “It’s Comedy or Cabbage.” Lenny’s loyalty to Midge is a choice he makes time and time again to care about someone whose gifts are boundless.
In the same interview, Kirby also said, “If she sort of gets too caught up in her plan and perfecting an image of herself, she’ll lose out on the muddier, dirtier exploration of finding her truer self that she is.” This statement vouches that while Midge and many people around her try to mold her into an ideal version of herself, Lenny sincerely wants her to be authentic with herself. As well as noting that he believes Midge’s truth should be the goal she chases, Kirby also mentioned that he “sees something growing that is kind of full of dimension and contradiction, and there’s something about that that I think Lenny finds beautiful.” When the two get together briefly in the show’s season 4 finale, it’s not so much about giving into lust, but it’s about giving into the developing feelings two kindred spirits have one another that’s magnetized by their means of making one another genuinely laugh. Lenny Bruce not only sees Midge Maisel as she is but for who she can be, and his belief in her ultimately makes him one of the most influential figures in her life, without whom, neither of their lives would be the same.