Is ‘The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel’ based on a true story?

Season four of the Emmy Award-winning comedy The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is finally here and available to stream on Amazon Prime. The show continues to follow New York housewife-turned-stand-up-comic extraordinaire Midge Maisel as she works the male-dominated comedy circuit in the 1950s and ’60s. There’s no denying how much fans love the show, but few actually know if it’s based on a true story or if Mrs. Maisel was even a real person.

The answer, in short, is a bit of both. Show creator Amy Sherman-Palladino blends the worlds of fantasy and reality within Maisel, using locations such as The Gaslight ⏤ based on the once-real Gaslight Cafe ⏤ and real comics of the era, most notably Lenny Bruce. The characters of Midge and her family, however, are fictional. Speaking to Women’s Health, Sherman-Palladino said of Midge, “She’s her own gal.” Brought to life by Rachel Brosnahan, who won an Emmy for the role, she was, in part, inspired from a few different sources.

Midge Maisel

Image via The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel

Over the course of the show’s now four seasons, it has been said that there are many similarities between Midge Maisel and the late great Joan Rivers. Also a comedienne in the ’50s, Rivers came from a Jewish family in New York and performed at the very same Gaslight Cafe where we saw Midge start her comedy career. Rivers also claimed that she received help from Lenny Bruce at the beginning of her career, something we also witness in Maisel. Though all of this makes for some compelling connections between Rivers and Mrs. Maisel, not to mention similarities to other comediennes of the era like Phyllis Diller and Jean Carroll, Sherman-Palladino told Women’s Health that, “[As for] all those women ⏤ obviously you think of them. You tip your hat to them because they were the pioneers, the groundbreakers, we worship every single one of them, but she’s not really based on any of those characters.”

In fact, Mrs. Maisel was actually heavily inspired by Sherman-Palladino’s own father, Don Sherman. Sherman was a writer and comedian back in the day and his inside knowledge helped shape the show and the character of Midge. Dan Palladino, executive producer and husband to Sherman-Palladino, told Women’s Health about how his father-in-law would “sit around and talk about the good old days in New York,” going on to say, “That was really stand-up comedy central during the ’40s and ’50s and going into the ’60s.” Palladino credits Sherman with helping them understand the world they were ultimately going to create. “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.”

Now that we know Mrs. Maisel herself was not real, what about the other characters in the show?

Susie Myerson

Image via The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel

Susie Myerson, played by the fantastic Alex Borstein (who has won two Emmys for the role), is based on a real character. Speaking about the character with Parade, Sherman-Palladino said, “We always saw Susie Myerson as a powerhouse in the waiting, so we had [Hollywood agent] Sue Menges in mind, because she was the most formidable agent at one time. But we wrote this character with Alex Borstein in mind, so she’s the biggest inspiration for Susie.”

Sue Menges was a talent agent for a new generation of stars in the ’60s after starting out as a receptionist in 1955. She worked as a talent agent at a time when women didn’t typically hold that position and eventually ended up representing talents like Cher and Michael Caine.

Lenny Bruce

Image via The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel

Lenny Bruce was most certainly a real person. Played in the show by Luke Kirby, Bruce was a stand-up comic at the same time the show was set. He often touched on topics that other comedians shied away from, such as politics, religion, and sex, and just as it happens on the show, the real-life Bruce was arrested for his use of sexually explicit language. Obviously the real Bruce never worked with our Midge, as we have determined that she’s a work of fiction, but Joan Rivers has said that Bruce mentored her in the same way we see him take Midge under his wing. In reality, Bruce died of an overdose in 1966, and we don’t yet know if the show will touch upon his unfortunate passing. All we know is that his friendship with Midge and his mentorship of her have made him a fan-favorite character, and Kirby more than deserved his Emmy win for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Comedy Series.

Shy Baldwin

Image via The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel

Shy Baldwin, played by Leroy McClain, is the smooth-talking, charismatic crooner that gives Midge a shot at introducing him on his tour around the States. The character was an amalgamation of various artists working in the same way at the time. The most likely contenders for his inspiration are Johnny Mathis and Harry Belafonte. Mathis very recently came out as gay, as we see Shy do in season three to Midge, and Belafonte was known to have comedians open his shows for him. Season three revolves around Mrs. Maisel and Susie following Shy on tour, though it ends on a bit of a sour note and leaves us wondering what season four has in store for us.

Sophie Lennon

Image via The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel

Sophie Lennon considers herself to be Midge’s rival in the series. She’s an already established female comedian who uses farce and crude humor to appeal to her audience and ham up her “role” as a working-class woman. As Midge comes to realize, it’s all an act. This draws some parallels to the real-life Phyllis Diller, who used to wear baggy clothing to make herself less attractive on stage. This is mirrored in the show by Lennon, played by Jane Lynch, who wears a fat suit during her performances.

Blending the reality of the comedy circuit from this time period along with the fictional life of Midge Maisel, Sherman-Palladino has created a rich story that feels both authentic and authentically funny. It’s no wonder that The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is back for a fourth season, and you can stream it now on Amazon Prime.

About the author

Laura Pollacco

Laura Pollacco

Laura Pollacco is Freelance Writer at We Got This Covered and has been deep diving into entertainment news for almost a full year. After graduating with a degree in Fashion Photography from Falmouth University, Laura moved to Japan, then back to England, and now back to Japan. She doesn't watch as much anime as she would like but keeps up to date with all things Marvel and 'Lord of the Rings'. She also writes about Japanese culture for various Tokyo-based publications.