In comedy, there is transcendence. If you’re funny, you can be successful in positions where comedy deserves it. Bonus points if you’re brave and have the fortitude to overcome taboo topics with the panic of someone who knows what they’re talking about. These days, that’s precisely what makes a comedian successful, but it hasn’t always been part of a comic’s formula for success. As a hit show, The Wonderful Mrs Maisel reminds us, existing forces do not always accept boundary pushes. It is the ingenuity of several legendary comics that shaped comedy as we know it. While Midge Maisel (Rachel Brosnahan) is a fictional comedian based on the great Joan Rivers, this show gave fictional storylines to some of the most influential comedians in real life. With Maisel As the season finale approaches, it’s time to focus on the series’ unsung hero, who is also a real-life comedy icon.
The Wonderful Mrs Maisel giving us the ever-charismatic Luke Kirby as Lenny Bruce, one of the true comedians who played a part in the formation of modern comedy. Writing of the fictional character Lenny Bruce in Maisel timely and appropriate. Lenny Bruce has been called one of the greatest comedians of all time and has been a pillar of free speech and in addition contributed to the formation of modern comedy. For Maisela show about a 1960s housewife who becomes a risqué comedian, the inclusion is just too perfect.
In a recent interview with Hollywood Reporterco-showrunner And Palladino commented, “If you make a movie about him [Lenny Bruce’s] live, inevitably, the last 45 minutes are about his breakdown.” Of course, this begs the question of Lenny Bruce’s role in Midge’s life, considering that the jump in time noted that she was married several times and Lenny was, sadly, not one of those husbands who he married.
Early Lenny Bruce
Real-life Lenny Bruce was born Leonard Alfred Schneider in Mineola, New York, to Myron Schneider, a shoe clerk, and Sally Marr, a performer. In 1942, at the age of 16, Schneider would join the US Navy where he ruffled feathers performing as a tug for his shipmates. This performance amused his shipmates but angered his commanders and caused him to be discharged from military service in 1945.
Although his discharge from the Navy was unfortunate for Lenny, he would begin to pursue comedy after that, moving to New York where his story as a man, a myth, a legend story would truly begin. There, he would begin working with acclaimed (but not at the time) comedians such as Buddy Hackett and Rodney Dangerfield, whose risqué comedic style would profoundly influence him.
Lenny Bruce Career in Comedy
Lenny Bruce’s performing career began as a substitute for hosting one of his mothers, Sally’s, at The Victory Club. At that time, he took the stage as “Lenny Marsalle”, and later changed his stage name to Lenny Bruce. But it wasn’t the name change that made Lenny Bruce; it’s a bit more, shall we say, provocative.
Bruce married a woman named Honey Harlowe, who was a stripper. Like Season 4’s Midge Maisel, Bruce will be hosting for the strip club where he works. There, he developed his trademark comedic style as the strip club atmosphere was judgment-free. The result was a style similar to that of contemporary jazz musicians, full of freedom and unabashed expression.
But, back to Maisel. In a sobering moment following Midge-Lenny’s long-awaited relationship, Midge discovers Lenny’s stash of drugs, which Lenny promptly rejects. This discovery came after Midge found Lenny on the street, apparently drunk on something earlier in the season. As Bruce, Kirby plays a man with a lurking sense of tragedy, and that’s not far from the truth. Bruce did start taking drugs along the way, which fueled a severe addiction to drugs, often methamphetamine, heroin and Dilaudid. As we all know by now, Lenny Bruce’s life was tragically cut short. On August 3, 1966, Bruce died with needles and drug paraphernalia surrounding him at the age of 40. Before his death, Bruce and Harlowe had a daughter, Kitty Bruce, who is also briefly mentioned in Maisel.
Is He Really a Troublemaker, As Portrayed in ‘Maisel?’
Yes. In real life, Lenny Bruce was arrested several times and is known for his “outlaw” comedies. Of course, today, it’s just plain comedy — talking about sex, politics, making fun of religion, etc., but that wasn’t always the case. Bruce was labeled as a “sick comedian”, which suited Maisel perfectly, given that Midge’s character constantly pushed social boundaries, but this created some problems for Bruce in real life. As depicted in Maisel, Bruce was arrested for obscenity several times in several cities, as well as drug possession charges and fraud.
Bruce made only occasional appearances on network television and was banned in several cities, but with other progressive or subversive thinkers, he found friendship. According to Bruce’s website, his television appearances resulted from fans as strong and empathetic as Hugh Hefner or Steve Allen even though he was blacklisted. More offensive jokes had to be approved beforehand, but moments like these led to his famous appearance at Carnegie Hall.
Why Lenny Bruce?
Creator and co-showrunner Amy Sherman-Palladino’s father, Don Sherman, was a comedian. Her father knew Sally Marr, whom Sherman-Palladino describes as the godmother of comedians. But it goes deeper than that. Lenny Bruce and all his misadventures paved the way for comedians, but sadly, that complicated path also culminated in professional struggles. In many ways, Midge’s career trajectory mirrored Bruce’s own and perhaps even shaped what his career would become. Midge was also arrested a few times and had moments where she was close to being blacklisted, but as time jumps show, she persevered.
As is the case with many innovators, especially in the entertainment field, being an innovative talent hardly comes without a story that doesn’t have a sense of difficulty. The real Lenny Bruce was no exception, but his life, while brief, was extraordinary. So extraordinary that nearly 60 years after his death, a whole new generation finds out how special he was.