Throughout its five seasons, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel took a lot of inspiration from real-life 1960s superstars. Still, none was more crucial to the path of Rachel Brosnahan’s eponymous comedienne than Lenny Bruce, who Luke Kirby portrayed.
Even though he only had a small role in each season, Kirby’s Lenny significantly influenced Midge Maisel as she navigated the challenging world of stand-up comedy in New York and elsewhere.
Lenny was a reference point for the business for Midge and a steadfast supporter if she ever began to doubt her abilities, whether it was sharing the backseat of a police car after being detained or performing together onstage at The Gaslight and Carnegie Hall.
Many people were curious about how, or even if, the series finale of Mrs. Maisel, which debuted on Friday, would address the real-life fate of Bruce, who passed away from a heroin overdose at his Los Angeles home in 1966. This was because flash-forwards were used often during the final season.
The conclusion opens with Lenny performing live on stage in San Francisco in 1965, a replica of one of the real-life comic’s last performances. He’s agitated, disoriented, and complaining loudly about his legal problems. (Due to the nature of his comedic performance, the genuine Bruce was frequently detained for obscenity.) Susie Myerson, Midge’s manager, attempts to reason with him behind the scenes, but Midge isn’t even willing to look at him.
“He’s a mess, Miriam,” Susie tells her, referring to Bruce’s real, and serious, issues with heroin, methamphetamine and Dilaudid, which would lead to his death the next year.
While the episode’s last flash-forward transports viewers to 2005, when Midge and Susie have made up and still speak on the phone frequently, nothing further is said about Lenny, which creator and executive producer Amy Sherman-Palladino tells ET was a deliberate choice from the start.
“Everybody knows what happened to Lenny Bruce,” she explained. “Everybody knows. We knew from the first time we met him in the pilot where he ends up. So it felt like [we shouldn’t do it], other than to give Rachel a great crying scene. Because she’s a great crier, among other things.”
According to Sherman-Palladino, Bruce in the show was supposed to act as “a little bit of a guardian angel” for Midge. The focus of the series was on how his life and professional legacy affected her own rather than his own tale.
“He was a supporter, he was a muse,” she shared. “And even when they slipped into a moment of romance, that romance was broken immediately with, ‘Get your sh*t together, get your a** back onstage. Why are you hiding? Why are you blowing this?'”
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“It felt more important to see his decline and her to see that, because he also represented the bad side of the business, the place that you can go when you don’t pay attention and you’re not careful and you’re not eye on the prize all the time,” she continued. “He was the ultimate good and the ultimate bad lesson for Midge.”
In addition to what Lenny meant to Midge, Sherman-Palladino stated that the Mrs. Maisel creative team wanted to pay tribute to Lenny’s influence “in the grand scheme of comedy and what he represented to the comedy world.”
“He was the guy that broke down those doors. He was the first guy to walk through them, and get hit for it,” she said.
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According to Kirby, who won a guest actor Emmy in 2019 for his depiction of the lightning rod comic, Lenny Bruce’s few appearances throughout the series were “an exercise in less being more, and [leaving] people wanting more.”
“I’d be happy to, you know, bludgeon people over the head with it,” he admitted, “but this is a good lesson in nuance and keeping it classy.”
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