A Spurned Housewife Turns Stand-Up Comic In 'The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel' Rachel Brosnahan claims not to be a comedian, but in a new Amazon series about a 1950s woman with a hidden talent, she certainly plays one on TV.
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A Spurned Housewife Turns Stand-Up Comic In 'The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel'

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A Spurned Housewife Turns Stand-Up Comic In 'The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel'

A Spurned Housewife Turns Stand-Up Comic In 'The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel'

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

When does a comic first realize that he - or she - can make people laugh? Maybe for Miriam Maisel, it comes when she gives a toast at her own wedding.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE MARVELOUS MRS. MAISEL")

RACHEL BROSNAHAN: (As Miriam Maisel) I have been very lucky. I have wonderful parents. I've had a very comfortable life. And though I knew that love would be great, I had no idea it would be anything that could justify what I paid for this dress.

TONY SHALHOUB: (As Abe Weissman) What I paid for that dress - we're very happy.

(LAUGHTER)

BROSNAHAN: And because it's better than anything I could have imagined, I thought I should get up here today and tell all of you that I love this man.

(APPLAUSE)

BROSNAHAN: And yes, there is shrimp in the egg rolls.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTORS: (As characters, gasping).

(SOUNDBITE OF GLASS BREAKING)

MARIN HINKLE: (As Rose Weissman) Miriam.

SIMON: Rachel Brosnahan is Miriam Midge Maisel. Alex Borstein works at a Greenwich Village club that Midge frequents. Tony Shalhoub and Marin Hinkle also star in a series for Amazon created by Amy Sherman-Palladino and Daniel Palladino, "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel."

Rachel Brosnahan joins us in our studios in New York. Thanks so much for being with us.

BROSNAHAN: Thank you for having me.

SIMON: Are you a comic who is playing a comedian, or do you consider yourself an actress playing a comedian?

BROSNAHAN: No, I am most definitely not a comic. That is a badge of honor that I cannot claim to wear. I am an actress, and that's how I approach this role.

SIMON: Let's set the story a bit. After that wedding toast we just heard, the Maisels have two children, an Upper West Side marriage. The husband has a job he truly detests while he struggles to make a breakthrough as a comic in the late 1950s. That life comes apart one night. Doesn't it?

BROSNAHAN: Yes, it very much does. Much to Midge's surprise and dismay, her husband announces that he's leaving her for his secretary...

SIMON: Yeah.

BROSNAHAN: ...Or his not-so-smart secretary, which is a big blow to Midge.

SIMON: Yeah - can't sharpen a pencil, as I recall.

BROSNAHAN: Yeah. No, she cannot. She can't figure it out. It's electric. All she had to do was push.

SIMON: I hear Mrs. Maisel coming into your voice, as a matter of fact.

BROSNAHAN: (Laughter).

SIMON: And then she decides she has a story to tell and has seen enough of the stage at this dim, smoky club that maybe that's the place to do it. What does she get there? What does she...

BROSNAHAN: Really, this first time we ever see Midge onstage is a prolonged mental breakdown. Her picture-perfect world that she has designed for herself has crumbled, and the rose-colored glasses have come off. She's seeing the world in a new way, and she is angry. She's so angry. And she's a woman who gets funnier as she gets angrier, and that's what you see at the end of the first episode and continued on throughout the season.

SIMON: There were almost no women doing comedy in this period...

BROSNAHAN: Right.

SIMON: ...That we're talking about. I'm wondering - in your study, did the example of Joan Rivers, Phyllis Diller - a name a lot of people don't recall - Totie Fields...

BROSNAHAN: Yeah.

SIMON: ...Did they mean anything to you?

BROSNAHAN: Of course. They're the pioneers. They are extraordinary women of comedy. But I also looked to a woman named Jean Carroll, who is a little bit lesser known as well but one of the first female stand-ups. Joan Rivers, certainly - I think a lot of Midge's sense of humor is very similar to Joan's, the kinds of taboo subject matters...

SIMON: Yeah.

BROSNAHAN: ...That they explore. But their comedy comes from a very different place. Obviously, Midge's comes from the fact that her whole life has fallen apart. And Joan Rivers came from the fact that she felt like she never fit in. She felt like an ugly duckling.

SIMON: Yeah.

BROSNAHAN: And Midge, meanwhile, fit in better than everyone else. So they arrive at similar subject matter from very different places.

SIMON: The scene where Midge - without giving too much away - gets up in the middle of the night to take care of her beauty routine...

BROSNAHAN: Yes.

SIMON: ...And then wakes up pointedly before the alarm goes off so her husband never knows...

BROSNAHAN: Yeah.

SIMON: My gosh, what does that say?

BROSNAHAN: Well, it says a few things. I think to a modern audience - me included - I see a scene like that and go, gosh, what a terrible burden to have to perform that level of perfection all the time. But for Midge, genuinely, it's something that brings her joy. It's something that makes her feel accomplished. And I think there is an unrealistic expectation that was placed on women then and arguably still is today. But it's a challenge that she enjoys rising to.

SIMON: There's a line that keeps going around in my mind. Someone who works at the club, one of the most interesting characters...

BROSNAHAN: Isn't she wonderful?

SIMON: And I really look forward to seeing more of her life. She tells Mrs. Maisel, she doesn't care if she's alone. She just doesn't want to be insignificant. Does that particularly reach into Midge's heart?

BROSNAHAN: Absolutely - in a way that I don't think she expected. I don't think Midge expected that to touch her so much. I don't think she believes she's insignificant. I don't think she believes she ever has been. But suddenly, everything is different. And it's frightening. And I think that's one of the first moments that these two women connect and is probably the beginning of this beautiful friendship that begins to form between them.

SIMON: Yeah. So you're learning along with this character - do you think?

BROSNAHAN: Absolutely. This is brand new to me. The comedy thing - it's crazy. It's so scary but also thrilling by the same token. I've always said I wanted to do things that scared me. And for quite a while in the series, these stand-up sets of Midge's are just her talking off the top of her head. And as an actor, that's something that I have a way into. And I got to adjust to this rhythm and her sense of humor and Amy's sense of humor, which obviously are mostly one and the same. And by the time we reached a point where Midge was honing jokes and learning to work a room and to read an audience and to have a genuine interaction with them in the moment, that was something that I was learning alongside her.

SIMON: Rachel Brosnahan - she's Miriam Midge Maisel in "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel" on Amazon.

Thanks so much for being with us.

BROSNAHAN: Thank you so much. Thanks for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GIRLS TALK")

DAVE EDMUNDS: (Singing) There are some things you can't cover up lipstick and powder. But I heard you mention my name. Can't you talk any louder? Don't come any closer. Don't come any nearer. My vision of you can't come any clearer. Oh, I...

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