Amy Sherman-Palladino and Dan Palladino’s Golden Globe-winning series “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” may be set in the ’50s, but women striving to break into Manhattan’s male-dominated stand-up comedy industry today will find the struggles of Miriam “Midge” Maisel familiar, the cast says.
The show's lead Midge would (gasp) prefer to spend her evenings performing at the Greenwich Village Gaslight rather than caring for her children in a perfectly primped Upper West Side apartment. Delving into a “man’s world,” Midge faces obstacles her male counterparts know little about — like being ignored by managers and taken for a secretary, singer or model rather than a comedian. Nevertheless, Midge and her second-hand woman Susie Meyerson (Alex Borstein) power through adversity to be taken seriously.
“There are so few characters like Midge out there,” actress Rachel Brosnahan, who plays Midge, said. Brosnahan won the 2018 Golden Globe for best actress in a TV musical or comedy for her role in the series. “The stuff we're making in the industry needs to better reflect the world we live in and right now it doesn’t.”
In November 2017, the New York Times published a first-person op-ed by comedian Laurie Kilmartin divulging the struggles women striving for a spot on the stage in stand-up still face today, from sexual harassment to a lack of equal representation.
“Stand-up comedy is hard on its women,” she wrote. “Truth is, if you are a woman in most professions, there are a bunch of extra rungs on your ladder to success.”
And one can't ignore the 2007 Vanity Fair article by Christopher Hitchens explaining "why women aren't funny."
"Humor is a sign of intelligence (and many women believe, or were taught by their mothers, that they become threatening to men if they appear too bright), it could be that in some way men do not want women to be funny," he wrote.
How would Midge and Susie respond?
We sat down with the cast and creators of the new Amazon show to discuss how the comedy landscape has changed for women, and what still needs to be done to boost the female presence.
The first season of "Mrs. Maisel" is now streaming on Amazon Prime Video.
Rachel Brosnahan as Miriam “Midge” Maisel
"I have friends in comedy who I have turned to for advice and listened to, particularly one female friend of mine who has climbed the ranks in stand-up comedy, she has just said it's horrible for women. It's so difficult. It's lonely, it's isolating. The equal opportunity does not exist. Women are still having to claw their way up the ladder with a lot of obstacles in their way. ... How many male comics can you name and how many female comics can you name that are well known? That speaks loudly.
The part where I feel that the most, is that there are so few women, particularly women of color, in positions of influence. We're not there yet. We've been talking about it for a long time and arguably this conversation is at the forefront right now, but we still have yet to follow through in any sort of meaningful way. I know the number of female directors on big studio projects is shamefully, shamefully low. We still have a long way to go. That can come from putting people in positions of authority who better reflect our world."
Alex Borstein as Susie Myerson
"There are so many more women headlining stadiums now [than back then]. When I was growing up, my biggest influences were Steve Martin, Peter Sellers and George Carlin. It was all men. The albums that I owned were mostly men. That's what was being marketed. Now, you've got Amy Schumer touring. You've got Margaret Cho and Sarah Silverman. We just had the first African-American female comedian hosting 'SNL' [Tiffany Haddish]. Tina Fey's a force to be reckoned with.
These women are becoming enterprises. They're becoming large companies, which is what has to happen. That's the only way that sexism and gender inequality in the business is going to change, if women are earning -- and that's what's happening."
Marin Hinkle as Rose Weissman
"I think [the Palladinos] happened upon something in the zeitgeist right now which is certainly apparent in the news with people in all industries. I've been reading about a variety of women in stand-up comedy who really feel because it is such a male environment that they actually had to say no to certain jobs because they didn't want to be around certain behavior ... Why is it in this year of 2017 that there hasn't been enough change from what it was in 1958? Why are women still facing so many of the problems? ... We're asking women to find a voice and this lead character, Midge, is finding a voice that's so strong she goes into microphone offices and pushes against the norm.
What I'm doing right now is reading as much as I can. It's all over; we see it in this era of fast-paced technology, which is sometimes faster than we want it to come out. I'm educating myself and trying to read about women who are speaking of their own experiences and who are leaders in fields that are trying to affect change. I'm looking at all people. We have to start as a group. What's empowering now is to find within each other a sign of trust and really truly support each other in the industry."
Amy Sherman-Palladino: "I grew up watching 'Golden Girls,' which had female leads, and 'The Mary Tyler Moore Show,' so I think it's the way shows are marketed [that impacts whether or not they're geared toward men or women]."
Dan Palladino: "I mean, it starts in the executive suites of studios and networks and places like that. To make a change, there needs to be more women green lighting, in the position of green lighting projects, that's the most important thing."