Through history, comedians challenge the world.
Author: Chiharu Kawasaki
School of Medicine, Teikyo University
Last week, March 8, was International Women's Day. I know it’s a bit late but I want to introduce the best feminist series to celebrate. “Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” is an Emmy-winning Amazon Prime original series whose Season 4 is released two episodes each week, which I've enjoyed lately. Considering that so many well-known dramas have exceeded ten seasons, it is not too late to binge-watch this drama, which has just started season 4. The colorful set, dress, and theatrical movements are delightful, and you will soon be a fan.
The main character is Midge Maisel, a wealthy Jewish woman who married right after graduating from college and now has two children. She is a quick-witted and talkative housewife. Through his parents' connections, her husband, a company's vice president, dreams of becoming a comedian. He performs on the Gaslight Cafe, a famous coffeehouse in New York, and Midge supports him behind the scenes. She writes down every possible material and bribes the manager with homemade brisket to get her husband on stage at a good time. One day, he blames Midge for a blunder on stage, and they have a big fight. The husband reveals his affair and leaves the house, playing the victim. Midge, desperate and drunk, wanders onto the stage where her husband is standing and blurts out this and that, which cracks up the audience. Susie Myerson, who works at the Gaslight, saw the performance, discovers her comedic talent, and persuades her to start her career as a comedian. Together they strive to become stars in the 1950s when the professional career isn't for women. It’s epic to watch the roller coaster ride of her becoming a star.
My favorite feminist depiction in this drama is that it does not deny Midge's life before she started her career as a comedian. The life where she had children and kept a family. Who she is doesn't change before and after her career. She is a mother who makes delicious brisket, loves her children, wears lovely dresses, and is a beautiful and funny woman. And she is proud of all of that.
Another thing I love about this story is how various type of women’s empowerment appears. It's not only about an upper-class comedienne. For example, her manager, Susie, wears a newsboy cap and suspenders and is often mistaken for a boy who is from a broken family. She's foul-mouth and crude but a loyal friend and caring person. Susie plays a considerable role in Mrs. Maisel's success without a doubt. The script is well written about women of different looks, ages, financial situations, careers, and family backgrounds, struggling for their own identity but always moving forward.
I know it's off topics of feminism, but I would also like to write about a man who is another key person in the story who encourages Midge to become a comedian. That is Lenny Bruce.
Lenny was a Jewish-American standup comedian. He became popular in the late 1950s, and early 1960s for his radical talk shows on previously taboo subjects such as politics, religion, racism, homosexuality, abortion, sex, drugs, advertising, poverty, and other contradictions in American society. As he had been arrested several times for the talk, his stage was always surrounded by cops. Even the audience expected him to be charged as a part of the show. He fought to speak whatever he wanted through his life and greatly influenced his and later generations. Paul Simon, Ono Yoko, and Bob Dylan, those stars at the time, sing about him in their song.
I have heard that today, you can be arrested even for holding up a plain white sign with nothing written on it in certain parts of the world. What would the legendary comedian speak on stage if he was still alive?
To close, I would like to introduce Bob Dylan's lyrics about Lenny.
"They said that he was sick 'cause he didn't play by the rules
He just showed the wise men of his day to be nothing more than fools
They stamped him and they labeled him like they do with pants and shirts
He fought a war on a battlefield where every victory hurts
Lenny Bruce was bad, he was the brother that you never had"