How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Well, according to comedian Lenny Bruce, played by Luke Kirby, it really is something less like practice, and more like perseverance.
In the closing scene of the fourth season of the Emmy Award-winning comedy series, “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” we are given a look into the mind of a man who is misunderstood.
History remembers him as “the sick comic,” a man who broke boundaries in the stuffy era of the early 1960s. However, this show isn’t about him, it’s about Miriam Maisel, played by Rachel Brosnahan.
Miriam, or Midge as she prefers to be called, is a woman who has endured countless slights and oppressive footprints on the patchwork of her life. In the first season, her husband leaves her and she is forced into single motherhood in a time when it was a truly controversial thing to be.
Midge decides that this is an opportunity – a chance to make this life for her again. She chooses to pick back up on a dream of hers and picks standup comedy, originally as a way to slight her ex-husband, who failed at the profession himself.
This is ambitious and admirable and all of those good things, but there is one major problem with Midge in regards to this goal. See, Midge is the kind of girl that exudes confidence. She never slips up when trying to say clever things, she is stunningly beautiful and her closet is full of designer clothes and cute combinations.
Early in her career, especially in seasons 1 through 3, this was a benefit to her. It helped her stand out from the crowd of novices, though she herself was the least experienced of them all.
While the first season of the show was arguably the most gripping of the series, the fourth does find a return to form after two seasons of less engaging material. The classic comedy is still there, this is one of the few shows you find yourself laughing out loud to on numerous occasions.
However, the fourth season presents a question to the viewer that was previously unanswered in seasons 1-3. In a typical series, we would have seen more growth, both from Midge and her career. But this season finds Midge at her lowest, working as a strip club emcee when she was previously on her way to the top of her profession.
Her encounter with Bruce this season asks if Midge actually has what it takes to overcome her personality traits and realign herself on the path to success.
Cut to the fourth season, and Midge is dealing with this issue. She has had highs, she has been on television and done many memorable shows. However, she has kind of hit a plateau in the profession.
Midge thinks she is too good to open for larger acts on her way to stardom. If you watch the show, you’ll know Midge does not cave once she sets her heart on a plan. Her decision to be her own act, and to never act as an opener for another comic, comes after she is fired from musician Shy Baldwin’s tour, her last opening gig. She is stifling her career by not being able to move on from the pain and embarrassment of this occurrence.
Now, her on-again, off-again love affair with famed comedic legend Bruce, who by all accounts is one of the greatest comics of all time (the man was ranked third on that list by Rolling Stone magazine, behind only George Carlin and Richard Pryor), has typically helped Midge along the way.
We cut to 1960, with Bruce at the height of his stardom, about to play his very own show at Carnegie Hall. Once he kills on stage, and cements himself amongst the legends of the trade, he realizes Midge has come to watch him in the audience.
She approaches him after the show, congratulatory and full of questions about what it’s like to reach the stratosphere of standup comedy. He ignores her and takes her out to the stage to show her how it feels to be on top.
Earlier in the show, Bruce has lined up an opening gig for Midge, for Tony Bennett no less, and has just found out she turned it down on her principles of her being a solo act. He is annoyed, and tries to explain to her that stubborn arrogance is not the answer.
Midge is understandably confused by this, as she thought Lenny Bruce, the most controversial comic ever, had gotten to the top by not caring about what anyone else thinks. He lets her in on the secret.
“Getting arrested is not a badge of honor. It means I can’t work where I want to,” Bruce tells her. “That’s the exact opposite of what I want for myself. I’m an entertainer, not the standup messiah.”
He points out to the legendary venue’s seats and declares, unequivocally, “This is what I want.” When Midge stops him to explain her decision not to take the job, which she was only offered because of Bruce’s going to bat on her behalf, he cuts her off.
“Work. Just work and keep working,” he tells her. As he walks off stage he leaves her alone to gaze out into the empty concert hall, pondering her next move.
Midge leaves the hall in a vicious snowstorm while the people on the street celebrate the election of John F. Kennedy. She gazes up at a billboard, and in the obstruction of the frozen flakes, she reads, “Go Forward”. When the wind blows by, it is revealed that the sign actually says “Gordon Ford,” an advertisement for a talk show, another of the roles she has refused to do after her very public fallout with Shy Baldwin, who was the last person she opened for.
As she turns around to face the NBC building, she stops in the tracks of the snow, and stands perfectly still, contemplating her next move. It seems she is taking the advice of Bruce, or at least considering it now.
What the future holds for Midge Maisel is unclear at this moment, but one can only hope that she becomes willing to take the necessary steps to actual success.
Maybe the fifth season will show us a Midge who is on her way up to the top, and willing to take any lumps along the way. One of the funniest in-show jokes is about Midge’s self-centrism, and her constant changing of outfits before she goes out for the day.
If Midge Maisel can somehow realign her sights on her career and not just herself, then her future could be as bright as the lights at Carnegie Hall. Only time will tell.