Most of my interactions with other humans these days— more often than not — are centered around “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.” Have I seen it? What do I think about it? It’s about a Jewish, female comedian, that’s like all of your defining attributes! You must love this show, correction: live this show. No, I am not an absent mother in 1950s New York City working as a stand-up comedian, but I am writing this column dressed in a smart turtleneck tucked into sophisticated trousers, with a homemade brisket in one hand and a slender cigarette in the other. So no, I am not Midge, but I am pretty damn close.
Amy Sherman-Palladino’s brilliant series has a very special place in my heart, right between coffee and Nick Kroll. The witty banter, the expertly crafted stand-up routines, the smattering of Yiddishisms — I swear it feels like Amy is spying on me. OK, so I’m not buddies with Lenny Bruce or some reimaging of him, and you’re right, I’m not actually from New York. I’ve only ever lived in Ohio. And, you would be correct if you reminded me that I do not in fact measure myself on a regular basis, but I can prove I have other body issues, I promise. No, I have never made a brisket myself, but I’ve eaten many cooked by my mother and grandmother and I think I could knock out a pretty good one if given the right kitchen and the right circumstances.
No, I’ve never actually tried my hand at stand-up comedy. Why, you ask? Is it my crippling anxiety and fear of failure? Perhaps it’s that I’ve never had the opportunity or desire to try it. Maybe it’s because I am not funny. Maybe it’s because I am an alien disguised in human clothing, tricking everyone around me into thinking I am a real person and the only way to reveal myself as I truly am is to perform stand-up comedy. Or maybe I’m just scared shitless. That is another column for another time, dear reader.
Self-pity aside, Mrs. Maisel and Ms. Sherman-Palladino have made a beautiful thing together. The show makes me feel seen and I’m sure scores of others feel similarly. Watching a neurotic Jewish comedian tell jokes that win Emmys and Golden Globes makes me kvell like my grandmother during graduations. But as much as I love the character of Midge, I have to remind myself that she is not real. Midge is more like the construction of a Jewish comedy Frankenstein, assembled with the spunk of Joan Rivers, the rebelliousness of Lenny Bruce and the bad assery of Fanny Brice. She takes men down with her pinky finger and irreverent wit, all while looking like a mannequin at B. Altman. Midge is what I’d be if I were a skinnier unfiltered version of myself. But I guess that’s why I aspire to be her.
It took me far too long to reach the conclusion that I am not Midge Maisel. I think I became so absorbed in it, bingeing every episode with a fistful of macaroons (The Jewish ones not the French ones), that it became all too easy to replace my boring life with her exciting arcs. At points I even felt jealous of her. She is out in the world, making her name known while simultaneously banging a hot doctor she bagged in the Catskills. What a score!
People laugh at what she has to say because she makes them pay attention. She stands in the spotlight like she was born there, a sort of comfort I can only relate to my bed. Midge is creation of Amy Sherman-Palladino’s imagination; an amalgamation of borscht belt heroes with breasts; a Jewish Lorelai Gilmore with a microphone.
Coming to terms with the fiction of Midge is both liberating and terrifying. On one hand, it is a reminder that her authors crafted her because she is a character worth writing, seeing and hearing. She is an imaginary representation of Jewishness, femininity and humor reflective of her very real predecessors. On the other hand, perhaps Midge only exists in the realm of fantasy and I am kidding myself trying to become some version of her. But maybe that’s OK. No, I am not Midge Maisel and I don’t think I should try to be. I am Becky Portman, and I am damn happy with that.