The force behind Marvelous Mrs. Maisel

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“I knew Joan Rivers, and while Midge is said to be based on her, I don’t see that as working,” writes Susan Silver, a comedy writer from the Norman Lear-MTM sitcom era, about the historical inspiration for the lead character in Amazon’s “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.”

The show, which we’re enjoying hugely, just picked up a couple of Golden Globes — worthless trophies in my view, but Amazon is now making the show available to non-Prime members, so that’s a win.

“The series tells the story of a 1950’s housewife who wants to break into standup comedy when the world is neither ready for nor interested in what women have to say. Yet the series, despite its supposed progressiveness, portrays its Jewish subjects as unflattering stereotypes. … ‘The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel’ risks doing a disservice to the history of Jewish comedy.”

Maybe it’s because I grew up listening to records of Allan Sherman, but since when have Jewish comedians been shy about milking Jewish stereotypes for laughs?

Whether or not you liked Rivers’ brand of comedy — I never did — she’s a pivotal figure in mainstream culture’s acceptance of politically incorrect speech and weaponization of comedy.

I just finished Leslie Bennetts’ terrific 2016 biography of Joan Rivers, Last Girl Before Freeway. Bennetts does a truly admirable job in peeling back the layers of Rivers’ onstage persona and her equally-well-cultivated backstage image to get to “the real Joan” — a generous, insecure, status-conscious, don’t-give-a-damn watershed figure in American entertainment history.

Through interviews with dozens of her intimates, as well as friends, other comics, admirers, and critics, Bennetts takes the full measure of Rivers as a trailblazer among female comedians, from her early struggles to get respect to her mean-girl turn in the early 1980s to her reinvention after her Fox talk show bombed and her private and professional worlds collapsed.

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