Why Lenny Bruce's Death Wasn't Part of 'The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel's Final Season (Exclusive)
Spoiler alert! Spoilers ahead for the series finale of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, titled "Four Minutes." Read on at your own risk.
While The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel drew plenty of inspiration from real-life celebrities of the 1960s over the course of its five-season run, none were more central to the journey of Rachel Brosnahan's titular comedienne than Lenny Bruce, played by Luke Kirby.
While only appearing in a few episodes per season, Kirby's Lenny had a profound impact on Midge Maisel as she traversed the grueling world of stand-up comedy in New York and beyond. Whether they were sharing the backseat of a police car after being arrested or sharing the stage at The Gaslight and Carnegie Hall, Lenny was a touchstone to the industry for Midge and a constant cheerleader if ever she started to doubt her talents.
With Mrs. Maisel's series finale debuting on Friday -- and the use of flash-forwards employed throughout the final season -- many wondered how, or even if, the show would address the real-life fate of Bruce, who died of a drug overdose at his Los Angeles home in 1966.
The finale kicks off with Lenny onstage in 1965 San Francisco, a recreation of one of the final shows of the real-life comic's career. He's in bad shape, distracted and ranting about his ongoing legal issues. (The real-life Bruce was arrested multiple times for obscenity, due to the nature of his comedy act.) Midge's manager, Susie Myerson, tries to reason with him backstage, but Midge can't even bring herself to see him.
"He's a mess, Miriam," Susie tells her, referring to Bruce's real, and serious, issues with heroin, methamphetamine and Dilaudid, which would lead to his death the next year.
While the episode's final flash-forward takes viewers all the way to 2005 -- where Midge and Susie have reconciled, and regularly talk on the phone -- nothing more is mentioned about Lenny, which creator and EP Amy Sherman-Palladino told ET was an intentional choice from the beginning.
"Everybody knows what happened to Lenny Bruce," she explained. "Everybody knows. We knew from the first time we met him in the pilot where he ends up. So it felt like [we shouldn't do it], other than to give Rachel a great crying scene. Because she's a great crier, among other things."
Sherman-Palladino noted that her fictionalized version of Bruce was meant to serve as "a little bit of a guardian angel" for Midge in the show. The series wasn't about his story, but how his life and professional legacy impacted her own.
"He was a supporter, he was a muse," she shared. "And even when they slipped into a moment of romance, that romance was broken immediately with, 'Get your sh*t together, get your a** back onstage. Why are you hiding? Why are you blowing this?'"
"It felt more important to see his decline and her to see that, because he also represented the bad side of the business, the place that you can go when you don't pay attention and you're not careful and you're not eye on the prize all the time," she continued. "He was the ultimate good and the ultimate bad lesson for Midge."
It was also important to the Mrs. Maisel creative team, Sherman-Palladino noted, to honor not just what Lenny meant to Midge, but his impact "in the grand scheme of comedy and what he represented to the comedy world."
"He was the guy that broke down those doors. He was the first guy to walk through them, and get hit for it," she said.
For Kirby, who won a guest actor Emmy in 2019 for his portrayal of the lightning rod comic, the sprinkling of the fictionalized Lenny Bruce throughout the series was "an exercise in less being more, and [leaving] people wanting more."
"I'd be happy to, you know, bludgeon people over the head with it," he admitted, "but this is a good lesson in nuance and keeping it classy."
All five seasons of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel are streaming now on Prime Video.
How ‘Mrs. Maisel’s Final Scene Pays Tribute to an Iconic Comedy Duo
Lenny Bruce on 'Mrs. Maisel': What's Fact and What's Fiction?
'Maisel': Brosnahan and Zegen on Why Joel Went to Jail for Midge