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Amy Sherman-Palladino is known for many things: flamboyant hats, mile-a-minute monologues, the coffee dependency that defined a generation, and blink-and-you-miss-them pop culture references, to name a few. These are found in droves in her most recent television success The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.
Maisel, for the uninitiated, is an Emmy-winning Amazon Prime series that follows a 1950s housewife who finds herself pursuing standup comedy after being left by her husband. But, honestly, if you didn't already know that, why are you here? The Gilmore Girls DVD box sets came with handy-dandy guides to literally every reference the characters made in every episode to help those of us who aren't obscure pop culture encyclopedias follow every joke (and, I guess, eventually become obscure pop culture encyclopedias). As you could imagine, the guides' fonts were very, very small. Maisel, unfortunately, has no such guide, leaving a lot of its intricate details to be seen only by the repeat-viewers or people with a strange knowledge of the 1950s. Luckily for you all, I'm am strongly the former and weakly the latter, so I've compiled a list of some of the best Marvelous Mrs. Maisel easter eggs you probably missed.
Lenny Bruce, played by Luke Kirby, is a certified hottie, so clearly he's one of the best characters on the show. It's sad that so many people don't know that Lenny was a real person and one of the greatest stand-ups of all time. His obscenity trial is known as a landmark for freedom of speech under the First Amendment and led to Lenny being the first person to get a posthumous pardon in New York state. Lenny was known for his pacing in freestyle rants about jazz, politics, religion, and sex. To go into more about his very real-life might spoil future Maisel plot points, but the show gets the comic right, from the legal issues all the way down to the trademark trenchcoat. Amy actually used to know Lenny's mother in the early 1960s, which might've led to the accuracy behind the comic's portrayal.
"Will Elizabeth Taylor become bar mitzvahed?" When Maisel shows Lenny acting worried before appearing on live television because his obscenities had led him to being banned from nearly every state, that was pretty real for the comic's life. Lenny was banned completely from various cities across America during the early 1960s, and during a rare television appearance on The Steve Allen Show, he opened with an improvised joke about Liz Taylor's new marriage to Eddie Fischer which was recreated on Maisel. The song Lenny sings during the show, "All Alone," was also taken directly from his real-life Steve Allen performance. Maisel even recreated essentially the same background that was used on the actual show, just replacing the square pattern with circles.
Another bit ripped straight out of the archives was the "Jewish vs. Goyish" set Lenny performs at a jazz club in the first season of Maisel before Midge Maisel smokes weed and gets onstage to introduce the band.
“The Marine Corps is goyish. The Air Force is Jewish... Kool-Aid? Goyish. Instant potatoes? Scary goyish.”
Sound familiar? Maybe you really remember season one, episode three of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, or maybe you really enjoyed Lenny Bruce's recurring stand-up bit from his hometown in New York City. Just don't ask me to explain it. I'm too goyish to understand the joke.
The Greenwich Village coffee shop Midge and Joel Maisel go to when they want to get downtown (or, if you're Midge, have a hilarious nudist breakdown on stage) really existed. The Gaslight Cafe was also known as the Village Gaslight. It was one of the first places Bob Dylan ever played, and he later recorded a live album there in 1962. The Gaslight was featured in Mad Men and Inside Llewyn Davis, and it was the site of a sit-in by Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton with John Hammond Jr. It's not surprising that the Maisels had fantastic taste.
The season one finale of Maisel was dedicated to Dan Sherman. While the last name probably gave away that Dan was Amy's father, you might not know that Dan Sherman was a prolific comedian in his own right. He brought Amy along with him to the Greenwich Village comedy clubs he would frequent, and Amy has joked that Midge is really just her father reimagined as a 1950s housewife. "The first of the sit-down comics" opened for jazz singer Dinah Washington and was the head-writer on Joey Bishop's late-night television show. It looks like humor is hereditary.
Midge's no-nonsense booking agent and manager Susie Myerson, played by Alex Borstein, is based on the trailblazing agent Sue Mengers, who represented Barbra Streisand, Cher, Michael Caine, Candice Bergen, Joan Collins, Burt Reynolds, and Nick Nolte, amongst others. She was the first female agent with massive amounts of power and one of the most famous agents in her time. Looks like Midge's Susie is poised for success as well, with a new prospective client in (spoiler) Sophie Lennon. Susie and Sue's lives don't have much in common yet, but that doesn't mean they can't be one and the same.
Rose Weissman loves her psychics, who she's seen visiting for advice on her daughter that she always interprets to mean what she wants it to mean. We're eventually led to believe these psychics are the real deal after one has a vision of Midge that her mother interprets to mean a wedding is in her future, even though the psychic saw her in a black dress and pearls. This shouldn't have been as much of a surprise to astute viewers who noticed the Tannis Root given to Rose in an early episode isn't real. It's an herb invented for Roman Polanski's horror classic Rosemary's Baby.
Midge and Joel say "Goodnight, Gracie" to each other during their evening ritual (or, at least, the part of their evening ritual that Joel actually knows about). Amy is the queen of recycling references, so loyal fans might recognize the reference as the title of a season three Gilmore Girls episode (the one where Jess leaves without saying goodbye) or from a Luke and Lorelai exchange. Then there are the select few who actually know the non-Amy origins of the phrase, which comes from a George Burns and Gracie Allen television show sign-off in the 1950s. It's also the name of an entirely unrelated but very spooky horror short on YouTube.
In a bittersweet and hard-to-catch easter egg, Midge's wedding to Joel is the exact wedding Emily Gilmore had planned for Lorelai in Gilmore Girls. During the show, Emily describes to Lorelai the wedding she had envisioned for her daughter before Lorelai's pregnancy and self-imposed exile — a Russian winter wonderland theme with snow-white roses, snow everywhere. How is Midge's wedding described? "Everything was white, and there were trees painted like they were covered with snow." Seeing as both shows see snow as something wonderful and celebratory, it's unsurprising this idea was revisited, even though it's a little sad.
Some people saw the multi-episode arc in the Catskills as a waste of time or a career move that didn't make any sense. This point of view is something I believe Lenny would call goyish (although, again, someone please explain that joke to me). The "Borscht Belt" came from a time when anti-Semitism was high in America and many hotels outside of New York City (which felt like the pit of Hades in the middle of summer before air conditioning was invented) wouldn't allow Jewish people to rent rooms. So, Jewish New Yorkers bought a bunch of hotels in a part of the Catskills called "The Borscht Belt" and that is where much of the Jewish community vacationed for a month in the summer. It was also a place where many, many comedians performed to large crowds. The Catskills were a very important place in the 1950s both for the Jewish community and comedians.
While Shy Baldwin wasn't a real person, most of the notable performers in Maisel's world have their roots in actual performers from the 1950s and 1960s. The information we get about Shy is as follows: he sings a cover of a Broadway song, he often performs with Moms Mabley (an actual person), he has comedians open his show, and he had a Christmas album. During the 1950s, Harry Belafonte was a large reason Moms Mabley had a career because he gave her her first appearances on television, he released a Christmas album in 1958, and he's been known to cover Broadway songs. He was also directly referenced early in the episode where Shy first appears.
Remember how Amy recycles jokes? Well, we're recycling that fun fact, this time for a recurring trope about children. An iconic Luke Danes line from Gilmore Girls is about how children are always sticky like they have jam on their hands. Which is fair. In Maisel, when Susie is with Midge's kids, she asks why they're sticky. Naturally, Midge's response is that they have jelly on their hands. Who knows if this was meant to be a Gilmore reference or if Amy has some issues about kids she needs to work out, but it was a nice little TBT for Gilmore Girls fans.
The New Yorker originally made this connection that Midge and her rival, Sophie Lennon, are essentially two halves of the same Joan Rivers. Rachel Brosnahan has been open about watching Joan's sets to inspire her portrayal of Midge; both Midge and Joan were close with Lenny Bruce, they both dress for shows like they're dressing for a date, and their humor is based on free-associating about women's lives. Unlike Midge, Joan's comedy came from truly believing she was ugly and didn't belong anywhere, the antithesis of Midge's whole identity. Enter Sophie Lennon: a comic whose entire set centers around her invented ugliness and otherness, and who, like Joan, really just wanted to be a dramatic actress.
One cannot think of Miss Patty from Gilmore Girls without hearing "It's a quarter to three, there's no one in the place..." during Buckle Up, I'm Patty (before the strobe light kicks in). All of Amy's shows are really just pure reflections of her soul. As such, there's also a lot of music overlap. In this specific, charming instance, "One For My Baby" by Frank Sinatra is played in the season two finale of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and is sung during Gilmore Girls' "Swan Song." Another song from Miss Patty's showbiz anniversary, "Coffee Song" by Frank Sinatra, is also played during Midge's trip to the Catskills.
Major props to Redditor Scoxxicoccus for noticing Yoko Ono (or, a facsimile of Yoko Ono) in the background of the art gallery Midge and Benjamin visit. The camera lingers on a long-haired Asian woman muttering about using a ladder to adjust a painting in a reference to her 1966 Ceiling Painting installation (which was in London and where she met John Lennon, so this one was probably just for funsies). She also is biting into a green apple in a reference to her 1966 installation Apple. I'd make a joke about it being a little on the nose but since this Easter egg went completely over my head, it clearly wasn't obvious.
Hey Alma pointed out this Easter egg during Joel and Midge's wedding. If you thought the "Florida cousins" bottle dance looked familiar, you aren't the only one. While watching the Fiddler on the Roof-inspired dance, the couple makes one final comment: "Someone should do something with that." Maisel wanted the audience to think that the wedding ringers' hora dance inspired the bottle dance in Fiddler on the Roof, which premiered in 1964 (a full decade after Joel and Midge's wedding). So, for those of us who thought the hora dancers were referencing Fiddler, looks like it was really the other way around.