How The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel's Luke Kirby Feels About Exploring Lenny Bruce's Dark Side

Perhaps one of the most interesting creative decisions in "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel" was to make the most notable comedian in Midge's (Rachel Brosnahan) life not a completely fictional character, but an actual real-life comedian from the '60s. Portrayed by Luke Kirby, the Lenny Bruce of this show tends to pop up once or twice a season to bail Midge out of jail or give her some much-needed advice about the stand-up comedy business. (Luke Kirby himself has likened him to Midge's fairy godmother.) Fans also couldn't help but notice that the two characters had a ton of chemistry together, which is why it was so satisfying to see them finally act on those feelings in the season 4 finale, even if they both had no intentions of starting an actual relationship.

Unfortunately, the writers have limited themselves a little bit by using Lenny Bruce instead of a fictional character inspired by the man. The real Lenny Bruce died in 1966 (about five years from where the show is now), after his career fell apart and his drug addiction spiraled out of control. Unless the show wants to change history, we know the Midge and Lenny romance can't possibly end well, if it even happens at all.

The balancing act of writing a historical character

But as much as the show may have limited the storytelling opportunities with this decision, they've been able give audiences a glimpse into a tragic yet inspiring historical figure. As fun as it is to watch him push all the right buttons on his stand-up sets on the show, it has a lot more impact now that we know exactly what the cost of his truth-to-power style of comedy will be. As Kirby himself put it in an interview with Parade:

We also kind of feel duty-bound because Lenny is a historical figure and a lot of us know about his own life, we're sort of addressing that in ways, too, and kind of setting some of the magic and diving in a little closer to find the cracks. That's kind of exciting for me.

Although Lenny Bruce was having run-ins with the law from the very first season, it's only in the season 4 finale, "How Do You Get to Carnegie Hall?" that his addiction problems are shown on screen, when Midge finds a small bag of unspecified drugs in his bathroom. She's concerned, but Lenny assures her that "all is well," and she reluctantly lets it go.

Using that dramatic irony

Regarding Lenny's season 4 storyline, Kirby explained, "I think we did feel that it would be irresponsible not to touch upon that in some way, so this season we did start to explore Lenny in a more earthbound sense." And sure enough, one of Midge's early encounters with Lenny in season 4 is with him passed out on a sidewalk in the middle of the night, a far cry from where he was back in season 3's "It's Comedy or Cabbage," the last time he and Midge nearly hooked up. 

Although the season ends with Lenny performing at Carnegie Hall, his final conversation with Midge makes it clear that his success here was despite his reckless ways, not because of them. When he tells Midge she needs to change her current trajectory, that she needs to swallow her pride and start opening for other comedians and working well with others, it carries more weight not just because we know where Lenny's path leads, but because of how much frustrated pathos Kirby brings to the scene. It's clear this is a man who regrets how much he's hampered his own career, and desperately wants Midge to avoid making the same mistakes. Knowing Lenny Bruce's real-life fate adds another layer of tragedy to this scene: as if Lenny is aware that his time is limited, and helping Midge's burgeoning career is the next best thing he can leave as his legacy.

That final episode of season 4 is one of the highest acclaimed episodes of the whole show, in part because it serves as a pivotal moment in Midge's stand-up career as we head into the final season. The writers paid tribute to the pain the man was going through behind the scenes in real life, and let him be the only one finally get through to Midge in her season of self-imposed stagnation. We don't where Lenny Bruce goes from here on the show exactly, but hopefully he pops up again at least a few more times in season 5.