Jews in the News: Lenny Bruce, Laraine Newman and Zoe Kravitz

Mrs. Maisel Returns, Pandemic Thriller, Lincoln, and More

 “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”, the hit Amazon Prime series about a Jewish comedian, returns for a 4th, 8-episode season on Feb. 18.  The pandemic long delayed filming and new episodes of “Maisel” were last released in Dec. 2019.  Two episodes will, as they say, be “dropped” on Feb. 18th and each following Friday two more episodes will “drop”.

Most of the “Maisel” main characters are supposed to be Jewish. Here, first, are the Jewish actors playing Jews: MICHAEL ZEGEN, 42 (Joel, Mrs. Maisel’s ex-husband); KEVIN POLLAK, 64 (Joel’s father); CAROLINE AARON, 64 (Joel’s mother); and ALEX BORSTEIN, 50 (Susie Myerson, Mrs. Maisel’s manager).

 I long wondered if Myerson is supposed to be Jewish. Then Borstein confirmed that Myerson was Jewish in a 2019 interview—noting that Myerson, unlike almost the other Jewish characters, came from a working-class background.

Here are the non-Jews playing Jews: Rachel Brosnahan, who plays Mrs. Midge Maisel (the title character); Marin Hinkle, who plays Midge’s mother; and Tony Shalhoub, who plays Midge’s father. Also worth noting: real life ‘60s comedian LENNY BRUCE, who had a big recurring role in seasons 1-2, will have a big role in season 4. Luke Kirby, who plays Bruce, isn’t Jewish.

Reports say that the comic material that Mrs. Maisel uses on-stage will get more explicit and “hip” as the series timeframe moves further into the “culture-changing” 1960s.

 When the series started, I thought the main “real” sources of the Maisel character would be three comics who emerged, in the early ‘60s, as the first women to be well-known solo stand-ups: Phyllis Diller, TOTIE FIELDS, and JOAN RIVERS. But I was wrong.

 These three made fun of their “not-beautiful” looks and all three pretty much avoided any “edgy” material (politics and/or sex). Obviously, the very attractive Rachel Brosnahan (Mrs. Maisel) can’t make fun of her looks and Mrs. Maisel did “edgy” stuff the very first time she took the stage.

 If I had to pick a realistic “avatar” for Maisel, it would be ELAINE MAY, now 89.  Her “nice” looks and quick comic mind made all her male comedian colleagues fall in love with her. She never made fun of herself.

 More to the point: with her stand-up partner, MIKE NICHOLS, May wrote and performed (1959-62) hip material that was a clear “content forerunner” of edgy shows like "Saturday Night Live" (SNL). Mrs. Maisel’s “real forerunners” are May and the women in the original “SNL” cast (Jane Curtin, LARAINE NEWMAN, and GILDA RADNER). These four women definitively proved that women could be funny and edgy.  (Check out May/Nichols videos on Youtube.).

 “Kimi”, an original HBO film, began streaming on Feb. 10. ZOE KRAVITZ, 33, stars as Angela, an agoraphobic tech worker who works at home during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic. She discovers evidence of a violent crime while reviewing a data stream, but her discovery is ignored by her company. She realizes she may have to go outside to contact people who will take her seriously. (Next month, look for Kravitz as Catwoman in the new Batman movie series “re-boot”, entitled “The Batman”.)

“Lincoln’s Dilemma” is a four-part documentary that will be released in its entirety on Apple+ on Feb. 18. It follows Lincoln’s complex journey to end slavery and his evolving views about the status of African Americans. The story is told by a panel of distinguished historians, educators, and journalists. Emmy-nominated actors Bill Camp and Jeffrey Wright provide the voices of Frederick Douglass and Lincoln, respectively. 

The documentary was directed by BARAK GOODMAN, 57. Over the last 30 years, he has directed and/or produced 34 documentaries, and has won 2 Emmys. Many of his films first aired on the PBS series “The American Experience”. His wife, RACHEL DRETZIN, 55, has also produced and/or directed many documentaries, including 14 PBS Frontline documentaries. Her mother is JOANNA MERLIN, 90, a busy character actress. She is the last living “credited” actor or actress in “The Ten Commandments” (1956).

“Uncharted” opened in theaters on Feb. 11. Tom Holland (the newest Spiderman) and Mark Wahlberg co-star as partners who fend off bad guys as they go after a long-sunken Spanish treasure ship.

The film was directed by RUBEN FLEISCHER, 47. He directed the two “Zombieland” films. They were critical and box-office smashes. His other films got so/so reviews. I have to note that I think of deli when I hear his name. Fleischer means butcher in Yiddish and, you know, a Ruben is a famous deli sandwich.



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