I’m thrilled to share that I have a guest post up on the period-drama website Willow and Thatch. “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel: A History” looks at the early history of stand up comedy, right as it was shifting from one-liners to the first-person, observational humor we recognize today. You can check out my post here.
Josh and I basically binged The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (well, as much as it’s possible to binge a one-hour show while raising a toddler) because it’s just so.damn.good. The Amazon series, which recently raked in major wins at the Golden Globes and Critics’ Choice Awards, follows a 1950s New York housewife who discovers a talent for stand up comedy when her life falls apart. The show features all of Amy Sherman-Palladino’s signature zippy dialogue and quirky characters, plus gorgeous production value and fantastic performances. (Also, if you’ve ever wondered what Gilmore Girls would have been like without the network censor, well, here’s your answer.)
As you know, I LOVE research, and studying the history of stand up was no exception. I discovered so many fascinating stories I wanted to include, so keeping this post to an accessible length proved to be a real challenge. But I couldn’t keep one special tidbit to myself…
Main character Midge Maisel gets her start performing (accidentally) at the Gaslight Café, which was a real Greenwich Village coffee house on MacDougal Street, between Bleecker and 3rd. The Gaslight was located in a tiny basement, formerly a speakeasy, with air shafts that went all the way up the building. According to singer Len Chandler, these air shafts led audiences to develop the now-iconic coffee house finger-snap:
As a concession to the building’s residents, if the audience liked what they heard, Chandler remembered, they had to snap their fingers to show their appreciation. Loud noises in the basement went directly into the flats upstairs so clapping was not an option. “And the stupid thing was,” Chandler said, “then I would perform somewhere else in the country and the people would suddenly start snapping their fingers. They wanted to be cool, like those kids in New York, not knowing that there was a reason we did that. The moment they finally blocked those air shafts in the Gaslight, we clapped all we wanted.”
Of course, the snapping could have developed elsewhere at the same time. But don’t you just love that there’s an actual story?
If you’d like more fun facts, head over to Willow and Thatch!