Alex Borstein made her stand-up debut in the mid-’80s at the tender age of 16—performing at a less-than-legendary haunt in the comedy scene, the Irish pub Gallagher’s that was located inside the Ramada Inn in Chatsworth, with her parents in tow as chaperons.
In hindsight, Borstein, who now stars in Amazon’s “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” about a woman’s experience breaking into the stand-up world in 1950s New York, acknowledges it was a weird place but she had fun and, hello, she made $20.
“I was always getting in trouble for trying to do it in class,” Borstein said when she stopped by the The Times’ video studio this week. She also added that “arrogance, narcissism, neediness” likely contributed to her desire to pursue stand-up.
She’d go on to perform while in college, in dorms or at her neighborhood’s Jewish community center—wherever she could get an audience. But she would come to realize stand-up wasn’t her calling as a comedian.
“Stand-up’s hard,” said Borstein, known for her work on “MADtv” and “Family Guy.” “It’s one of the hardest things in the world and it’s really lonely. I never became a road comic. I think I would have ended my life. It would have been too sad for me. And it’s hard for me to repeat the same material over. I get sick of it and I want to change it…. I really did it because it was the quickest way to perform.”
In the series, created by Amy Sherman-Palladino (“Gilmore Girls”), Borstein plays Susie Myerson, a crabby bartender at the fabled Gaslight Cafe in Greenwich Village who becomes a mentor and manager to housewife-turned-comedienne-in-training Miriam “Midge” Maisel (played by Rachel Brosnahan).
The first season explored some of the growing pains comedians face in finding their voice—and the bumps along the way, like bombing a set. While Borstein’s character is on the sidelines, watching it all, the actress has been in the shoes of her character’s mentee.
“I remember one terrible, terrible joke I told and I offended everyone in the entire room and it was just ice,” she said. Check out the clip above to see who was at the center of it.
For more on how Borstein left Barcelona to work with Palladino and what it’s like not dressing like a housewife in the ’50s, watch the full interview below.