Alex Borstein’s new comedy special is about perception, personal growth, politics

Written by Danielle Chiriguayo, produced by Angie Perrin

Alex Borstein arrives for the 25th Annual Critics' Choice Awards on January 12, 2020 in Santa Monica, CA. Photo by Shutterstock.

Alex Borstein started her career on the stages of Hollywood in the early 1990s. She caught her big break after joining the sketch show “Mad TV” in 1997, and then made her “Family Guy” debut as cartoon mom Lois Griffin. In 2017, she started playing the brash, foul-mouthed manager of comedian Midge Maisel in “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” for which she won two Emmys. Her latest project is a standup special called “Corsets and Clown Suits” on Amazon Prime Video. 

The show’s concept — a hybrid of comedy, musical theater, and burlesque — came in the aftermath of Borstein’s divorce, when she moved to Barcelona in 2016. At the time, she was “completely over” show business. With the help of two pals she met there, the trio started making music together.

“It turned into me monologuing, and it almost became a soundtrack,” Borstein tells KCRW. “Everything fell into place. And I always like to say it's deeply personal and wildly fictitious at the same time. There's artistic license. There’s stuff that’s stretched. There's some stuff that's completely made up. And then there's really, really true, honest pieces.” 

While she sings in “Corsets and Clown Suits,” the last thing Borstein would do is call herself a singer.

“I had gone on one audition when I was 16, and I was told I was tone deaf. So I decided, ‘Okay, I'm not a singer.’”

But she continued with the craft anyway.

“It feels like there's certain things you can convey with music and a song that you could never do with just words. So the combination of being able to storytell from my life and write crafted jokes, and then pop into a song — whether it was an original song or a cover — there was no better way to deliver and persuade in that moment than with music.” 

The dive into musical storytelling is most evident half an hour into the special, where Borstein launches into a David Bowie medley to help describe her journey of getting back to dating and sex.

“It was born out of just the word ‘change.’ Are humans even capable of change? I'm not sure. … That moment came from asking myself, ‘Could I change? Was I capable of change?’”

While the show is self-reflective, Borstein also tackles universal and contemporary issues, including abortion. 

“The fact that I came out of a 20-year union with fewer rights than I went in was not lost on me. It was terrifying. And the thought that my child was growing up in a world where she has less autonomy, and less control of her own body. I really had a hard time wrapping my head around that, and the show was such a great place for me to vent.” 

Ultimately, Borstein says it is all about perception and refusing to be bound by what others may think of you. Audiences see that at the start of the comedy special, when she walks out in both a clown suit and corset. 

“I loved the physical and literal use of being backstage and being told, ‘This is your role, put this clown suit on.’ And refusing and changing it and cutting it and saying, ‘Okay … I'll wear the clown suit, but I'm going to make it mine, and I'm going to change it.’”

Susie Myerson and ‘The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel’ 

While Borstein says there are similarities between herself and her character Susie Myerson on “Mrs. Maisel,” Borstein says Susie is based on so many more people, including Mitzi Shore and the show’s creator Amy Sherman-Palladino. But from the first audition, she says there was no doubt in her mind of how she would embody her. 

“When I was readying myself for the audition, there was no ‘let me try saying it this way.’ There's only one way I could have possibly delivered her lines. The only thought I had to give to the audition was what should I wear?”

In reflecting on Susie’s relationship with Midge after the finale, Borstein says the two shared a uniquely deep connection.

“I think Midge was the perfect love in a way because it never had to become physical. It could stay platonic and they could stay in each other's lives forever. I think she's absolutely in love with Midge in so many ways, but I don't think she ever had to stop herself from ‘making a move’ or that’s not what she was pining for. I think she loved the relationship and the love that she had for her just the way it was.”