Media Studies

  • noun a type of entertainment popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries consisting of singing, dancing and comedy acts
  • noun a comic play with songs and dances


  • A US form of variety entertainment that was popularin the late 19th and early 20th century.

    The name, which is French in origin, may be a corruption ofvaux-de-vire (songs of the Vire), referring to a region ofNormandy famous for satirical songs in the 15th century. An alternativederivation is from vaux des villes (songs of the city streets).In the late 17th century the French critic Boileau applied the termto satirical ballads and to the dumb shows (comédies envaudeville) presented in Paris's booth theaters. It later cameto be applied to the popular musical dramas presented at the Opéra-Comiqueand other venues.

    In the later 19th century, the term vaudeville came to beused of variety performances, especially in America, where a traditionof beer-hall entertainment had developed in parallel to the musichall in Britain. Other influences on early US vaudeville includedminstrel shows, medicine shows, and 'dime museums'of freaks and trained animals, such as P. T. Barnum's AmericanMuseum in New York. The first regular vaudeville programmes were presentedat the Franklin Theatre, New York, in 1842. Like US burlesque,vaudeville remained rather suspect until Tony Pastor created the "straight,clean variety show" in the 1860s at New York's American Theatre.A typical bill would include juggling, a musical act, trained animals,a dramatic skit, a comedy sketch, an acrobatic act, and a magic performance.At the turn of the century, short films would often be shown to clearthe house. By this time vaudeville was big business: the agency ofB. F. Keith and Edward Franklin Albee booked acts for 400 theaterseast of Chicago, while Martin Beck ran the Orpheum circuit of theaterswith houses from Chicago to California. After the advent of talkingpictures in 1927, however, vaudeville performers began to dwindleinto support acts for films. New York's Palace Theatre, thenation's top vaudeville house, closed in 1932.

    Vaudeville produced many of America's early film stars andradio performers, some of whom survived into the television era. Theimpressive list includes Danny Kaye, Harry Houdini, Al Jolson, SophieTucker, W. C. Fields, Will Rogers, Jimmy Durante, Burns and Allen,the Marx Brothers, and the Three Stooges. Europeans introduced tothe US audience through vaudeville included Harry Lauder and VestaVictoria.

Origin & History of “vaudeville”

In 15th-century France there was a fashion for songs from the valley of the Vire, in the Calvados region of Normandy (particularly popular, apparently, were the satirical songs composed by a local fuller, Olivier Basselin). they were known as chansons du Vau de Vire ‘songs of the valley of the Vire’, which became shortened to vaudevire, and this was later altered to vaudeville. It was originally used in English for a ‘popular song’; the application to ‘light variety entertainment’ did not emerge until the early 19th century.