Writing for Vaudeville eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 543 pages of information about Writing for Vaudeville.

It may now be worth while thus to sum up the ideal structure: 

A routine is so arranged that the introduction stamps the monologist as bright, and the character he is impersonating or telling about as a real “character.”  The first four points or gags are snickers and the fifth or sixth is a laugh. [1] Each point or gag blends perfectly into the ones preceding and following it.  The introduction of each new story awakens a grin, its development causes a chuckle, and the point-line itself raises a laugh.  The final point or gag rounds the monologue off in the biggest burst of honest laughter.

[1] It is true that some monologists strive for a laugh on the very first point, but to win a big laugh at once is very rare.


When a writer delivers the manuscript of a monologue to a monologist his work is not ended.  It has just begun, because he must share with the monologist the pains of delivering the monologue before an audience.  Dion Boucicault once said, “A play is not written, but rewritten.”  True as this is of a play, it is, if possible, even more true of a monologue.

Of course, not all beginners can afford to give this personal attention to staging a monologue, but it is advisable whenever possible.  For, points that the author and the monologist himself were sure would “go big,” “die,” while points and gags that neither thought much of, “go big.”  It is for precisely this purpose of weeding out the good points and gags from the bad that even famous monologists “hide away,” under other names, in very small houses for try-outs.  And while the monologist is working on the stage to make the points and gags “get over,” the author is working in the audience to note the effect of points and finding ways to change a phrase here and a word there to build dead points into life and laughter.  Then it is that they both realize that Frank Fogarty’s wise words are true:  “There is only one way to tell a gag.  If you can cut one word out from any of my gags I’ll give you five dollars, for it’s worth fifty to me.  Words are costly.”

Some entire points and gags will be found to be dead beyond resurrection, and even whole series of gags and points must be cast away and new and better ones substituted to raise the golden laughs.  So the monologue is changed and built performance after performance, with both the monologist and the author working as though their very lives depended on making it perfect.

Then, when it is “set” to the satisfaction of both, the monologist goes out on the road to try it out on different audiences and to write the author continually for new points and gags.  It may be said with perfect truth that a monologue is never finished.  Nat Wills, the Tramp Monologist, pays James Madison a weekly salary to supply him with new jokes every seventh day.  So, nearly every monologist retains the author to keep him up to the minute with material, right in the forefront of the laughter-of-the-hour.

Project Gutenberg
Writing for Vaudeville from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
Follow Us on Facebook