Writing for Vaudeville eBook

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

It is very likely that in your study of “The German Senator” and “The Art of Flirtation,” there has crossed your mind this thought:  Both the monologue and the two-act are composed of points and gags.  The only difference—­besides the merely physical difference of two persons delivering the gags and the greater amount of business used to “get them over” [1]—­lies in the way the gags are constructed.  The very same gags—­twisted just a little differently—­would do equally well for either the monologue or the two-act.

[1] To get over a vaudeville line or the entire act, means to make it a success—­to make it get over the foot-lights so that the audience may see and appreciate it, or “get” it.


There is just enough truth in this to make it seem an illuminating fact.  For instance, take the “janitor point” in “The German Senator.”  We may imagine the characters of a two-act working up through a routine, and then one saying to the other: 

  A child can go to school for nothing, and when he grows up to
  be a man and he is thoroughly educated he can go into the public
  school and be a teacher and get fifty dollars a month.

The other swiftly saying: 

  And the janitor gets ninety-five.

There would be a big laugh in this arrangement of this particular gag, without a doubt.  But only a few points of “The German Senator” could be used for a two-act, with nearly as much effect as in the monologue form.  For instance, take the introduction.  Of course, that is part and parcel of the monologue form, and therefore seems hardly a fair example, yet it is particularly suggestive of the unique character of much monologic material.

But take the series of points in “The German Senator,” beginning:  “We were better off years ago than we are now.”  Picture the effect if one character said: 

Look at Adam in the Garden of Eat-ing.


Life to him was a pleasure.


There was a fellow that had nothing to worry about.


Anything he wanted he could get.


But the old fool had to get lonesome.


And that’s the guy that started all our trouble etc. etc. etc.

Even before the fourth speech it all sounded flat and tiresome, didn’t it?  Almost unconsciously you compared it with the brighter material in “The Art of Flirtation.”  But, you may say:  “If the business had been snappy and funny, the whole thing would have raised a laugh.”

How could business be introduced in this gag—­without having the obvious effect of being lugged in by the heels?  Business, to be effective, must be the body of the material’s soul.  The material must suggest the business, so it will seem to be made alive by it.  It must be as much the obvious result of the thought as when your hand would follow the words, “I’m going to give you this.  Here, take it.”

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Writing for Vaudeville from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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