The word "burlesque" is derived from a Romance language term meaning "to send up". Burlesque theatre originated in the UK and US in the 19th century as a form of broad satire and parody aimed at low to middle class audiences, poking fun at the "highbrow" entertainments and social activities of the upper classes. During the Victorian period, it became increasingly common for roles to be played by attractive women
, dress more "daringly" than Victorian convention normally permitted. The women quickly became the main attraction, and costumes became more revealing
to the extent permitted by local laws. As in Vaudeville
and Music Hall settings, music and variety acts became staples of Burlesque shows. The tone often became suggestive, even shading toward bawdy
, although outright vulgarity, obscenity, and nudity were avoided; as the intent was to spoof and titillate, not offend. While Vaudeville tended to be dominated by individual acts; Burlesque shows depended on troupes travelling a circuit. It was generally looked down on as "low" humour by Vaudeville performers, and a last resort for the "washed up"; but many performed in Burlesque troops under pseudonyms, as the work was typically more steady and reliable.
Burlesque comedy was typically broad and low; with a strong emphasis on Slap Stick
and sexual innuendo. The lead comedian was known as the "top banana"; and many well-known comedians started in Burlesque — such as Bob Hope
, Red Skelton, and Milton Berle — before crossing over into movies, radio, or the fledgling television industry. One of the most famous classic Burlesque comedy routines is Abbott and Costello
's Who's on First?
While not originally the focus, sexual titillation became increasingly part of the landscape of Burlesque; however, the striptease remained a "back room" affair. The death of the Burlesque circuits in the 1920s resulted in the already well-established striptease, or "hootchie cootchie dance" being incorporated by theatre owners as a gimmick to bring in audiences
. Although music and comedy remained a large part of Burlesque, the striptease became the primary draw
. The degree of nudity and types of dancing permitted were limited, not by artistic or modesty concerns; but by obscenity statutes, with the stereotypical "pasties and G-string" used to avoid violating local laws. Performers did occasionally go beyond what was permitted, up to and including full nudity
; and raids and arrests were frequent occurences. A few places banned Burlesque altogether. This form of Burlesque was popular from the '20s
until the '60s
, peaking during World War II
and the post-war '40s
, finally declining in '50s
Many striptease dancers incorporated elaborate gimmicks into their acts, many of them artistic and/or comedic; and some parodied celebrities. As the form declined in the '50s, a few became minor celebrities in their own right; and just as many comedians moved on to Hollywood, so did a few of the more popular dancers. Some of those who managed to make a showing on the silver screen were Gypsy Rose Lee, Bettie Page
, Tempest Storm, and Lili St. Cyr. Several movies were made which featured them; but these were generally highly bowdlerized
versions of the performances, or low-budget indie productions.
With the legalization of hardcore pornography in the 1960s, Burlesque lost its appeal and the theatres either closed or began showing pornographic films. A few remained, with performers playing up the artistic
or comedic aspects; but they typically didn't last long.
The modern Burlesque Revival (sometimes referred to as Neo-Burlesque or "Burlycue") started in the late 1990s; and is based predominantly on a Hollywood History
version of Burlesque. It tends to focus entirely on the striptease, dropping the comedy and music aspects. Many performers and troops also incorporate themes of body-acceptance and Post-Modern
Feminist or New Age
themes of female empowerment through sexuality. Peformances range from re-creations of period styles featuring a minimum of nudity or sexuality, often undressing only down to Stock Underwear
, to modern alterna-porn
; with the majority emphasizing costuming, performance, and "tease" rather than sex.
For the 2010 film, head over to its own trope page.
- Lucky Luke saloons often had Can can dancers in 'em.
- In The Sting, Hooker's girlfriend is shown performing in a Burlesque show. Yes, she's a stripper.
- The Night They Raided Minskys.
- Lady of Burlesque was a 1943 murder mystery involving Burlesque performers.
- The Right Stuff. The astronauts attend a Burlesque show where an actress playing Sally Rand performers her iconic fan dance.
- In Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, Uhura performs a Burlesque-style fan dance to distract a patrol.
- There is a 2010 film called Burlesque that features a club with such performances. Christina Aguilera and Cher star in the movie.
- In Coraline the two old ladies downstairs Spink and Forcible are retired burlesque performers. In the other world Coraline actually sees one of their shows.
- Chuck Bass owns a burlesque club called Victrola. Where Blair got up on stage in one episode and did a strip tease.
- In an episode of Scrubs there's a subplot about the women being uncomfortable having a co-ed changing room and when Elliott is forced to change in front of the guys JD has an Imagine Spot of her as a burlesque dancer.
- In The Honeymooners, Ed Norton's wife Trixie is a former burlesque performer, with a heavy implication she was a stripper.
- SHIMMER wrestler Rayna Von Tosh had the gimmick of a burlesque pin-up girl. Since SHIMMER is a family-friendly show all she really did was peel off her gloves during her entrance.
- PanicAtTheDisco used burlesque style dancers in shows on their first tour. Said dancers actually DID stick to innuendo rather than stripping, although some of their outfits didn't have much to take off anyway... In many cases the dancers, both male and female, served as caricatured representations of the dysfunctional individuals described in the band's early songs.
- The musical Gypsy is the story of Gypsy Rose Lee. She started out working in Vaudeville, but moved to Burlesque because of the better money-making opportunity; and became one of the most well known strippers of the era. The word 'ecdysiast' was coined in her honor.
- In the United States Burlesque houses were a training ground for many comedians.
- Oklahoma!: "They've got a big the-ay-tur, they call it burlycue..."
- Top Banana was a 1951 musical starring comedian Phil Silvers, which featured many classic Burlesque comedy routines and conventions. It was believed to be a thinly veiled parody of Milton Berle, who, like Silvers, got his start in Burlesque before moving to television.
- Cabaret, both the stage musical and its film adaptation. How the Kit Kat club is portrayed (burlesque, vaudeville, fetish club, etc.) seems to depend on the adaptation.
- Sugar Babies was a 1979 tribute to burlesque, starring Mickey Rooney and Ann Miller.
- Seattle Vice is set in the 1960's, the twilight years of traditional burlesque.
- The Maison Derriere in one episode of The Simpsons. Bart ends up working there to pay off a debt for destroying the owner's gargoyle, and it attracts initial public outcry when exposed to the public.
- The Great Mouse Detective had a rather inexplicable scene involving burlesque, to the delight of Furries everywhere.
- Tex Avery used this trope in much of his work.
- Wild West C.O.W-Boys of Moo Mesa in Thoroughly Moodern Lily had a burlesque competition between Lily Bovine and Sadie Wowcow.
- Pretty much the entire reason for Dita Von Teese's existence. And the Pussycat Dolls'.
- Burlesque is definitely still alive, although it tends to focus more on the striptease element and less on the comedy and music. It's mostly performed by small troupes of hobbyists.