So…I was listening to another podcast of “Stuff you Missed in History Class” and this one was on the history of Vaudeville. Just something to keep my mind entertained as I follow my daughter around to keep her out of danger.
One thing really jumped out at me. Vaudeville, as they explained, was meant to be a clean, family-oriented entertainment. Storng language, such as “son of a gun,” was forbidden. Double entendre and low-brow bodily noise jokes, also a no-go.
Let me say, these rules were not completely followed. But the management of the theaters that held vaudeville acts did try to keep the bar high.
So, they could sneak things in, but the main point of an act had to be clean by the standards of the day. Comedic acts were very common, which is sort of amazing from my perspective today, because if you have no sexual double entendre, and no fart jokes, what have you got?
I will tell you what you’ve got: humor based on stereotypes. Remembery, vaudeville invented minstrelsy–otherwise known as black-face. They had to have a racial stereotype off which to bounce jokes. True, they did not only joke about black people (African-americans). Will Rogers was a “cowboy comedian” in vaudeville, and I’m sure he played up all the stereotypes of the western cowboy. And there were all kinds of ethnic types.
I’m sure that the audience was in many ways educated in what stereotypes they were supposed to hold about various ethnic types.
It seems to me that racial stereotypes were very very fostered by the censors who were trying to create ‘family’ entertainment. I doubt they had any intention of doing so, but I think racial stereotypes took root in our culture in a way they would not have without these restrictions.