Music Hall - Music Hall Comedy

Music Hall Comedy

The typical music hall comedian was a man or woman, usually dressed 'in character' to suit the subject of the song, or sometimes attired in absurd and eccentric style. Until well into the twentieth century the acts were essentially vocal, with songs telling a story, accompanied by a minimum of patter. They included a variety of genres, including:

  • Lions Comiques: essentially, men dressed as a 'toff', who sang songs about drinking champagne, going to the races, going to the ball, womanising and gambling, and living the life of an Aristocrat.
  • Male and female impersonators, perhaps more in the style of a pantomime dame than a modern drag queen. Nevertheless these included some more sophisticated performers such as Vesta Tilley, whose male impersonations communicated real social commentary.

'Stand up', spoken wisecracking acts and double acts with one performer being prompted and interrupted by a 'straight' partner, belong to later developments, derived partly from pantomime and partly from the importation of American comedy styles. The phrases 'I don't wish to know that!' and 'kindly leave the stage!' and some of today's habits, such as finishing on a song, belong to this later period. Inter-war radio programmes such as Band Waggon adapted the music hall and variety traditions to the new medium, while later, 'The Goon Show' took radio comedy into the surreal. Early television variety show picked up some of the pieces, but this was at a time when music hall was already on its last legs. Nearer to today, the spirit of music hall genre has enjoyed a new kind of life in television's The Muppet Show.

In the modern comedy world the music hall is represented by Ida Barr, a fictional pensioner from the East End. Ex Music Hall singer who has relaunched her career singing rap songs. She has appeared regularly on BBC Radio 4 with her show Artificial Hip Hop.

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