Music hall, vaudeville, and burlesque were popular forms of entertainment that developed in the19th century. They were designed meet the needs of the masses of working people who lived in the rapidly growing cities of Great Britain and the United States and--to a lesser extent--in many cities on the continent. Vaudeville in America and music hall in England were variety shows of unconnected musical, dancing, comedy, and specialty acts. The word vaudeville originated in France and probably derived from the topical songs of the Vau de Vire, the valley of the Vire River in Normandy. Burlesque began as comic parodies of well-known topics or people. The word came from the Italian burla, which means "jest."
The Theatre Regulation Act of 1843 banned drinking in legitimate theaters, but allowed it in "music halls," prompting many tavern owners to expand into larger rooms and to arrange their tables in front of a platform, where entertainment was supplied by singers, comics, and actors who recited monologues from famous plays. To keep the acts and the audience in order, a professional master of ceremonies presided from a table near the platform. Drinking was now kept to the rear of the hall
Although best known for its dancing girls, burlesque--which was popularly called "burleycue""--produced many great comedians--such as Bert Lahr, Fanny Brice, Abbott and Costello, Red Skelton, Red Buttons, and Phil Silvers--who learned their trade getting laughs from audiences anxious to see scantily clad women. To compete with daring vaudeville stars like Mae West and revues like The Ziegfeld Follies, burlesque became increasingly racy after 1900. This is similar to the way different types of entertainment today try to outdo each other, in terms of stretching the limits of sexual content, language, nudity, etc.