The World of Burlesque Comedy

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Burlesque Beginnings

Burlesque comedy is a famous genre of theater plays that is intentded to lampoon serious topics and/or already established literary works. The origins of burlesque are in Italy where in the 16th century Francesco Berni wrote the Opera Burlesche, but the style became popular and widespread in the next century in his own country but also in France and England. Shakespeare introduced burlesque comedy in his plays Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Knight of the Burning Pestle. Other playwrights and poets such as Miguel de Cervantes decided to make fun of the sloppy romanticism in the way love was expressed in classical Spanish works of literature at that time.

In the United States of America burlesque comedy was widespread in Vaudeville shows and in acts like the Marx Brothers during the roaring 20s. The Marx Brothers were very famous in that age and they produced lots of movies and live shows that involved many people on stage. Their leader Groucho Marx lead the band with innovative jokes that were underpinned by ridiculing and parodying people and ideas through rhymes and dancing.

Carmen up to Data

Another famous American burlesque comedy was Carmen up to Data written by Meyer Lutz which was a parody of the famous Carmen opera. The burlesque had a full blown musical score composed by famous composers at the time. In 1980 the play premiered in London. The name Carmen up to Data is obviously a play of the phrase “up to date” and it is funny that data today is a world of widespread use in the world of business and on the internet. This particular play resulted in many other burlesque comedies that played on the popularity of literary works and plays. The result was a long list of titles such as Miss Esmeralda, Faust up to Date, Cinder Ellen up too Late, Don Juan, Pygmalion Reversed and so on.

Burlesque lingered throughout the centuries and experienced a full blown renaissance at the turn of the 20th century and onwards. Inspired by too many topics that deserve to be parodied, theater crews and playwrights were tempted to comedy by world events and the state of humanity.

Neo Burlesque

In the latter decades burlesque has had a revival and it is called neo-burlesque. It still plays on American classic burlesque acts which involves striptease to contemporary dances involving juggling with objects on fire and similar requisites. The contemporary burlesque theater has assumed new forms that incorporate aspects of cabaret, circus skills, aerial spots and so on. New burlesque acts feature drag queens and performances that have raised questions where does the performance cross the line between art and nudity. Drag queens naturally fit well into this genre of comedic performance because of the outrageous outfit and the need of self-expression in front of an audience. The fetish and glamour performances have attracted their own target audiences which secured the survival of the genre and have brought it the opportunity to hold its ground in the form of travel shows.

Burlesque Today

Amazingly, burlesque or elements of it have found their way into popular culture even today. Some Hollywood movies have a burlesque scene now and then and theater plays include the dancing lady with large feathers.


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