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Burlesque vs. Vaudeville: What's the Difference?

By Janet White & Harlon Moss || Updated on May 22, 2024
Burlesque is a theatrical form known for its satirical comedy, striptease, and adult humor, while vaudeville is a variety entertainment form featuring a mix of acts such as comedy, music, dance, and magic suitable for family audiences.

Key Differences

Burlesque is a theatrical genre that originated in the 19th century, known for its use of satire, parody, and often risqué or provocative humor. It typically includes elements of striptease, bawdy comedy, and elaborate costumes and performances. Vaudeville, on the other hand, is a form of variety entertainment that became popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It consists of a series of unrelated acts, including comedians, singers, dancers, magicians, acrobats, and other performers.
While both burlesque and vaudeville have historical roots in American theater and share a legacy of variety entertainment, their content and presentation differ significantly. Burlesque is known for its adult-oriented humor and suggestive performances, focusing on satire and parody. Vaudeville, in contrast, offers a wholesome mix of entertainment acts suitable for all ages, emphasizing diversity and accessibility in its performances.
Burlesque often includes a storyline or thematic elements, with performers using humor and sensuality to engage the audience. Vaudeville, however, is more segmented, with each act being independent, providing a quick succession of diverse performances to keep the audience entertained throughout the show.

Comparison Chart


19th century
Late 19th to early 20th century


Satirical comedy, striptease, adult humor
Variety acts: comedy, music, dance, magic



Performance Style

Provocative, humorous, elaborate costumes
Diverse, wholesome, accessible


Thematic, narrative elements
Series of unrelated acts

Key Elements

Satire, parody, risqué performances
Diverse talent, quick succession of acts

Burlesque and Vaudeville Definitions


A theatrical genre featuring satirical comedy and striptease.
The burlesque show featured a witty parody of a popular play.


Popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Vaudeville was the premier form of entertainment before the rise of cinema.


Combines humor with sensuality.
The audience laughed and cheered during the burlesque dancer’s comedic striptease.


Family-friendly performances designed to appeal to all ages.
The vaudeville theatre was packed with families enjoying the diverse acts.


Often includes parody and mockery of cultural norms.
The burlesque act cleverly mocked contemporary political figures.


Consists of unrelated acts performed in succession.
Each act in the vaudeville show was unique, keeping the audience entertained.


A literary or dramatic work that makes fun of something, often by means of outlandish exaggeration.


Stage entertainment offering a variety of short acts such as slapstick turns, song-and-dance routines, and juggling performances.


A ludicrous or mocking imitation; a travesty
The antics of the defense attorneys turned the trial into a burlesque of justice.


A theatrical performance of this kind; a variety show.


A variety show characterized by broad ribald comedy, dancing, and striptease.


A light comic play that often includes songs, pantomime, and dances.


To imitate mockingly or humorously
"always bringing junk ... home, as if he were burlesquing his role as provider" (John Updike).


A popular, often satirical song.


To use the methods or techniques of burlesque.


A style of multi-act theatrical entertainment which originated from France and flourished in Europe and North America from the 1880s through the 1920s.


(dated) Parodical; parodic


An entertainment in this style.


A derisive art form that mocks by imitation; a parody.


A kind of song of a lively character, frequently embodying a satire on some person or event, sung to a familiar air in couplets with a refrain; a street song; a topical song.


A variety adult entertainment show, usually including titillation such as striptease, most common from the 1880s to the 1930s.


A theatrical piece, usually a comedy, the dialogue of which is intermingled with light or satirical songs, set to familiar airs.
The early vaudeville, which is the forerunner of the opera bouffe, was light, graceful, and piquant.


A ludicrous imitation; a caricature; a travesty; a gross perversion.


A variety show when performed live in a theater (see above); as, to play in vaudeville; a vaudeville actor.


To make a burlesque parody of.


A variety show with songs and comic acts etc.


To ridicule, or to make ludicrous by grotesque representation in action or in language.


A variety entertainment form with a mix of acts.
The vaudeville show included singers, magicians, and acrobats.


Tending to excite laughter or contempt by extravagant images, or by a contrast between the subject and the manner of treating it, as when a trifling subject is treated with mock gravity; jocular; ironical.
It is a dispute among the critics, whether burlesque poetry runs best in heroic verse, like that of the Dispensary, or in doggerel, like that of Hudibras.


Features a wide range of talent, including comedy and music.
The vaudeville comedian had the audience in stitches with his jokes.


Ludicrous representation; exaggerated parody; grotesque satire.
Burlesque is therefore of two kinds; the first represents mean persons in the accouterments of heroes, the other describes great persons acting and speaking like the basest among the people.


An ironical or satirical composition intended to excite laughter, or to ridicule anything.
The dull burlesque appeared with impudence,And pleased by novelty in spite of sense.


A ludicrous imitation; a caricature; a travesty; a gross perversion.
Who is it that admires, and from the heart is attached to, national representative assemblies, but must turn with horror and disgust from such a profane burlesque and abominable perversion of that sacred institute?


To ridicule, or to make ludicrous by grotesque representation in action or in language.
They burlesqued the prophet Jeremiah's words, and turned the expression he used into ridicule.


To employ burlesque.


A theatrical entertainment of broad and earthy humor; consists of comic skits and short turns (and sometimes striptease)


A composition that imitates somebody's style in a humorous way


Make a parody of;
The students spoofed the teachers


Relating to or characteristic of a burlesque;
Burlesque theater


Known for risqué humor and elaborate costumes.
The performers in the burlesque show wore dazzling costumes and performed comedic skits.


Aimed at an adult audience.
The burlesque revue was a hit among the nightclub’s patrons.


What type of audience does vaudeville cater to?

Vaudeville caters to a broad, family-friendly audience.

What is burlesque?

Burlesque is a theatrical form known for satirical comedy, striptease, and adult humor.

How does burlesque differ from vaudeville?

Burlesque focuses on satire, adult humor, and provocative performances, while vaudeville offers a family-friendly variety of unrelated acts.

What is vaudeville?

Vaudeville is a variety entertainment form featuring a mix of acts such as comedy, music, dance, and magic suitable for family audiences.

What are common elements of a burlesque show?

Common elements include satirical comedy, striptease, parody, and elaborate costumes.

Can burlesque include music?

Yes, burlesque often includes musical numbers as part of its performances.

What type of audience does burlesque cater to?

Burlesque caters to an adult audience with its risqué humor and performances.

What are common elements of a vaudeville show?

Common elements include a variety of acts such as comedians, singers, dancers, and magicians.

What is a key feature of burlesque performances?

A key feature is the use of satire and parody to mock cultural norms and entertainment forms.

Is burlesque still performed today?

Yes, burlesque is still performed today, often in clubs and theaters that celebrate its historical and artistic significance.

Can vaudeville include dramatic performances?

Vaudeville typically focuses on light-hearted, entertaining acts rather than dramatic performances.

What is a key feature of vaudeville performances?

A key feature is the quick succession of diverse acts, each providing different forms of entertainment.

Are burlesque acts related to each other in a show?

Burlesque acts often have thematic or narrative elements connecting them.

Is vaudeville still performed today?

Traditional vaudeville is rare, but its influence persists in modern variety shows and entertainment.

What makes burlesque unique?

Burlesque is unique for its combination of humor, sensuality, and elaborate parody performances.

Are vaudeville acts related to each other in a show?

Vaudeville acts are generally unrelated, offering variety and constant change.

How does burlesque use humor?

Burlesque uses humor through satire, parody, and risqué comedy.

How does vaudeville use humor?

Vaudeville uses humor through comedic acts, jokes, and slapstick routines.

What is the historical origin of burlesque?

Burlesque originated in the 19th century as a form of satirical entertainment.

What is the historical origin of vaudeville?

Vaudeville became popular in the late 19th to early 20th century as a diverse form of entertainment.
About Author
Written by
Janet White
Janet White has been an esteemed writer and blogger for Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Science and Medical Journalism from the prestigious Boston University, she has consistently demonstrated her expertise and passion for her field. When she's not immersed in her work, Janet relishes her time exercising, delving into a good book, and cherishing moments with friends and family.
Co-written by
Harlon Moss
Harlon is a seasoned quality moderator and accomplished content writer for Difference Wiki. An alumnus of the prestigious University of California, he earned his degree in Computer Science. Leveraging his academic background, Harlon brings a meticulous and informed perspective to his work, ensuring content accuracy and excellence.

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