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- Writing for Vaudeville - 10/95 -

And so on until the banana story is told, with Casey the hero and victim of each anecdote.

But an entertainer feels no necessity of making his entire offering of related anecdotes only. Some monologists open with a song because they want to get the audience into their atmosphere, and "with" them, before beginning their monologue. The song merely by its melody and rhythm helps to dim the vividness of impression left by the preceding act and gives the audience time to quiet down, serving to bridge the psychic chasm in the human mind that lies between the relinquishing of one impression and the reception of the next.

Or the monologist may have a good finishing song and knows that he can depend on it for an encore that will bring him back to tell more stories and sing another song. So he gives the orchestra leader the cue, the music starts and off he goes into his song.

Or he may have some clever little tricks that will win applause, or witty sayings that will raise a laugh, and give him a chance to interject into his offering assorted elements of appeal that will gain applause from different classes of people in his audience. Therefore, as his purpose is to entertain, he sings his song, performs his tricks, tells his witty sayings, or perhaps does an imitation or two, as suits his talent best. And a few end their acts with serious recitations of the heart-throb sort that bring lumps into kindly throats and leave an audience in the satisfied mood that always comes when a touch of pathos rounds off a hearty laugh.

But by adding to his monologue unrelated offerings the monologist becomes an "entertainer," an "impersonator," or whatever title best describes his act. If he stuck to his stories only and told them all on a single character, his offering would be a monologue in the sense that it observes the unity of character, but still it would not be a pure monologue in the vaudeville sense as we now may define it--though a pure monologue might form the major part of his "turn."


Having seen in what respects other single talking acts--the soliloquy, the "talking single" that has no unity of material, the disconnected string of stories, and the connected series of stories interspersed with songs--differ from the pure monologue, it will now be a much simpler task to make plain the elements that compose the real vaudeville monologue.

The real monologue possesses the following eight characteristics:

1. It is performed by one person. 2. It is humorous. 3. It possesses unity of character. 4. It is not combined with songs, tricks or any other entertainment form. 5. It takes from ten to fifteen minutes to deliver. 6. It is marked by compression. 7. It is distinguished by vividness. 8. It follows a definite form of construction.

Each of these eight characteristics has either been mentioned already or will be taken up in detail later, so now we can combine them into a single paragraphic definition:

The pure vaudeville monologue is a humorous talk spoken by one person, possesses unity of character, is not combined with any other entertainment form, is marked by compression, follows a definite form of construction and usually requires from ten to fifteen minutes for delivery.

It must be emphasized that because some single talking acts do not meet every one of the requirements is no reason for condemning them [1]. They may be as fine for entertainment purposes as the pure monologue, but we must have some standard by which to work and the only true standard of anything is its purest form. Therefore, let us now take up the several parts that make up the pure monologue as a whole, and later we shall consider the other monologue variations that are permissible and often desirable.

[1] Frank Fogarty, "The Dublin Minstrel," one of the most successful monologists in vaudeville, often opens with a song and usually ends his offering with a serious heart-throb recitation. By making use of the song and serious recitation Mr. Fogarty places his act in the "entertainer" class, but his talking material is, perhaps, the best example of the "gag"-anecdotal-monologue to be found in vaudeville.

Mr. Fogarty won The New York Morning Telegraph contest to determine the most popular performer in vaudeville in 1912, and was elected President of "The White Rats"--the vaudeville actors' protective Union--in 1914. [end footnote]

If you have not yet turned to the appendix and read Aaron Hoffman's "The German Senator" do so now. (See Appendix.) It will be referred to frequently to illustrate structural points.


1. Humor

All monologues, whether of the pure type or not, possess one element in common--humor. I have yet to hear of a monologist who did not at least try to be funny. But there are different types of monologic humor.

"Each eye," the Italians say, "forms its own beauty," so every nation, every section, and each individual forms its own humor to suit its own peculiar risibilities. Still, there are certain well-defined kinds of stories and classes of points in which we Americans find a certain delight.

What these are the reader knows as well as the writer and can decide for himself much better than I can define them for him. Therefore, I shall content myself with a mere mention of the basic technical elements that may be of suggestive help.

(a) _The Element of Incongruity_. "The essence of all humor," it has been said, "is incongruity," and in the monologue there is no one thing that brings better laugh-results than the incongruous. Note in the Appendix the closing point of "The German Senator." Could there be any more incongruous thing than wives forming a Union?

(b) _Surprise_. By surprise is meant leading the audience to believe the usual thing is going to happen, and "springing" the unusual--which in itself is often an incongruity, but not necessarily so.

(c) _Situation_. Both incongruity and surprise are part and parcel of the laughter of a situation. For instance; a meeting of two people, one of whom is anxious to avoid the other--a husband, for instance, creeping upstairs at three A. M. meeting his wife--or both anxious to avoid each other--wife was out, too, and husband overtakes wife creeping slowly up, doing her best not to awaken him, each supposing the other in bed and asleep. The laughter comes because of what is said at that particular moment in that particular situation--"and is due," Freud says, "to the release from seemingly unpleasant and inevitable consequences."

(d) _Pure Wit_. Wit exists for its own sake, it is detachable from its context, as for example:

And what a fine place they picked out for Liberty to stand. With Coney Island on one side and Blackwell's Island on the other. [1]

[1] The German Senator. See Appendix.

(e) _Character_. The laughable sayings that are the intense expression at the instant of the individuality of the person voicing them, is what is meant by the humor of character. For instance: the German Senator gets all "balled up" in his terribly long effort to make a "regular speech," and he ends:

We got to feel a feeling of patriotic symptoms--we got to feel patriotic symp--symps--you got to feel the patri--you can't help it, you got to feel it.

These five suggestions--all, in the last analysis, depending on the first, incongruity--may be of assistance to the novice in analyzing the elements of humor and framing his own efforts with intelligence and precision.

In considering the other elemental characteristics of the monologue, we must bear in mind that the emphasizing of humor is the monologue's chief reason for being.

2. Unity of Character

Unity of character does not mean unity of subject--note the variety of subjects treated in "The German Senator"--but, rather, the singleness of impression that a monologue gives of the "character" who delivers it, or is the hero of it.

The German Senator, himself, is a politician "spouting," in a perfectly illogical, broken-English stump speech, about the condition of the country and the reason why things are so bad. Never once do the various subjects stray far beyond their connection with the country's deplorable condition and always they come back to it. Furthermore, not one of the observations is about anything that a politician of his mental calibre would not make. Also the construction of every sentence is in character. This example is, of course, ideal, and the precision of its unity of character one of the great elements of a great monologue.

Next to humor, unity of character is the most important requirement of the monologue. Never choose a subject, or write a joke, that does not fit the character delivering the monologue. In other words, if you are writing a pure monologue, do not, just because it is humorous, drag in a gag [1] or a point [2] that is not in character or that does not fit the subject. Make every turn of phrase and every word fit not only the character but also the subject.

[1] A _gag_ is the vaudeville term for any joke or pun.

[2] A _point_ is the laugh-line of a gag, or the funny observation of a monologue.

Writing for Vaudeville - 10/95

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