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The actual definition of burlesque is imitation, to parody, to make light of, to satirize.

The genre encompasses a wide variety of acts such as dancing girls, chanson singers, comedians and mimes, all performing to parody something topical. Although today burlesque is widely thought of as naked girls dancing that is not what it was originally about.

Burlesque developed in hand with vaudeville and first was a showcase for comics or dry wits to lampoon the upper classes. The Gay Nineties (1890-1900) were a time of quick riches, and this wealth was concentrated in New York City and Boston. The opera, the ballet and anything having to do with Shakespeare were favourite targets of the comics.

Four things defined burlesque from vaudeville and the almost dead minstrel show.

First were minimal costumes on the female form. Though eventually this developed into a full fledge striptease, early on it could be a dress that was merely "form fitting." It was the costume that was important not the end result of taking it off. Performers often staged lavish productions.

For example vaudevillian George Burns said of performer Sally Rand who did a fan dance. He said she wore a flesh colored skin tight costume and moved her fans so fast that you went away satisfied, but later on you realized she never revealed anything.

Sexual Suggestion was the second aspect. Never overt sexual languages or gestures, everything was implied. Dancing was often choreographed to look as sexual as legally possible.

Third was comedy and it had to be fast and quick and had no storyline or plot from joke to joke.

Fourth was a short plot that bridged all the aspects of the show in a tidy package.

Below are some noted performers who work in burlesque, in parenthesis where else they became famous.
  1. Abbott & Costello (Films)
  2. Jack Albertson (TV)
  3. Robert Alda (Films)
  4. Fanny Brice (Radio)
  5. W.C. Fields (Films)
  6. Jackie Gleason (TV)
  7. Bert Lahr (Films)
  8. Gypsy Rose Lee
  9. Pinky Lee (Comedy Clubs)
  10. Phil Silvers (TV)
  11. Sally Rand
  12. Red Skelton (TV)
  13. Mae West (Films)

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