Vaudeville Tries to Save Itself Like Print Journalism is Trying to Save Itself

Originally published on McSweeney’s Internet Tendency

Look here boys, we’re in a real sticky situation. It’s been deader than a morgue out there for months, and we all know the reason why: we’re losing our audience to moving pictures. Seems like every week there’s another new “theater” popping up, run by some unqualified, young backwater projectionist showing cheap, flickering rehashings of our bang-up work. It’s bleeding us dry boys, and it’s time we put an end to it. We need a few sly moves to get us outta this rotten pickle.

First, we gotta monetize more effectively. We can’t keep letting these camera crankers undersell us. So here’s what I’m thinkin’: we roll out a real top-notch freemium model. Any Tom, Dick, or Harry can come in to our theater for free and see up to ten minutes of our best songs, dances, and comedy. Then as soon as ten minutes hits—blam-o! We make ‘em pay us a buck fifty per month for unlimited access to all our shows. Since they loved the first ten minutes so much, they’ll cough up the ducats before you can say “Bob’s your Uncle’s reliable auto-renewing revenue stream.”

Second, we gotta strike back against these sticky-fingered cinemagraphic highwaymen. Just last week I heard a whole trolley car yammerin’ on about some knockout picture called Gardener Gets Sprayed By a Hose. You and I both know that was a clear and shameless repackaging of Chesterfield and Lewis’ classic bit The Mayor and The Gardener. I says we post up a big ol’ sign outside the theater titled TERMS OF USE, and on that sign we tell everybody that as soon as you stick your hairy toe in our theater, you can’t re-perform any of our bits, or even reference them in any context outside the theater without our approval. It’s a sure-fire way to make sure our theater remains the go-to destination for high-end, original content.

And third, and this is the biggest thing, we gotta appeal to sesquicentennials. You know who I’m talkin’ about, these youngsters that have been coming of age in the 1910s and 1920s. They’re obsessed with what’s current and modern. They have at least one telephone in the home. They’re not afraid of bicycles. They want to see soft-shoe numbers now and they’re not gonna wait around for your traveling company to make it to their city. We gotta make more shortform, shareable content for these whippersnappers. It needs to be lightweight enough for them to easily share with their peers over telephone or during a quick soda. Let’s focus on visuals. More slapstick. More hoofing. More trained animals. Less monologizing. Nothing longer than a minute and a half. And let’s see some catchier titles up there.Marlowe and Davies’ Comedy Spectacle?” Come on, boys. How’s that gonna compete with something as clear and snappy as Train Arrives At Station? Make it so a sesquecentennial just needs tohear the name of your act to get excited.

Now, I see by your long mugs you think this is a raw deal. Some’a you’s are probably thinking you’d rather see vaudeville die than stoop to these levels. But lemme put it to you this way: either we get with the times, or we risk making these unqualified camera crankers the sole voice of comedy and entertainment in America. It gives me the heebie jeebies to imagine a world where my friends, neighbors, and family get their entertainment not from us, the guardians of thoughtful, innovative, dance, jokes, and trained mule acts, but from some Yahoo J. Celluloid who only wants to fill a few seats and make a quick buck.

So let’s turn it around tonight, boy-o’s. Let’s go out there and give ‘em a great show. Let’s pack the bill with shareable laughs, lightweight songs, and tastefully branded burlesque numbers. Let’s blow the roof of this place and get our audience so engaged they roll down the aisles and out into the streets to evangelize on behalf of our high-quality content!

Also, all the jugglers are fired.