A promotional poster for the Sandow Trocadero Vaudevilles (1894), showing dancers, clowns, trapeze artists, costumed dog, singers and costumed actors
Vaudeville (l/; French: [vodvil]) is a theatricalgenre of variety entertainment born in France at the end of the 18th century. A vaudeville was originally a comedy without psychological or moral intentions, based on a comical situation: a kind of dramatic composition or light poetry, interspersed with songs or ballets. It became popular in the United States and Canada from the early 1880s until the early 1930s, but the idea of vaudeville's theatre changed radically from its French antecedent.
The origin of the term is obscure, but is often explained as being derived from the French expression voix de ville ("voice of the city"). A second speculation is that it comes from the 15th-century songs on satire by poet Olivier Basselin, "Vaux de Vire". In his Connections television series, science historian James Burke argues that the term is a corruption of the French "Vau de Vire" ("Vire River Valley", in English), an area known for its bawdy drinking songs and where Basselin lived; Jean le Houx circa 1610 collected these works as
Le Livre des Chants nouveaux de Vaudevire [fr], which is probably the direct origin of the word. Some, however, preferred the earlier term "variety" to what manager Tony Pastor called its "sissy and Frenchified" successor. Thus, vaudeville was marketed as "variety" well into the 20th century.