Popular from the 1880s to the early 1930s, vaudeville was the first genre of theater to differentiate the American stage. Developed from minstrelsy (also known as blackface minstrelsy), vaudeville was a form of variety theater marked by physical comedy and lewd humor. White actors typically parodied Black Americans, depicting them as unintelligent and obscene.
When Black actors began to enter the American stage, they participated in—and subverted—vaudeville's demeaning traditions. As the form gained popularity, Black vaudevillians were among the most visible African American performers, and many saw themselves as uniquely situated to critique America's racist norms. Though segregated, the performances held different valences for Black audiences, making them meaningful to Black theatergoers even while they were still attended by and written for the entertainment of white audiences.