A Vaudeville was a French satirical poem or song in the 17th and 18th centuries. It was used a lot in French theatre where entertainments using such songs were called "comédie en vaudeville". Late in the 19th century, a type of variety show done in American theaters came to be called "vaudeville" which was popular from the early 1880s to the early 1930s. The typical American vaudeville performance was made up of a several different, unrelated performances which were grouped together into a single show. Entertainers typically traveled from town to town as arranged by a "vaudeville circuit". It became less popular after the rise of movies, cinema, and radio, which eventually took over as the main forms of public entertainment.
The earliest vaudeville was the vau de vire, a Norman song of the 15th century, named after the valley of Vire. During the 16th century a style grew in the towns in France called the voix de ville ( city voices), whose name may have been a pun on vau de vire. These were also satirical. The two styles came together and in the 17th and 18th century. The term 'vaudeville' came to be used for songs satirizing political and court events.
The comédie en vaudeville grew from the tradition of these simple songs. The Paris audiences in the late 17th and early 18th century enjoyed hearing the familiar vaudeville tunes to new words. These comedies then grew into opéra-comique.
- Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, Vaudeville.