What Is the Peanut Gallery? - Meaning & Origin

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  • 0:03 Vaudeville
  • 1:09 Origins of the Peanut Gallery
  • 2:40 Ignore the Peanut Gallery
  • 3:16 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Christina Boggs

Chrissy has taught secondary English and history and writes online curriculum. She has an M.S.Ed. in Social Studies Education.

Expert Contributor
Jenna Clayton

Jenna received her BA in English from Iowa State University in 2015, and she has taught at the secondary level for three years.

You've probably heard someone use the phrase, 'That's enough from the peanut gallery', but what exactly does that mean? This lesson explains the origins of the phrase 'peanut gallery' and how it's used in the English language.


Take a moment to think about the following forms of entertainment:

  • Circuses
  • Theatre
  • Concerts

Each type of entertainment offers the audience something different. At the circus, you might see clowns or acrobats or wild animal tamers. At a concert, you may see one or more musical acts. At the theatre, you're likely to see some sort of play or musical. Now think about what would happen if you rolled all three of these things into one… the end result would be a spectacular show with a little bit everything.

During the 1800s and early 1900s, vaudeville was the ultimate form of entertainment. Vaudeville shows combined the best elements of circuses, theatre, and concerts. Audiences were dazzled by upwards of 12 different acts all as part of the same show. Over the course of just a few hours, people would hold their breath as acrobats and contortionists defied gravity (and basic anatomy!). They'd laugh until they cried at slapstick comedy acts, and they'd clap and hum along to popular music of the day. Sounds pretty great, right?

Origins of the Peanut Gallery

Vaudeville got its start on the American frontier. At first, these acts were really only meant for the rough-and-tumble men of the West… the acts were way too scandalous for women and definitely not appropriate for children! By the late 1800s, vaudeville had transformed into a one-stop-shop for family entertainment. People from all walks of life flocked to towns and cities to be amazed and delighted.

In major cities, vaudeville theaters were massive buildings that could hold as much as 1,000 people. Just like at theater and concert venues today, the best seats were towards the front and cost the most money. The further away from the stage, the cheaper the tickets were. The cheapest seats in the theater were located along the top rows of the highest balconies. Today, people refer to it as the 'nose-bleed section'. In the 1800s, this area was called the peanut gallery.

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Additional Activities

Vaudeville and Peanut Gallery Writing Activity

Discussion Questions

For this activity, you will respond to the following discussion questions about vaudeville shows and the peanut gallery. To answer these questions thoroughly, you may need to conduct further research on these topics. For each question, write at least 2-3 complete sentences. Also, make sure to answer all parts of the question.

  1. How are vaudeville shows different than shows that people would see today? How are they similar? Explain.
  2. Do you think you would enjoy a vaudeville show? Why or why not?
  3. Although vaudeville shows were incredibly popular at one time, they eventually died out. Conduct some research and find out why these shows disappeared.
  4. How did the people sitting in the peanut gallery typically behave during a show? Do you think their behavior added to the overall experience of going to a show, or did they ruin the experience? Explain your answer.
  5. The phrase "peanut gallery" is now a popular English idiom. What is an idiom? Include at least two other examples of idioms in your response and explain what they mean.

A Possible Answer to Question #5:

An idiom is a well-known phrase or expression that has a figurative meaning. These phrases, which often don't make sense for non-native speakers, are not meant to be understood literally. For example, "knock on wood" is an idiom one uses when they wish to avoid bad luck. Also, when someone describes something as a "piece of cake," he or she is saying that something is easily accomplished.

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