The Yellow Kid on the Paper Stage
Introduction Origins of the Kid Class Warfare on the Urban Stage Race and Ethnicity Selling the Kid The Death of the Kid
"Why Should We Fear? Is Not Tammany Watching Over Us?"
"Accounted For."
Around the World with the Yellow Kid: Ireland
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Exploiting Race and Ethnicity

IRISH CARICATURES AND STEREOTYPES

Pat Rooney, Sr., a vintage vaudeville IrishmanThe minstrel show, which reached the height of popularity during 1850-70,1 caricatured a variety of ethnic types, including Germans, Irish, and blacks, but each ethnic group's popularity varied over the 1800s. During the 1840s the Irish were the favorite target, at least in the north, "principally because the Irish were a rapidly growing cheap labor force that drive wages down, but also because they were Catholics, who natives feared were Papal agents sent to corrupt the American democratic experiment."2 The typical minstrel show Irishman was a heavy-drinking brawler with a brogue accent, but by the 1850s more agreeable representations appeared, perhaps in part because of the popularity of romantic Irish songs.3 During the 1870s minstrel show entertainers Edward Harrigan and Tony Hart teamed up to portray Irish ethnic life in New York City: "the team won unprecedented success by weaving an intricate web of ethnic life and conflict with the Irish at the center and blacks, Germans, and Italians intertwined around them."4 The Irish continued to be portrayed in varying manners, usually enforcing stereotypes. For example, one vaudeville act set in Hell's Kitchen showed drinking during an Irish wake.5

Left, Hell's Kitchen; right, Irish comedians Levi and Cohen. From the LOC American Memory site.

Observer Douglas Dilbert noted that Irish acts predominated vaudeville as well, including one favorite of stag audiences during the 1870s-80s, "The Roving Irish Gents."6 But these were generally one act among several, because vaudeville had a kind of diversity of its own making. At Tony Pastor's 14th Street theater on October 24, 1881, eight acts appeared:

A Ella Wesner, who sang English music hall numbers with monologue interpolations. . . . the Leland Sisters in a duet; a singer of musical absurdities, Dan Collier; an Irish comic act consisting of songs, dances and 'bumps,' or hard falls, in which Mack sank a hatchet into Ferguson's skull, protected by a trick wig; Lillie Western's performances on concertina, banjo and xylophone successively and an acrobatic pantomime act in which Frank McNisk performed splits, rollovers and vaults with a chair, table and a broom."

Around the World with the Yellow Kid: IrelandBy 1896 there were seven vaudeville theaters in New York City, and by 1910, 31 populated the Big Apple.7 In 1897 Around the World with the Yellow Kid featured Ireland (February 14), showing readers plenty of green frocks, a snake strangling a man, and large crowd fighting in the background. The Irish had not beat the stereotypes that classified them yet.
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1 Barth, Gunther. City People: The Rise of Modern City Culture in Nineteenth-Century America . New York: Oxford University Press, 1980. 198.

2 Toll, Robert C. Blacking Up: The Minstrel Show in Nineteenth-Century America. London/Oxford/New York: Oxford University Press, 1974. 175.

3 Toll 176.

4 Toll 177.

4 "A Wake in "Hell's Kitchen." United States: American Mutoscope and Biograph Company, [1900?]. Library of Congress American Memory Web Site. 12 Jan. 2003 <http://memory.loc.gov>.

5 Gilbert, Douglas. American Vaudeville: Its Life and Times. New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1968 (1st ed. 1940). 62. "Irish acts predominated, blackface ran a close second, and Dutch, or German, dialect made an important third."

6 Barth 211.