A Staff Report from the Straight Dope Science Advisory Board

What's the origin of the expression "peanut gallery"?

April 19, 1999

Dear Straight Dope:

In a recent conversation with a friend of mine we were joking around and a saying came up that almost everyone knows and uses. That saying being "No comment from the peanut gallery." I was wondering where exactly did that saying come from? And what was the purpose of using it?

The '"no comment" shtick is relatively recent, coming from standup comics' attempts to put down hecklers. The "peanut gallery" has been used for some time to imply "the cheap seats." Today, balcony and mezzanine seats often go for more than main floor seats at the rear of the auditorium, because of their superior view. However, before microphones and opera glasses were common, balcony seats were the worst in the theater. The audiences in the cheap seats, typically lower class than the orchestra section, were the rowdiest in the theater, and in late 19th century vaudeville, disapproving audiences did more than just heckle the performers. In addition to the clearest view of the stage, patrons in the upper levels also had the clearest shot, and a bad performer would often find himself showered from the upper deck with the most common theater snack of the time, peanuts sold by the concessionaires. Players soon learned to play to the peanut gallery at the top of the theater, lest they learn firsthand where the name came from. Later on, the name was popularized by Buffalo Bob Smith, who chose to call his Howdy Doody audience the Peanut Gallery, presumably to emphasize the audience's cuteness, rather than their propensity to throw stuff at him. When I go to comedy clubs nowadays, I prefer to sit in the Guacamole Gallery. Standup comics, be warned.

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