In contemporary usage, burlesque is a playfully nostalgic form of striptease — think fans and feather boas rather than explicit nudity — but this is just the latest form of an ironic style of entertainment dating back to medieval times.

Burlesque comes from burla, Spanish for "joke." Comedy has always been an essential part of burlesque art, but it's comedy of a particular kind. Burlesque is satirical, and it uses exaggeration that can be extreme. Early examples of burlesque in English literature can be found in the Canterbury Tales. By the eighteenth century, the word was used to describe often risqué parodies of serious operas or plays. Burlesque became associated with striptease in the music halls and vaudeville theaters of nineteenth-century America.

Definitions of burlesque

n a theatrical entertainment of broad and earthy humor; consists of comic skits and short turns (and sometimes striptease)

Type of:
a social event involving a public performance or entertainment

n a composition that imitates or misrepresents somebody's style, usually in a humorous way

charade, lampoon, mockery, parody, pasquinade, put-on, sendup, spoof, takeoff, travesty
Type of:
caricature, imitation, impersonation
a representation of a person that is exaggerated for comic effect

v make a parody of

parody, spoof
make a travesty of
Type of:
imitate with mockery and derision

adj relating to or characteristic of a burlesque

burlesque theater”

Sign up, it's free!

Whether you're a student, an educator, or a lifelong learner, Vocabulary.com can put you on the path to systematic vocabulary improvement.