What is the Peanut Gallery and how it came into being? During the early ages when theatres were becoming famous and plays were being enjoyed by many, certain people criticized the actors and their plays. Such people used to acquire seats with a good vantage point. They would not only, get a good view of the stage but also, throw stuff & create a mess.
1. Meaning of Peanut Gallery
What is the Peanut Gallery? It refers to the seats in the topmost section of the theatre were where people with the intention of ruining the mood & play usually sat. These seats were cheaper than others. Hence, such nonsensical people found it easy to occupy. The occupants were noisy, rude, and disorderly. They became known to disturb the performance by shouting and slurring. (See Why is Shakespeare Called the Bard?)
2. Origin of Name
Peanuts were among the least expensive snack that was served at the theatres during the 19th century. So, to be more chaotic and cause further disturbance, the occupants of the balcony seats threw peanuts at the performers. That is how the gallery got its name. So, what is the Peanut Gallery? The Oxford English Dictionary states that the term peanut gallery was first recorded or mentioned in the early part of 1976, in Placerville.
3. Mentioned in Books
Stuart Berg Flexner, an author, editor, and lexicographer, states that the term peanut gallery originated in the United States. It referred to the back and cheap seats in the theater, which were mostly reserved for black people. He stated this fact in his book, Listening to America: An Illustrated History of Words and Phrases from Our Lively and Splendid Past. (See 10 Scientific Benefits of Reading Books)
4. Racial Slur
The term peanut gallery continued to be in use since it was first seen in a review of a vaudeville show published in the New Orleans Time, Picayune in the year 1867. However, unlike earlier times when it just meant cheap seats, this term is now included in the list of offensive sayings. Considering it originated because of the racism faced by the black people or the African-American patrons, it is now not in use.
5. Argument Against Racial Slur
The Online Etymology Dictionary is unsure as to whether the term peanut gallery was intentionally applied to black people in general during the vaudeville period. According to them, the term originated somewhere in 1874 with a non-racial meaning. Moreover, since the tickets for this gallery were cheaper than any other seats in the theater, they were also the first choice for poor people who could not afford the expensive ones. Hence, considering the term to be racist would be wrong.
It is more suitable to link this term to class, like the poor or middle class, and not to any community, color, or race. However, later on, the Peanut Gallery got affiliated with a kids’ show making it clear that the meaning of this term cannot be bad or acceptable. (See True History of Humpty Dumpty Rhyme)
6. The Kids’ Show
In the year 1947, the first among the children’s television shows named Howdy Doody Show started. The show was based on the entertaining kids who were sitting in bleachers on stage. The episodes used to begin with the kids singing the theme song of the show, which was It’s Howdy Doody Time. The reactions of the kids throughout the episode were recorded and later telecasted. (Also see Why do people binge-watch TV shows?)
The show had three characters:
- Buffalo Bob Smith, the host; used to refer to those kids as the peanut gallery.
- His sidekick named Howdy Doody, who was a marionette or a string puppet; and
- A clown named Clarabell. Buffalo Bob, the host,
7. Used As Inspiration
Now, that we know what is the Peanut Gallery, let us talk about its significance. The term was used by Charles Monroe Schulz, also known as Sparky who is an American cartoonist and comic creator. It is believed that he picked up the name of his comic from the term peanut gallery. Although, he initially chose the name Li’l Folks, since this name was already taken by some other comic, the United Features Syndicate decided that the term Peanuts would be chosen as the title for his comic.
8. Modern Use
A Brazilian professional football manager, Luiz Felipe Scolari introduced this term in Brazilian football. Palmeiras, a Sao Paolo-based Brazilian professional football club, was once playing a match under his guidance and the audience were sitting on the seats close to the ground. They were making too much noise. So, the coach Scolari named them Turma do Amendoim which means peanut gang. (Also see Stuck a feather in his hat and called it Macaroni Meaning)
In today’s world, what is the peanut gallery? The term may be used on social media platforms for naming chat rooms or websites where open comments from the public are welcomed on a particular topic.