Peanut Gallery

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A peanut gallery is an audience that heckles the performer. The term originated in the days of vaudeville (1880s) as a nickname for the cheapest (and ostensibly rowdiest) seats in the theater; the least expensive snack served at the theater would often be peanuts, which the patrons would sometimes throw at the performers on stage to show their disapproval.

The phrases ‘no comments from the peanut gallery’ or ‘quiet in the peanut gallery’ are extensions of the name. ‘Peanut gallery’ may also refer to a social network audience that passively observes a syndicated web feed.

In the late 1940s the ‘Howdy Doody’ show adopted the name to represent its audience of 40 children. During the overlapping Jim Crow era and in segregated parts of the United States, ‘nigger heaven’ was often used to refer to the balcony of a movie theater where black people would be forced to sit.

In Europe, the ‘claque’ at many opera houses and theaters were an organized group who would cheer performances hysterically or boo and cat-call, depending on the outcome of financial negotiations between their leader and the lead performers’ agents. Similar seats in British theaters are often called ‘the gods’ because of the seats’ higher elevation. Similar seats in Spanish and French theaters were called ‘el paraíso’ and ‘le paradis’ respectively (from which came the title of the movie ‘Les Enfants du Paradis’) because of the seats’ higher elevation. Another common name was ‘el gallinero’ and ‘le poulailler’ respectively (‘the henhouse’) because the population of the section was very noisy.

In the US and Canada, especially at sporting events and concerts, the more elevated seats are often referred to as ‘the nosebleeds,’ alluding to the altitude. In politics, it represents people in the visitor galleries heckling politicians and their guests on the legislative floor. The orange-colored seats in the upper decks of Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh were often referred to by local patrons as ‘Peanut Heaven.’ Similar to ‘peanut gallery,’ Brazilian football coach Luis Felipe Scolari called Palmeiras’ complaining audience that sat in the closest seats ‘Turma do Amendoim’ (‘Peanut gang’). The supporters accepted the nickname, and use it to date.

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