Posted by R. Berg on January 02, 2001
In Reply to: Re: "Hard act to follow" posted by Bob on January 01, 2001
: : The Origins section has nothing for "hard act to follow." I've always assumed (no, of course an assumption is not evidence) that the phrase originated with vaudeville entertainers who competed for places on the bill of a variety show. They had a saying "Never follow an animal act." Acts featuring trained dogs, trained seals, and so forth were so appealing that the audience would experience whatever came next as anticlimactic.
: Agreed. You'd never want to be a standup comic and follow Steve Martin.
As an afterthought, I checked this phrase in Eric Partridge, "A Dictionary of Catch Phrases" (hey, you guys at the university HAVE this book, I hope). Partridge says: "Originally, and probably before 1920, referring to an outstandingly successful vaudeville act which might well cast a shade over the following act . . . ."