Posted by ESC on January 05, 2001
In Reply to: Re: "Hard act to follow" posted by R. Berg on January 02, 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 . . . ."
This reminds me of a story. I want to state up front that Jerry Lee Lewis denies that any of this happened. Anyway, the story goes that Jerry Lee was angry because he had to go on before Chuck Berry. Mr. Lewis felt that HE was the star and should go last. He gave his usual smashing performance then poured lighter fluid on the piano and set it on fire. Jerry Lee left the stage saying, "Let that (expletive deleted) try and top that."