Yes, Helen Keller was in vaudeville, and, no, she didn’t do Helen Keller jokes. She and her teacher Annie Sullivan had done the Chautauqua lecture circuit for many years when a sudden crunch for cash made them finally accede to the vaudeville offers they’d been turning down since Keller had become famous. The act premiered at the New York Palace in February 1920 and was sufficiently successful to keep them on the road for a few years. Part of the act included fielding questions from the audience. Some of the questions were pre-prepared with equally canned answers, to wit:
Question: Can you feel moonshine?
Answer: No, but I can smell it.
Keller and Sullivan. Sullivan, I guess, was the “feeder”
The act sounds awfully close to a freak show routine, but then, isn’t it all a freak show? There’s an interesting article on the subject here.
To find out about the history of vaudeville, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold. And check out my new book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc