Victor Borge A Classical Music Comedy Legend
If you’ve not discovered him before, here are some of his greatest momentsWith punchlines so predictable you can’t predict them, the Clown Prince of Denmark belonged more to the tradition of vaudeville and music hall than comedy
Victor Borge was a Danish-American conductor, comedian and pianist who rose to fame in the radio and television industry throughout America and Europe throughout his long-standing career as a performer.
He specialised in blending comedy with music in some exceptionally funny performances. His joking ways got him the titles of “The Clown Prince of Denmark” and “The Unmelancholy Dane” as well as “The Great Dane.”
More About Victor Borge
Victor Borge was born in 1909 in Denmark to musically talented parents, Borge was destined to become a great musician and performed from an early age. Both his parents were talented musicians, his father a violinist for the Royal Danish Orchestra and his mother a skilled pianist, they indoctrinated him into the musical arts from a young age.
At the age of just two Borge was tapping the ivories, learning his craft as a musician. At the age of eight, he gave his first piano recital and later in 1918 was awarded a well-earned scholarship to the prestigious Royal Danish Academy of Music where he would go on to study under Olivo Krause.
In 1926, Borge played his first-ever concert at the Danish Odd Fellows Lodge which came as a great success to the young performer. A short time later, the comedy act which defined Borge as an artist came into existence. The act was a combination of him playing the piano and cracking jokes. This may seem like a simple act, but it was the dry humour, witticism and skilful piano playing which brought him fame and fortune.
After marrying an American he moved to America, struggling at first due to him not speaking a word of English, Borge adapted his performances to suit the tastes of his American audience. As a way of learning English Borge started watching English speaking movies and was soon speaking the local lingo without much difficulty.
Borges performances brought him quickly into the American spotlight, winning him Best New Radio Performer in 1942. Shortly after this he was drafted by the one and old Bing Crosby in the Kraft Music Hall programme as a performer. Later in his career he starred alongside the legendary Frank Sinatra in the film “Higher and Higher.”
Borges signature performances were “Phonetic Punctuation” and “Inflationary Language” in which Borges spends his time playing musical ditties whilst comedically messing around with the language used in the songs.
Comedy gold: The Best of Victor Borge
The set-up: It’s hard to imagine that there was ever a time when comedian and pianist Victor Borge was the next big thing. That time did exist, however. Perhaps it was in 1942 when the American media crowned him best new radio performer of the year, just two years after fleeing Denmark with no money and unable to speak a word of English. Or it might have been in the 1930s, when he delighted crowds all over Europe with his lampoons of Adolf Hitler and the Nazis. It might even have been in the 1920s, when he was still a teenager called Børge Rosenbaum, the scion of a famous musical family in Copenhagen and one of Denmark’s brightest talents.
Because Borge’s performing years lasted all the way into his 90s, however, most of his fans could only ever see him as an avuncular, or even a grandfatherly figure. It was his style of comedy, too – dad jokes for the most part, proper groaners. He was like the silver patriarch at the head of the dinner table, always respected and in charge, but allowing the children little jabs of mockery. It’s also why he inspired such affection.
Classical music doesn’t loom as large in the culture now as it did during Borge’s career, which, of course, predates pop. Back then, a certain amount of awe was reserved for the men of genius in tailcoats, with their batons and pianos, and Borge had the talent to be one of them. All he lacked was the self-importance. The world needed – perhaps still needs – people to say, as he does introducing some Mozart: “This one’s called the Bagatelle, and it’s in the key of C. But who cares?”
Being driven across the ocean probably also helped him, not only because he arrived in the land of opportunity but also because it put a kind of classy distance between him and his new-world audience, heightening the effect of all his fooling. At times, like when he missed the piano stool, you could almost imagine he was as serious as he appeared to be, that maybe Danish people were just like that.
Funny how? Borge doesn’t seem to belong to the story of standup comedy, which played out during his career. If he belongs to a tradition, besides the classical one, it is probably music hall or vaudeville. He’s famous for his piano, of course, but he always performed a medley of novelty acts.
There was the verbal game-playing, as seen in Inflationary Language, where he’d increase by one all the “hidden numbers” in a passage of English. “You look twoderful threenight, but you have three of the saddest eyes I’ve ever seen,” and so on. There was the virtuoso slapstick, such as his routine with his son the page-turner and – most brilliantly – with another pianist when they attempt to play some Liszt (or “Fliszt” as Borge calls him) on the same piano. There’s the famous needling of latecomers, the prop gags – even, toward the end of this show, some real music played straight.
Running through everything was a Spike Milligan-like instinct for literal mindedness, and an outsider’s eye for the oddities of English. Some of his best punchlines, as a result, manage to be so extremely predictable that you somehow can’t predict them. “Would you like a picture?” he asks a photographer crouching in the stalls, upon which he pulls a snapshot from his pocket and hands it over. “I usually do not do request numbers,” he liked to say, “unless of course I have been asked to do so.”
When this show was recorded Borges was 81. He had an audience, you sense, who could recite it all and wanted as much Victor as he could give them. When at last he announces that he’ll perform Phonetic Punctuation as an encore, a cheer goes up like this is Beethoven’s 9th. “I invented it,” he says, “in 1936.” That’s an encore indeed.