"A smile is the shortest distance between two people."
Victor Borge was a man who combined two very distinctive forms of entertainment—classical piano music and Stand-Up Comedy
—into one amazing whole. He himself was an exceptionally talented pianist, but rolled along with general comedy and making fun of his own craft. He had his own show in the 50's and 60's, The Victor Borge Show
, that was largely a musical showcase but also demonstrate his deft comedic tone.
Among his most famous routines include "Phonetic Punctuation
," his battle with a soprano soloist
(where he was very particular about her not touching his piano
), working Happy Birthday
into other works, and entire sections where he would turn familiar jingles on their head
.Apart from his music
, he helped popularize the Cornish game hen
in the United States in The Sixties
He was born in Denmark and kept a thick accent his entire life, he became an American citizen just before World War II
as his wife was American (he also once publically denounced Hitler and it was simply safer for him and his family on the other side of the world - that and the fact that he was Jewish). He remained active in performing his entire life, including many shows in his home country of Denmark. He passed away in 2000 at the age of 91, but people are still rediscovering his routines today.
Borge and his work provide examples of:
- Bait-and-Switch Comment: one of his standby gags was to tell the audience that the Steinway people had asked him to announce that he was playing a Baldwin piano (or vice versa). He also front-loaded a ton of them into his Mozart opera sketch.
"Next, the chorus comes in, and no one knows why except Mozart. And he is dead."
"Then, the baritone comes in and sings, Toreador, en garde
. But he finds out that he is in the wrong opera
"Now, her father comes in, and he is the basso. And he is very angry because he has just found out that she is not his daughter
. Now that has nothing to do with the opera, I just found that out myself! And that's what we call 'research'."
- This wasn't limited to music-related humor. In one performance, Victor describes the wife of one of his brothers.
"She is very cute, his wife. She's typically Danish and (so is) her family. These strong-looking people, you know, pot-bellied and wispy-mustached. Even the men look funny in that family."
- Brick Joke: Often utilized whenever one page's worth of sheet music is either discarded or given to someone in the audience. Victor would play the first part of a familiar tune (such as the first three notes of Beethoven's Fifth), only to play the last note or two after either finding it on the floor or having it handed back to him.
- Brawn Hilda: In describing Mozart's The Magic Flute, Victor describes an operatic singer who "not only fills part of the soprano, she overflows it".
"Her measurements are 36-24-36, and her other arm is just as heavy. She stands about 4 1/2 feet tall—lying down."
- Broken Record: Demonstrated here, in which his page-turning assistant doesn't know when to turn the page.
- Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: As Victor describes the event of The Magic Flute, a tenor appears in a small forest, represented by two giant trees. After the tenor performs his song in the first scene, he hides behind one of the trees, never to be seen or heard from for the rest of the sketch.
- Fan Nickname: "The Clown Prince of Denmark", "The Great Dane"
- Getting Crap Past the Radar: "Why are there three pedals on this grand piano? Who do they think I am?"
- "If there are children in the audience, I cannot perform the second half in the nude. I'll wear a tie. The long one. The very long one."
- Literal-Minded: How does Victor handle following an opera singer performing "It's Now or Never"? Moving the piano, of course!
- Malaproper: He introduced the 'Cara Nome' aria from Rigoletto as "the 'Cockamamie' aria from Rigor Mortis, by... by.. by all means. That is, by Guisseppe Verdi. Joe Green to you."
- He also referred to Debussy's "Clair de Lune" as "Clear the Saloon".
- Victor would also refer to Franz Schubert's "Seranade" as "Sara Nude".
- Martial Arts and Crafts: The only way to explain his rendition of Hungarian Rhapsody #2 with a fellow pianist. This was faithfully recreated on The Muppet Show where he did the same thing with Rowlf, which is difficult enough with two humans.
- Obfuscating Stupidity: He often pretended that he didn't know how to play piano at the beginning of his concerts, and would complain that the stagehand didn't mark the Middle C key on his keyboard. But he was in fact a virtuoso pianist.
- During one bit, he started playing On The Beautiful Blue Danube, noticed something sounded more than a little off, started again ("That's what it says!"), then realized the sheet music was upside down.
- Piano Key Wave: He had a comedy bit where his piano sounds wrong... so he takes the row of keys out, flips them, and it sounds perfect.
- Pinball Scoring: "Inflationary Language", in which numeric-sounding words and syllables are incremented by one. As an example, if the line was originally written, "I ate a tenderloin with a fork", it would be reread as "I nined an elevenderloin with a fivek."
- Running Gag: sneaking "Happy Birthday" into various songs. Once did this as a full routine where he played it in the style of various composers.
- Sesame Street Cred: He advocated buckling your seat-belts when on the show... because you never know when you'll slide off your piano bench.
- Shown His Work: Nobody could poke fun at music like he did unless they knew as much about it as he did.
- He would also play a strange-sounding tune, stop after a few bars, and turn the sheet music upside down or sideways. As soon as he started again, the tune became instantly recognizable. His botched attempt was in fact what the tune would sound like if someone tried to play it with the sheet music turned about.
- Special Guest: Victor Borge has interacted with many performers, including a Musical Phonetic Punctuation piece with Dean Martin.
- Sublime Rhyme: Victor frequently did this whenever attempting to play from Dmitri Shostakovich's sheet music.
- Super OCD: In one bit he was trying to play "Camptown Races" but felt something was wrong with the piano. He got up from his bench and moved the entire piano about a foot and started playing the song correctly in a lower octave.
- Moving the piano over was a recurring gag for him.
- Take That: Victor was certainly no fan of contemporary composer Dmitri Shostakovich. Whenever the time came to perform Shostakovich, Victor would play random notes in a brash, chaotic manner.
Victor: We're gonna wait 'til he gets sober.
- Throw It In: During one performance (a concert in honour of his 80th birthday), violinist and friend Anton Kontra asked Borge to perform a piece (Monti's Czardas) together on the spot. Borge was familiar with the the piece but had never played it. He ended up improvising his part and his friend went along with it, ending up with this.
- Too Fast to Stop: Invoked when Victor slides from one end of the piano to the other. This always ends with him falling onto the floor.
- Viewers Are Geniuses The more you know about music, the funnier he is.
- Who Needs Their Whole Body?: Victor's physical description of Mozart.
"As you know, Mozart was only from here (bottom of the ribcage) up. Mozart was what we call a bust."