Victor Borge - Music for your Funny Bone (Reprise).

Robert's picture
Submitted by Robert on Wed, 2006-03-01 07:03

"The difference between a violin and a viola is that a viola burns longer" - Victor Borge.

The evening I spent captivated by Victor Borge, as he performed in front of a packed house in Hamilton's Founders Theatre, is one of the highlights of my life. At one point Victor attempted to play his finely polished Steinway but kept falling from his piano bench (Victor was 80-odd when I saw him). Exasperated, he opened the lid of the bench, pulled out a seat belt, and buckled himself in. Thus secured, he completed the excerpt by Brahms and then stood to accept the rapturous applause with a bow. As he bowed the little concert hall filled with laughter, for the piano bench was still attached to his backside.

For one-and-a-half magnificent hours, this Prince of comics made me laugh so much I was physically exhausted by the time he took his final bow. He accomplished this feat by combining physical and verbal comedy with a musical talent that has allowed him to excel as both a soloist and conductor. This is my tribute to the most hilarious, intelligent and gracious gent I have ever had the pleasure to see.

Victor was born Børge Rosenbaum, in Copenhagen in 1909. His father was a musician in the Royal Danish Chapel. Trained by the Royal Danish Academy of Music, Victor’s solo career as a pianist began in his mid-teens. Certainly, his musical talent was obvious but soon his talent for making people laugh began to shine through. Blending classical music and comedy, he became a wildly popular in Denmark. Victor debuted as a musician/comedian in 1930 and by 1933 had starred in four films.

Sadly, the drums of the Nazi war machine had begun to beat louder. Hitler had decided to annex tiny Denmark as a prelude to the invasion of Norway and Victor was at the top of the Nazi hit list. It seems that Hitler’s goons didn’t appreciate jokes like, “What is the difference between a dog and a Nazi? A Nazi lifts it’s arm.” Fortunately, Victor escaped Denmark ahead of Hitler’s scum. He fled to New York on the last ship to leave Northern Europe, the SS American Legion.

Now safe in America, Victor began to rebuild his career. His first step? Learn English! He must have been a quick study because he featured on Bing Crosby’s show a year later and became "the best new radio performer of the year" (according to the American press) in 1942.

A US citizen by 1948, he toured America with his one-man show “Comedy in Music” early in 1953. By October of that year, he had reached the Golden Theatre in New York and there he stayed, by popular demand, for 3-years! His 849 performances make his the longest running solo-act on Broadway—ever.

This act featured his most beloved comic invention: Phonetic punctuation, where Victor reads excerpts from various stories and indicates commas, full stops, and semi-colons with a wacky sound-effect code that includes spitting, hoicking and whistling noises. The night I saw Victor, he read from Lady Chatterley’s Lover and I laughed so hard I got stomach cramps.

After Broadway came many, many television and stage appearances. In between the stage and television, Victor also managed to write books. With Richard Sherman, he wrote My Favorite Intermissions (1971) and My Favorite Comedies in Music (1981). These introduce readers to the history of music as only Victor could. He also conducted Mozart's The Magic Flute for a number of leading orchestras, managing to incorporate comedy into them from time to time. Once (that I’ve heard of), Victor conducts the orchestra until the first violinist (the concertmaster) enters a passage one beat behind the rest of the musicians. Victor stops the music, and orders the musician to leave with him. When they get off stage, a shot is heard. Then Victor re-enters, dusts his hands, and commands the nervous violinists to move up one chair.

An avalanche of civic awards, and honors were bestowed on Victor, including knighthoods from five Scandinavian countries (Victor said that after five knights in a row he needed a weekend). But, I believe that his most treasured award was the laughter of his audiences. I base my conclusion on the fact that Victor kept performing until the ripe old age of 91. Sprightly unto the very end, the only concession he made to old age was to stop falling from his piano bench.

Ever alert to the audience he was quite prepared to mix and match his jokes to attain the maximum effect on the night. I’m sure he also used his status as a senior citizen to enhance the effect of the act where he plays a piece that sounds off. Peering, Mr. Magoo-like at the music-sheets, he turns them right-way up and resumes—flawlessly.

The world lost an amazing man when Victor died, peacefully, in his sleep, on December 23, 2000. My only consolation is that his musical and comic-legacy has been well preserved.

SOLOists, Victor’s soul beckons with an impish grin. Spend some time with him; I guarantee he will reward you with laughter.

(Author's Note: This article was originally published March 24, 2005 on the now deceased SOLOHQ website.)

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Thanks Robert. I'll be on

Lanza Morio's picture

Thanks Robert. I'll be on the lookout for a DVD of Vic's.

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