Victor Borge: Style

It’s hard to know what Victor Borge might say about the well-known phrase “the show must go on.” A hallmark of his style is the show halting, inching forward and lurching into his wry jokes, veering off course, and in some ways never happening at all. He once told an audience that he was often asked to play a number...all the way through. Of course, the show was what happened when the ostensible show wasn’t happening at all--the interruptions, the feigned confusion and gaffes, were the heart of Borge’s style.

Borge was a musical comedian. His comedy was a sort of slapstick, with the piano and sheet music as props. His intent was to satirize everything about performance, which resulted in a sort of anti-concert. His inspiration seemed to be the endless possibilities for failure or embarrassment in a musical performance.

He would precede a musical number with a series of unrelated one-liners delivered in a clipped, nearly terse, dry voice. His eyes, naturally squinting and overwhelmed by his prominent nose, gave him a peeved visage that played only too well into this brand of humor. One way of delaying the playing of music was to pretend he’d lost his glasses. His feigned vexation including such quips as “I wonder why there are three pedals on this grand piano? Who do they think I am?” or asking the audience, as it applauds, “don’t you like good music? Why do you interrupt me all the time?” A staple was pretending that he’d been playing a tune with the sheet-music upside down, flipping it head to tail, then re-playing, with this new version being something instantly recognizable, such as “The William Tell Overture.”

But Borge was also a consummate lover of language and of all things aural. In his “Phonetic Punctuation” gag, he’d speak all the punctuation in a sentence (“comma,” “hyphen,” etc.) A variation on this has him assigning slightly rude mouth sounds to a period, question mark, etc., and interrupting a partner’s song with these.

He also waxed a bit racy in a gag in which he asked if there were children in the audience. Getting a “yes” in reply, he said “We do have some children in here, so I can’t do the second half in the nude. I’ll wear the tie. The long one. The very long one, yes.”

Both high-brow and accessible, dry and laugh-out-loud funny, Borge’s style was his alone.