The famous piano-playing comedian Victor Borge was born on this day in 1909. Borge’s musical jokes and visual and aural gags have stood the test of time and are even inspiring the next generation of creative comedic musicians: the fact that his videos are still being discovered on Youtube by today’s millennials is a testament to the longevity and universality of his humour.
Victor Borge was born Børge Rosenbaum to Jewish parents in Copenhagen, Denmark. His father was a violist in the Royal Danish Orchestra and his mother was a pianist. Borge showed prodigious talent at the piano from a young age and was granted a full scholarship to the Royal Danish Academy of Music in 1918. He gave his début recital in 1926 and spent a few years as a classical concert pianist. But it wasn’t long before he began using the piano as a medium for stand-up comedy acts. After finding great success with his musical comedy acts, which even included Nazi jokes, Borge fled to the United States in 1940.
Borge arrived in the US with little-or-no English, yet within two years, he had won the Best New Radio Performer of the Year award and in the following decade, his one-man show was taking Broadway by storm. It was in 1953 that Borge began his Comedy in Music, a musical act that still stands as the longest-running one-man show in the history of theatre, running from 2 October 1953 until 21 January 1956. He also appeared on The Muppet Show, Sesame Street and had a cameo role in Martin Scorsese’s 1983 film The King of Comedy starring Robert di Niro.
Borge’s musical jokes included exaggerating musical phrasing marks, delaying expected cadences, interrupting his recital partner and muddling unconnected melodies together, for example, moving from Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata to Happy Birthday to You. Visual gags ranged from falling off his piano stool to switching places with his duo sidekick mid-piece to playing from upside-down sheet music.
He garnered huge popularity on television, radio and stage, performing until the age of 91. With the advent of the internet, he became known to new generations via youtube and has inspired similar on-stage antics by classical musicians.
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