On Victor Borge
February 18, 2008 2:39 AM   Subscribe

A world-class comedian, Victor Borge could please a crowd with his Phonetic Punctuation or Inflationary Language bits. But he was also a brilliant pianist, as showcased when he improvised an impressive encore to a piece he had only heard and never played before, much to his apparent delight. Still better was when he'd merge the two passions, like in Page-Turner or The Minute Waltz. He entertained for more than 75 years, performing up to 60 shows even at 90 years old. He died peacefully in 2000, just two days after performing a concert in Denmark, on the blue here, before dots were all the rage.

Thanks to an obscure link from jinjo the other day for turning me on to Mr. Borge.
posted by disillusioned (29 comments total) 34 users marked this as a favorite
I love Victor Borge. Many years ago, I was lucky enough to see him perform live in Baltimore. Being just a youngster at the time, I convinced my grandmother to take me to the concert. When it was over, she mentioned how disappointed she was, since she had expected to hear some nice music, but all Borge did, in her words, was "clown around." Ah, well.


...or should I say...

posted by Faint of Butt at 3:14 AM on February 18, 2008

My mom brought me to see Borge when I was a little too young for a concert. She explained "he's really very funny, you'll like him" before we went and as Victor entered the stage I burst out laughing as loud as I could before he had even done anything. I then looked at mom and said: "Meh, not that funny." and promptly fell asleep snuggles up in my seat. I was three years old.
posted by dabitch at 3:38 AM on February 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

I don't get how that inflationary language bit could possibly be translated successfully into German without becoming gibberish. There are subtitles along the bottom but I can't imagine the puns crossing the language barrier. How odd!
posted by RokkitNite at 4:01 AM on February 18, 2008

I've seen the punctuation stuff performed by Jerry Lewis and I thought he was the one who created this... Thanks a lot for this post.
posted by nicolin at 4:11 AM on February 18, 2008

RokkitNite: "I don't get how that inflationary language bit could possibly be translated successfully into German without becoming gibberish. There are subtitles along the bottom but I can't imagine the puns crossing the language barrier. How odd!"

It's Dutch, actually. I don't speak it, but since German is pretty closely related, I can guess at some of them: the examples at the beginning seem unrelated to the ones he chose in English, but later, for the story, the translation seems to follow the original, using similar plays on words if possible but dropping them if not. Any Dutch speakers, feel free to correct me.
posted by PontifexPrimus at 4:29 AM on February 18, 2008


So there.
posted by bwg at 5:28 AM on February 18, 2008

I saw him in Toronto at Roy Thompson Hall and he was lovely, including joking with a woman who got up to go to the bathroom (asking her where she was going, wondering why she hadn't gone before she left home and assuring her we'd all be happy to wait until she got back before he continued). Very funny and very talented and a nice-seeming guy to boot.
posted by biscotti at 5:46 AM on February 18, 2008

I took my husband and in-laws to see him in Virginia Beach at an outdoor amphitheater. Jets from the nearby Navy base kept flying over during the performance. He stopped a time or two because they were so low and so loud. At one point, another jet flew over and he stopped the song he was playing to play the Air Force theme song instead.
posted by onhazier at 5:54 AM on February 18, 2008 [2 favorites]

another of his great accomplishments!

posted by Postroad at 6:26 AM on February 18, 2008


Victor Borge was probably the first stand-up comic I loved... every once in a while I resolve to speak in phonetic punctuation, but I never get far :)
posted by Kattullus at 6:33 AM on February 18, 2008

Thanks for this. Always loved him.
posted by The Deej at 6:55 AM on February 18, 2008

Loved the improv encore. Amazing!
posted by LordSludge at 7:07 AM on February 18, 2008

Didn't he used to have a schtick where he'd repeatedly fall off the piano bench, then finally find a seat belt attached to the bench, and buckle up? Man I loved that old loon.
posted by A dead Quaker at 8:12 AM on February 18, 2008

Falling off the bench was always part of his act, and the seatbelt came from inside the bench (stand up, lift the lid, pull out the seatbelt, close the lid, sit back down, buckle up). It was a great piece of business. Later in life, he used this bit:

Borge: Unfortunately, due to my age, my doctors tell me I can't fall off the piano bench anymore.
Audience: Aaaaawww...
Borge: [Falls off bench]
posted by Faint of Butt at 8:19 AM on February 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

Hahaha yesssssssss.

The best part is I had no idea who Victor Borge was. I just vaguely remembered that such a sketch existed, and googled it. So I had to check out this post to see what I was talking about.

I've only gotten the encore one to load so far, but I'm liking it.
posted by jinjo at 8:31 AM on February 18, 2008

Oh, awesome. I spent time at work over Christmas bored out of my skull. I alleviated the boredom with Borge videos. We need more people doing highly intelligent, incredibly funny comedy like this.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 8:52 AM on February 18, 2008

I still keep a VCR just to play my husband's old Borge VHS tapes. I've also loved the Livejournal meme of referring to one's Friends List as a "flist".

You know, F. Liszt.
posted by annathea at 9:04 AM on February 18, 2008

posted by joelf at 10:33 AM on February 18, 2008

love him.
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:54 AM on February 18, 2008

Damn, I came across a video of one of his acts just yesterday and I was planning to rustle up a bunch more for a FPP in December on the anniversary of his death. Anyway, I love Mr. Borge. Great comedian, great musician, great person.
posted by flatluigi at 12:02 PM on February 18, 2008

The only times I'm not annoyed by PBS pledge drives are when they air the Borge specials (and they always seem to be hosted by Yitzhak Perlman). Other than inflationary language, my favorite bit is where he performs all the different voices typically heard in an opera.

Ha ha ha @ "flist" and "F. Liszt." That never occurred to me before. But now I'll smile fondly in memory of ol' Victor whenever I read "flist" on LJ.
posted by corianderstem at 12:03 PM on February 18, 2008

Good times all around. Reminds me in some ways as a better piano-playing-less-physicist Tom Leher, who also probably deserves a post on the Blue.
posted by disillusioned at 1:54 PM on February 18, 2008

After looking at some more of his works that I... err, "found recently", it seems to me that there's an undeniable connection between him and Hans Liberg. Somewhere between "rip-off" and "inspired by"... while there's some material that's definitely reworked stuff from Borge, he manages to put enough of his own, chaotic touch into it to make it original enough not to jar. After watching both musicians / comedians I would tentatively recommend Liberg to anyone who can appreciate the stylings of Borge and isn't too put off by a newer, more energetic and less tame twist on them.
posted by PontifexPrimus at 2:42 PM on February 18, 2008

I'm going to be honest, I couldn't stand him. Granted, I was in my early teens when he was in his heyday, which meant he was just this irritating old geezer with this odd shtick of almost playing the piano. I could never figure out what was supposed to be funny about that.

On second thought, I'm still wondering.
posted by Chasuk at 3:18 PM on February 18, 2008

posted by subgear at 4:25 PM on February 18, 2008

Love Victor Borge!
posted by ObscureReferenceMan at 6:12 PM on February 18, 2008

Thanks for this. I have a killer flu, and this made me laugh. Never heard of him before, he is great. Reminds me of Les Luthiers is my mother tongue.

I will have to quote him extensively and intensively on: It's your language, I'm just trying to use it...
posted by Dr. Curare at 3:01 AM on February 19, 2008

I see I'm not alone in being turned on to Borge's magical powers by my mom - she made us order a couple of his collections on VHS and I can't have thanked her enough.

'You do not touch my piano, and I do not touch your coloratura!'

I still say that at random to people. What a strange thing.

Thanks so, so much for this post; his improvised encore had me in tears.
posted by waxbanks at 1:25 PM on February 19, 2008

I still think my favorite bit of Victor Borge schtick was his playing the William Tell Overture upside-down.
posted by Spatch at 6:10 AM on February 20, 2008

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