The gentle charm and wit of Victor Borge
THEY say I'm one of a kind? If you've only got one, you can't have a kind. . . . ''What is the essence of true genius? Well, Einstein and I both have mustaches. . . .Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
''You've honestly no idea how I got into comedy? Well, that makes two of us. . . .''
The media minions are fumbling all over themselves trying to get straight answers from this elfin elder statesman of music and mirth. This preconcert news conference is, after all, kicking off the 75th year of a living legend - a weighty affair worthy of reverence and serious reflection.
But the birthday boy, in a pin-striped business-blue suit and polka-dot tie, the man who looks like Albert Einstein with a haircut and Jimmy Durante's nose, is not biting.
''This is all a lot of fun, but I've got to get back to work now,'' says Victor Borge, rising from his chair and making his way to an alcove where a statue has been removed from its pedestal. He mounts the pedestal and poses, with utmost seriousness in his eyes, as Napoleon, Michelangelo's David, Caesar. The cameras flash.
It is this impish sense of the absurd - a doting, undermined dignity topped with gentle charm and clean wit - that defines the Borge image. For 40 years he has performed around the globe in four languages. During that time he has been honored by the United States Congress and United Nations and been called ''the funniest man in the world'' by the New York Times.
Add to his humor a mastery of the piano refined over decades on stage, radio, TV, and in movies, and you have the Danish-born pianist/comedian/conductor's formula for four knighthoods and carte blanche invitations to any stage in the world.
This diamond-anniversary year he has accepted invitations to every region of the United States and will wind up with 12 performances at New York's Carnegie Hall in December. It is a year that will include many conducting dates with major US orchestras and opera companies, besides his standard ''Comedy in Music'' shtick developed 25 years ago on Broadway.
''I am (x h may I've conducted the major symphonies in the world. And they've asked me back again,'' he says the day after his press conference - between two concert dates in Boston. ''After rehearsals many times the musicians have applauded me,'' says the man who abandoned a career in classical piano because of stage fright. ''And I take great pride in that.''
Always wanting to be taken seriously as a musician as well as a comedian, Borge is also proud of his own concert-opera version of ''Carmen,'' which he will conduct at the Connecticut Opera in June.
He marked the actual beginning of his celebration year with a January command performance at Town Hall in Copenhagen, conducting Denmark's Royal Philharmonic. Borge's father played violin for 35 years with that orchestra. (He remarks, ''His mother hardly recognized him when he came home.'')
After greeting his interviewer in a penthouse hotel suite overlooking the Boston Common, Borge settles down for a glance back over his long career. It is a career remarkably free of trauma and full of satisfaction, he says. At present , a nearly 200-appearance yearly schedule centers on life with his wife and five children in Greenwich, Conn.
''My format has always been the same,'' he says of the combination of sight gags, verbal quips, and musical satire now instantly recognizable by generations of followers. He has been criticized for only minimally altering his material over 40 years, but responds: ''How many times does an orchestra play Beethoven's Ninth, Fifth, or Sixth? . . . But people go back to hear it year in and year out.''