Before the TV-series Borgen, there was another popular Danish export: Victor Borge. If you’ve never heard of him, not to worry; even performer Rainer Hersch confesses to us that he didn’t either until Hersch started being called Borge’s heir by his reviewers.
Victor Borge was famous in Denmark before having fled the Nazis and moving to the United States. His comedic musical sketches made him a star, and many in the audience last night might well have been of the generation that would remember his hay-days. They would not have been disappointed with this superbly comical tribute show, which is so much more than just the churning out of old Borge sketches.
With just a microphone and piano, Rainer Hersch marvellously describes how his own work led to the journey of discovery of Victor Borge. Hersch opens the show with an accent – wait, is it his own or Borge’s? – this fleeting confusion for those unfamiliar with both Hersch and Borge is soon clarified and the performance continues with an enjoyable mixture of story and sketches.
The delight and humour with which Hersch narrates the story is infectious. Not that I’m a prude, but it was still a pleasure to discover comedy that didn’t revert to the banal: no swearing and no explicit material and still the audience were howling with laughter.
You don’t have to be a classical music connoisseur to get the jokes. The performance blurs the lines of classical music and stand-up comedy, finding the funny in the everyday. Borge was known for this, an example being a sketch in which he inserted phonetics in place of punctuation. When practised out loud, reading a paragraph would sound like a piece of music. Hersch’s take on this places misheard words in famous songs.
The men have a lot in common, but as Hersch says: “I’m no Victor Borge.” Perhaps they are simply two men in a very small genre. But as Borge’s one-man show is still in the Guiness Book of Records as the longest running on Broadway, it is, as they say, a tough act to follow. Hersch will be inevitably compared to him, but this may be a disservice since if he can leave the tribute show behind him, there may be a bigger audience for his own work. As gracious and skilled as Hersch was in conveying Borge’s jokes, there’s even more to this performer when he’s talking about his own experiences. So if the encore seems to be a bit indulgent, please let him. You will cry with laughter. In fact, four stars for the show and an extra one for the encore. Go and see it: you will have a wonderfully entertaining evening.