In the front row of Tuesday night’s WQXR Comedy Contest at Caroline’s on Broadway sat one of Victor Borge’s grandchildren. After the competition, full of slapstick, vaudeville and punchy one-liners, Anders Borge was confident his grandfather’s legacy was as strong as ever.
"It was a pleasure to see my grandfather’s memory celebrated,” said Borge, himself a pianist. “To take what he did in so many different directions, it reminds me of what such a great performer he was and reminds me of what such a great grandfather he was.”
Perhaps also fitting in the spirit of the elder Borge, whose “Comedy in Music” show was a Broadway smash in the 1950s, that it was musicianship winning out in the end.
The idea for a classical music-inspired comedy competition came from WQXR host Elliott Forrest, who organized the event and hosted the competition, which was presented as part of the New York Comedy Festival and recorded for several television broadcasts next month.
“We had a packed house with huge laughs and great talent,” said Forrest. “The celebrity judges were terrific. I’m looking forward to seeing it on TV.”
Making up that panel of celebrity judges were composer and parodist Peter Schickele of PDQ Bach fame, comedian Robert Klein, IMG Artists Chariman Charles Hamlen, and opera star Deborah Voigt, who’s currently starring in the Metropolitan Opera’s Ring cycle as Brünnhilde.
“That was a little nerve-racking,” soprano Sarah Worthington said about performing in front of Voigt, “especially having a Wagner joke in there.”
Indeed, plenty of the evening’s jokes were geared toward those with strong classical music knowledge, so much so that Magnus Martensson’s act includes air piano playing in which the audience has to guess the piece he’s pantomiming. (According to his website, Martensson accidently turned into a comedian/pianist during a concert at Victor Borge Hall.)
Worthington and her husband Nathan Carver, a graduate of Ringling Brothers Clown College and former clown in a Japanese circus, performed a goofy opera-and-musical-saw act with a Jimi Hendrix send up. Other acts included a dexterous recorder player, a stand-up violinist, a stand-up harpist and a pianist-magician.
Not every joke or act hit the right note, and some fell horribly flat, but when the audience liked what it saw, the applause was raucous.
And if you could see judge Schickele’s rapt face as Igor Lipinski played a Bach fugue while flawlessly performing a card trick, well, you already knew the winner. Lipinski, a concert pianist and accomplished stage magician, took home the trophy and a WQXR tote bag, of course.
The finalists were selected from 79 entrants from around the world.
The hour-long show, edited for TV, will air at midnight Dec. 8 (into Dec. 9) and at 5:30 p.m. Dec. 10 on WLIW21, and at 10:30 p.m. Dec. 9 on Thirteen WNET.
Below: Gabor Vosteen with just one of the many recorders he'd play -- at once