Last night at the Kennedy Center, Victor Borge opened his hilarious monologue/concert -- or whatever it is that you call a Borge performance -- with an explanation of why he had chosen this time of year to come.
"Nobody is in town this month," he roared, even though the Concert Hall was filled nearly to capacity. "The president is gone. Congress is gone. And I am like Alexander Haig. I am in charge."
For two hours, the master comedian, now 76, managed to keep this kind of material flying with the deftness and rapid-fire velocity of a man half his age. A few times he did take mercy on us -- sitting down and playing the piano awhile so that the muscles of our faces, aching from laughter, could rest.
But the truth remains that at a Victor Borge event, the audience ends up seeming to work harder than Borge himself -- convulsed in gales of laughter from his wonderfully droll and civilized routines, delivered with Borge's positively Benny-esque timing (Borge might argue the contrary, that Benny was Borge-esque).
Delivery is the key to Borge. He doesn't try to stay topical like a Carson. A lot of the lines you may have heard him use time and again. For example, there was that routine about "Mozart being what we call a bust." Then Borge draws his arm across his chest to tell you he means bust in the sculptural sense.
Borge's reflexes are so precise, and his ear so fine, that he doesn't need new material to the extent most comedians do. Even when you already know what's coming, you still relish the way it comes. For instance, the famous routine on "The Invention of Phonetic Punctuation," in which he invents a guttural language for the punctuation in a book, was last night's encore. It was a virtuoso performance.
Fresh as it all is, though, there is a limit to how many gags it is fair for a critic to give away in a review. I'll stop here.
His straight music was mostly Viennese waltzes, with a particularly beautiful playing of Leopold Godowsky's enchanting "Alt Wien."
There are additional performances tonight and tomorrow night.