Publication Date




Embargo Period


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Music (MM)


Musicology (Music)

Date of Defense


First Committee Member

Deborah Schwartz-Kates

Second Committee Member

David Ake

Third Committee Member

Santiago Rodriguez


Described as an “American pianist, musical humorist, and conductor of Danish birth,” Victor Borge (1909-2000) was a multitalented performer who combined musical virtuosity with sharp-witted humor. As welcome on stage at Carnegie Hall as on television with the Ed Sullivan Show, Borge charmed audiences around the world in a well-recognized career that lasted into his nineties. The key to his success lay in his synthesis of humor and music during his performances, often combining the two to create comical renditions of iconic works in the classical repertoire. In this way Borge navigated cultural tensions associated with the venerated status of classical music (or “art”) and created an entertaining experience that attracted both musical as well as non-musical audiences. In this thesis, I examine the performance practices of Victor Borge and his mediation of “art” and “entertainment” from two perspectives. The first approach contextualizes his career in the United States, examining how he established his career in different types of venues and challenged notions of cultural hierarchy with his unique performances. Drawing from the scholarship of Lawrence Levine and his seminal work, Highbrow/Lowbrow: The Emergence of Cultural Hierarchy in America, I use the terms “highbrow” and “lowbrow” to discuss Borge’s presence in the American public imagination and the significance of such distinctions. The second approach to the study of Borge’s performances is centered on an analysis of one of his most popular concerts captured on video, The Best of Victor Borge: Acts One & Two. Examining various methods for studying humor, I construct a model for the analysis of Borge’s work based on David Huron’s approach to studying humor in the compositions of Peter Schickele and the larger concept of Incongruity Theory as formulated by psychologist Jerry Suls. Through the process of contextualization and analysis, this thesis contributes to a more comprehensive understanding of Borge’s performances, ultimately drawing attention to the complex interplay between “art” and “entertainment” and the navigation of these boundaries.


Victor Borge; performance practice; musical humorist; humor; incongruity; cultural hierarchy