By Kaitlin Manry, Herald Writer
An 82-year-old man with a big accordion and a red sports coat stands in front of a couple hundred people.
“I can tell we’re going to have fun today,” he says with a wink.
“And I want to greet you musically with something like this,” he says, unwinding his accordion and starting to sing — smooth and jolly.
“This is a lovely way to spend a Sunday; can’t think of anything that I would rather do.”
The crowd roars with applause.
As he moves into his originals, “Walking in my Winter Underwear,” “Here Comes Ingabritt” and “Yingle Bells,” the applause turns to laughter.
Many sing along.
With 15 albums, two videos and 18 years on television, Stan Boreson is known throughout the Northwest as a legendary comedian who can’t stop singing.
Dubbed “the King of Scandinavian Humor,” the Everett native has performed twice for King Olav V of Norway, and at festivals and theaters throughout the world. He’s poked fun at his Norwegian roots during his six appearances on Garrison Keillor’s radio shows and has filmed television specials with other Seattle TV stars, including J.P. Patches, who is portrayed by Chris Wedes of Edmonds.
Generations of kids grew up watching Boreson crack jokes and sing silly songs with his accordion and a basset hound named No Mo Shun on KING-TV’s “King’s Klubhouse.” Now grown and gray-haired, they pack his concerts and pass his songs down to their grandchildren.
“He’s funny and he’s clean and he’s nice,” said lifelong fan Betty Flowe, 61, of Mount Vernon. “Everybody watches Stan Boreson.”
In November, he released his latest CD, “I Just Don’t Look Good Naked Anymore.” A music video for the title track includes footage of Boreson in the buff — except for a strategically placed accordion — and shots of him sizing himself up in the bathroom mirror, wearing only a bath towel.
“My arches fell and my chest went to hell,” he croons. “And my butt’s been dragging the floor. And I just don’t look good naked anymore.”
He is among the last in a long line of entertainers who won fame blending their European heritage with song, dialect and vaudeville, said Terje Leiren, chair of the department of Scandinavian studies at the University of Washington in Seattle. Leiren said Boreson’s humor can be “outdated” and “ethnically insensitive,” but it’s also important and a point of pride for Norwegian immigrants like Leiren.
“He’s a cultural icon,” Leiren said. “It’s part of Americana and it’s disappearing. Stan Boreson is one of the last of this sort of remnants of the European immigration to America and their assimilation process.”
Boreson is a celebrity, Leiren said.
But to most of Washington’s Scandinavian community, he’s just Stan: the funny guy with an accordion and a fake Norwegian accent.
“I’ve always known his name from when I first came to this country,” said Inger Saltonstall, a volunteer at Seattle’s Nordic Heritage Museum who emigrated from Norway in 1966. “His name is associated with the Scandinavian community, so he has a legacy there that I’m sure will linger on long after he stops performing.”
At first, he was bashful
Born to Norwegian immigrants in Everett’s General Hospital in 1925, Boreson grew up eating lefse and listening to his aunts and uncles converse in Norwegian. He never developed a taste for lutefisk, Norwegian-style dried codfish that has been preserved in lye.
When he was 12, his mother enrolled him in guitar lessons at Buell’s Music in downtown Everett. Too bashful to sing along with even basic chords, he quickly switched to accordion at the recommendation of his Norwegian instructor.
Every Thursday, he pulled the accordion — too heavy for him to carry — in a red wagon to Buell’s from his house in the 3300 block of Rockefeller Avenue.
Boreson began performing publicly on a dare.
His cousin translated into Norwegian the popular song “Oh Johnny Oh Johnny Oh!” It became “Oh Johan. Oh Johan. Oh!” Boreson sang it while playing the accordion in front of his Everett High School classmates at a pep assembly.
“I wasn’t nervous singing after that,” he said. “My mother used to sing a lot. It just kind of came along naturally when I got a little self-confidence.”
After graduating in 1944, Boreson tried to enlist in the Army, like his friends, but was rejected because of an arm injury that had kept him hospitalized for a year as a child.
Instead, he joined the USO.
Traveling through Italy, he sang from the backs of armored trucks and on makeshift stages with musical greats Arthur Tracy, Allan Jones and The Andrews Sisters. When the war ended, he spent six weeks in Casablanca, Morocco, then returned home and enrolled in Everett Junior College, now known as Everett Community College.
After two years, he transferred to the University of Washington. He majored in accounting and personnel management, but spent most of his free time with the school’s entertainers club.
In 1949, shortly after TV arrived in the Northwest, the program director for KING-TV went to the university searching for talent.
Boreson was offered a co-starring role with classmate Art Barduhn on a 15-minute program called “Campus Capers” that aired on Thursdays. He sang, played the accordion and occasionally interviewed visiting celebrities, including Hollywood actress Gloria Swanson.
Unlike today’s TV, there were no scripts in those days.
If the show was going well, the program director would hold up a sign encouraging Boreson to continue.
Soon Boreson and Barduhn were offered a 30-minute show called “Two B’s at the Keys.” The musicians performed Scandinavian comedy sketches and parodies, such as “Walking in my Winter Underwear” (sung to the tune of “Walking in a Winter Wonderland”). The show was popular with both Seattle’s large Scandinavian community and sponsors such as Clipper Oil and Associated Grocers.
In the mid-1950s, Boreson was chosen to star in “King’s Klubhouse.” For 12 years, he entertained kids by pronouncing words Norwegian-style — “just” became “yust” and “what” became “vhat.” A slew of sidekicks and alter egos in silly costumes helped keep kids laughing.
“The toughest part about the whole deal was I had to have a new joke every day,” Boreson tells the mostly gray-haired crowd at the Lincoln Theater in Mount Vernon. “So I’m going to sing you the song and tell you one of the jokes. Then you’ll know why I’m not on anymore. Here we go. Nostalgia time.
“Zero dachus, Mucho Crackus,” he sings.
That’s the secret password that we
Use down at the club, and
Zero dachus, Mucho Crackus
Means now you are a member of
King’s TV club with Stan …”
Grandparents tap their feet and sing along with every nonsensical word. Almost everyone in the audience is singing.
“All of us know the opening song,” said Gene Thorkildsen, 50, assistant manager at Scan Select Scandinavian Specialties in Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood. “It’s ingrained in your head. This guy came into your house every late afternoon. He was like your surrogate baby-sitter.”
Tested his jokes at home
“King’s Klubhouse” aired Monday through Friday, so Boreson would have to think up fresh jokes and story lines five days a week. He’d brainstorm as he drove home from work and often tried out his jokes on his kids, Ann and Stan Jr.
“He was always testing things out at home,” said Ann Boreson, 51, a Seattle-based freelance writer. “It seemed like when we were growing up if my mom didn’t have a baby-sitter she’d say, ‘Why don’t you take the kids down to the studio?’ So we spent a couple days a week down there, too, and that was really fun.”
Because she heard her dad’s jokes so frequently, Ann Boreson would often skip “King’s Klubhouse” and tune in to J.P. Patches on KIRO-TV instead. She regrets that now, because it was common in those days for TV stations to use the same tape over and over. Most “King’s Klubhouse” episodes are long gone.
In early December, she traveled with her parents to Mount Vernon to watch her dad perform.
“Nobody I know can remember that many jokes just one right after the other,” she said, as she sold her dad’s CDs after the show. “Sometimes people say, ‘He’s 82. Is he slowing down?’ I don’t think he’s slowing down too much. Most people retire, but he’d rather do this than anything. It’s who he is.”
After 12 years on the air, “King’s Klubhouse” was canceled. National programs and sitcoms were taking the place of local shows.
After that happened, Boreson and his wife, Barbara, formed a travel company. She still organizes and plans, and he entertains customers with jokes and songs on long bus trips.
They split their time between a home on Camano Island and a condo overlooking Warren G. Magnuson Park in Seattle. Stan Boreson still performs at festivals, birthday parties and charity events.
“People always ask me, ‘Is he as nice as he appears to be?’ ” Barbara Boreson said. “I’ll just tell you, he’s nicer. I’ve never heard Stan say anything against anyone. He’s just one of the finest, nicest people that you could ever wish to know. … It makes you proud to be married to someone who is like Stan.”
No signs of stopping
As Boreson’s hair changed from brown to gray and his face grew wrinkled, he kept singing.
In 2005, King Harald V gave him the St. Olav Medal of Honor, a high honor in Norway.
Earlier this year, Everett Community College honored Boreson with one of its first two Distinguished Alumni awards.
He still keeps a voice recorder in his car to capture bits of tunes he makes up as he drives. Most involve a drawn-out Norwegian accent, and many feature Boreson’s “Uncle Torvald.”
“The way I get around the idea I’m not making fun of the Scandinavians is by saying, ‘I’d like to sing you this song that my Uncle Torvald used to sing,’ ” said Boreson. “Then I’m not poking fun of anyone because I learned it from my Uncle Torvald. There is no Uncle Torvald. It’s just a good old Scandinavian name.”
Though Boreson is a first-generation American who isn’t fluent in Norwegian, few Scandinavians are offended by his jokes.
Most say his humor helped them laugh at themselves during the sometimes difficult transition to life in the Northwest.
“Scandinavians got teased a lot, and he kind of came on and made fun — and he made it OK,” said Susan Hammer, from behind the counter at Scandinavian Bakery in Seattle.
After an hour on stage, a 60-pound accordion strapped to his chest, Stan Boreson stops singing.
“I want to thank you so much for being a lovely audience,” he says. “You’ve been wonderful and you have a great, great merry Christmas and I’ll see you later.”
He moseys off the stage.
Boreson doesn’t know when he’ll retire. He’s planning a trip to Ireland next year with the travel company and has performances booked through the new year.
And so he sings on. Another day. Another show.
Another happy audience.
Reporter Kaitlin Manry: 425-339-3292 or firstname.lastname@example.org.