Tom Lehrer is Teaching Math and Doesn’t Want to Talk to You

Author(s): Francis Beckett

Tom Lehrer’s songs burst onto an unsuspecting world in the 1950s. Record companies wouldn’t touch them—they were either too controversial, or too vulgar.

So he made a record himself and sold discs to fellow students at Harvard, and eventually these samizdat recordings were taken up by the big record companies. Lehrer started to become famous.

“Mr. Lehrer's muse is not fettered by such inhibiting factors as taste," wrote The New York Times, and Lehrer insisted on putting the quote in big letters on his record sleeves.

But in 1960, Tom Lehrer gave up writing and performing. Later, he famously said that when Henry Kissinger got the Nobel Peace Prize it made satire redundant. But that is not why he stopped—Kissinger did not get the prize until 1973, by which time Lehrer had already retreated into as much obscurity as his fans allowed. The mystery remains, and this show tries to unravel it.

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