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Tom Lehrer

Biography

Satirist and mathematician most widely known for his humorous recordings from the 1950s and 1960s, especially The Components from 1959. He was a camper and counselor at Camp Androscoggin. He analyzed mathematics at Harvard University. He worked in the Country wide Security Company from 1955 to 1957. His main musical impact was musical theater, especially Let’s Encounter It by Cole Porter and Sylvia Good. His dad was a necktie producer. His family elevated him Jewish, but he announced himself to become an agnostic atheist down the road. His 1954 overall performance at a Boston nightclub garnered early acclaim from writer Isaac Asimov.

Quick Facts


Full Name Tom Lehrer
Date Of Birth April 9, 1928
Place Of Birth New York City, NY
Profession Songwriter
Education Harvard University, Horace Mann School
Nationality American
Awards Raven Award
Nominations Mastercard Best New Musical
Movies A Gathering of Eagles
TV Shows The Frost Report
Star Sign Aries

  • Facts
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#Fact
1Lecturer, University of Californa Santa Cruz [January 2004]
2Lehrer is a big fan of Stephen Sondheim, who he considers the greatest lyricist in the English language. They actually knew each other when they were children when they attended the same summer camp in 1937 through 1939, but did not meet again until 59 years later.
3Wrote ten songs for The Electric Company (1971) after a call from producer Naomi Foner because he was a Harvard classmate and good friend of the late Joe Raposo, the show's musical director for most of the time it was in production and its primary songwriter.
4Has been been erroneously reported as being dead so many times that he keeps a scrapbook of articles mentioning him as "the late Tom Lehrer".
5Three songs he wrote for the educational television show The Electric Company (1971) were made into animated shorts: "Silent E" "S-N (Snore, Sniff, and Sneeze)," and "L-Y," with orchestrations by Joe Raposo.
6Wrote and recorded several anti-war songs, including "Send the Marines", "So Long, Mom, I'm off to Drop the Bomb" and "We'll All Go Together When We Go."
7His songs served as the basis for the hit off-Broadway review "Tomfoolery" in 1981.
8Contributed songs to the now classic TV show That Was the Week That Was (1964) (NBC: 1963 - 1965), where he also served as an occasional performer. These songs made up the contents of his album "That Was the Year That Was" (Reprise: 1965). He also wrote ten songs and served as an occasional performer for the PBS children's show The Electric Company (1971) in the early 1970s.
9His three albums for Reprise/Warner Bros. records, "Songs by Tom Lehrer" (repackaged in 1990 as "Revisited"), "An Evening Wasted with Tom Lehrer", and "That Was the Year That Was" have remained in print continually and have continued to sell since they were released in the late 1950s and mid-1960s. It is Lehrer's quiet boast that these albums have actually sold better over the years since, than they did at the time of release.
10Hits include "The Masochism Tango" and "Poisoning Pigeons in the Park".
11He entered Harvard at age 15, having skipped several grades. Everyone applying for admission to Harvard was required to include an example of their written work. Lehrer submitted a long verse, in the style of William S. Gilbert & Arthur Sullivan, which concluded: "I will leave movie thrillers/And watch caterpillars/Get born and pupated and larva'd/And I'll work like a slave/And always behave/And maybe I'll get into Harva'd." The poem in its entirety appeared in "Scholastic Magazine" in 1943. It was Lehrer's first published work.
12Parents divorced when he was 14.
13Was influenced as a boy by the witty, rapid-fire singing style of Danny Kaye. This influence is most noticeable in Lehrer's songs "The Elements" and "Lobachevsky".
14His first public performance was in 1952 at a Boston nightclub called Alpini's Rendezvous in Kenmore Square, near Boston University.


Soundtrack

Soundtrack

TitleYearStatusCharacter
DRUNK STONED BRILLIANT DEAD: The Story of the National Lampoon2015Documentary performer: "Fight Fiercely, Harvard" / writer: "Fight Fiercely, Harvard"
The Big Bang Theory2010TV Series writer - 1 episode
TimeshiftTV Series documentary performer - 1 episode, 2008 writer - 1 episode, 2008
Flitter, Flutter-Thud2007Short performer: "Poisoning Pigeons in the Park" / writer: "Poisoning Pigeons in the Park"
NCISTV Series lyrics - 1 episode, 2007 performer - 1 episode, 2007
Gilmore Girls2006TV Series lyrics - 1 episode
A Gathering of Eagles1963lyrics: "The Sac Song" / music: "The Sac Song"

Music Department

Music Department

TitleYearStatusCharacter
Nova ScienceNow2006TV Series documentary music theme - 1 episode
Marty Back Together Again1974TV Series composer - 3 episodes

Composer

Composer

TitleYearStatusCharacter
The Electric Company1971TV Series
That Was the Week That Was1964TV Series

Self

Self

TitleYearStatusCharacter
The Electric Company's Greatest Hits & Bits2006TV Movie documentaryHimself (voice)
Hey, Mr. Producer! The Musical World of Cameron Mackintosh1998TV Special documentaryHimself
How to Prevent a Nuclear War1987Documentary shortHimself
Parkinson1980TV SeriesHimself
The Frost Report1966TV SeriesHimself
Today1966TV SeriesHimself
The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson1965TV SeriesHimself - Guest

Archive Footage

Archive Footage

TitleYearStatusCharacter
Make 'Em Laugh: The Funny Business of America2009TV Series documentaryHimself
Comedy Songs: The Pop Years2008TV Movie documentaryHimself
Heroes of Comedy2000TV Series documentary

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#Quote
1The whole idea that freedom of speech means you can say 'fuck' on television is an anathema to me. That's not what freedom of speech is about. It's about saying stuff. Now that you can say anything, why don't you? But they don't.
2[on performing for royalty] There was a line for the Queen to come round and shake everyone's hand. She wore gloves, of course - you never know where these actors have been. She came around, 'Nice to see you, thank you for coming'. And Prince Philip also shakes your hand, at a discreet distance of course from the Queen. And he said 'Poisoning Pigeons in the Park' gave us a lot of pleasure. We used to play that'. I asked Princess Margaret, 'What does Her Majesty think of the record?' And she said, 'Oh, she thinks it's horrid. She leaves the room when we put it on'.
3In the fifties, everybody agreed. Adlai Stevenson was good, lynching was bad. Life was much easier. Now [2000] you can make certain obvious jokes, but I can't think how you do a song. Monica Lewinsky is easy. I don't know how you make jokes about Sierra Leone, or Rwanda, or Ireland, or stuff that's really going on in the world.
4[on lyrics] I think the construction part, how to say it, the logical mind, the precision, is the same that's involved in math, and I guess in music too. It's gotta come out right. It's like a puzzle to write a song. The idea of fitting all the pieces so it exactly comes right, the right word at the end of the sentence, and the rhyme goes there and not there. The outrageousness gets you hooked, but then the perfected songcraft, the wedding of lyric to tune, and the fact that every line has some nice wordplay in it - never wastes a line. That keeps you coming back.
5The first thing is to get the idea for the song, then to get the title, or the ending or something. To begin a song is not hard, it's where you're going to end. You gotta have the joke at the end. So it was mainly getting the idea and deciding what form it would be in, a waltz or a tango, or whatever, and then plugging away at it.
6Life is like a sewer: what you get out of it depends on what you put into it.
7Plagiarise / Plagiarise / Let no-one else's work / Evade your eyes
8I went from adolescence to senility, trying to bypass maturity.
9Political satire became obsolete when they awarded Henry Kissinger the Nobel Peace Prize.
10Well, what I like to do on formal occasions like this is to take some of the various types of songs that we all know and presumably love and, as it were, to kick them when they're down. I find that if you take the various popular song forms to their logical extremes, you can arrive at almost anything from the ridiculous to the obscene or, as they say in New York, sophisticated.
11I know some people feel that marriage as an institution is dying out, but I disagree and the point was driven home to me rather forcefully not long ago by a letter I received which said: "Darling, I love you and I cannot live without you. Marry me, or I will kill myself". Well, I was a little disturbed at that until I took another look at the envelope and saw that it was addressed to 'occupant'.
12[on why he never married]: I have a notoriously short attention span. I can barely concentrate on (the 8-hour stage production) 'Nicholas Nickleby', let alone sustain a relationship.
13I did rather well myself this past Christmas. The nicest present I received was a gift certificate good in any hospital for a lobotomy. How thoughtful.
14I wish people who have trouble communicating would just shut up.
15[From interview with Barry Hansen, aka Dr. Demento, c. 1990s]: I never had the temperament of a performer. For example, I do not require anonymous affection, such as that manifested by the applause of large groups of strangers. (I love it when they buy the records, however.) Moreover, I always considered myself a writer rather than a performer. I didn't relish the prospect of doing pretty much the same show night after night, any more than a novelist would enjoy reading his book aloud every night. I wanted to do the songs only until I was satisfied with the performance and then record them. I wanted the audience to leave thinking "Weren't those songs funny?", whereas most, if not all, comedians want them to leave thinking "Wasn't he (or she) funny?" As for stopping writing, it used to be that if an idea came to me, I'd write, and if it didn't, I wouldn't -- and, gradually, the second condition prevailed over the first. I didn't regard it as a problem. Occasionally people ask, "If you enjoyed it" (and I did) "why don't you do it again?" I reply, "I enjoyed high school, but I certainly wouldn't want to do that again".
16The nature of forbidden words has certainly changed. For example, when I was in college, there were certain words you couldn't say in front of a girl. Now you can say them, but you can't say "girl".
17I've occasionally heard that I was kicked out [of Harvard] for being a Communist, for dealing drugs, for corrupting minors, or for diverse other infractions of local decorum. Unfortunately, none of these rumours are true. The one I've heard more often is that I am dead. That one I encouraged, hoping it would cut down on the junk mail. It didn't.
18Irreverence is easy - what's hard is wit.
19I have always found it interesting... that there are people who regard copyright infringement as a form of flattery.
20It is a sobering thought that when Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was my age, he had been dead for two years.


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