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Salient: An organ of student opinion at Victoria University, Wellington. Vol. 23, No. 3. Monday, April 11, 1960

Background To Lehrer

Background To Lehrer

A graduate of Harvard (M.A. in mathematics) Lehrer kept himself, and his friends, amused during undergraduate days by writing and singing grisly songs about sick people. This was developed into a night-club act. Then followed an L.P. of 12 of his comparatively innocuous songs. An example: "I hold your hand in mine"—a cute number about a guy who murdered his girl-friend, then chopped off her hand as a souvenir. Of course, the L.P. was an immediate success and is still selling well.

Seeks Apathy

From night club acts after lectures to touring artist was the next step. Lehrer has toured America and Great Britain. When questioned about his current tour to Australia and New Zealand he replied, "I hope I'm greeted with the same apathy I get in the States."

His act is a series of parodies on popular songs and folk ballads interspersed with Lehrerisms. His technique is to take a simple jingle or sweet tune, sing it straight for a line or two, then slice through it with satire.

Everywhere he has appeared he has been enthusiastically received, although his humour is trying for some. Most critics have only praise for Lehrer: "Cynic packs house," "Mr Macabre massacred them," "His weird wit brings the house down." But one has written: "Why do they laugh at the dumb Mr Lehrer . . . For those who have never heard of Belloc, Graham, Benchley, Thumber, Charles Adams I suppose Mr Lehrer will have to do."

No Money In Maths

Lehrer, when asked of the future, says: "I find the career of performing in public rather interesting—not so much in terms of audience response, since I don't get any particular pleasure out of singing the same idiotic songs night after night, but rather as regards the people I get to meet and the places I get to see (all expenses paid). Nevertheless I have no intention of continuing it indefinitely, but hope to go back to something a little more respectable (e.g., teaching mathematics) before long, with perhaps a little song-writing and recording on the side. The disheartening fact is that I can make so much more money with no intel-

lectual effort by performing than I could ever hope to make as a mathematician, despite recent increased national interest in mathematics, is what has kept me as an entertainer heretofore and is what will probably keep me at it for a while yet."