Saturday, March 01, 2003

Oh Well, I Used To Enjoy Him

Many of you are, I hope, familiar with the songs of Tom Lehrer: Poisoning Pigeons in the Park, The Masochism Tango, The Vatican Rag, Be Prepared! and many, many more back in the late Sixties and early Seventies. He went on to become a mathematics professor at the University of California and put his life as a performer behind him, nearly 40 years ago. He's worked hard to avoid the spotlight since, until a couple of years ago when he began to give interviews again.

Unfortunately, in one rather long interview with the Syndey (Australia) Morning Herald, he gives forth with some opinions that I, as a fan, wish I'd never seen:
"The real issues I don't think most people touch. The Clinton jokes are all about Monica Lewinsky and all that stuff and not about the important things, like the fact that he wouldn't ban landmines."

Telling sophisticated jokes about politics is something Lehrer believes works only in clubs such as the hungry i in San Francisco. Those clubs don't exist any more, nor, he reasons, do the audiences that once filled them.

"The people who go to comedy shows are kids that don't know anything, I think, and so you have to make jokes about your girlfriend or your family or that kind of thing only, make them as vulgar as possible...."

He says he couldn't do anything with the Israelis and the Palestinians "because I'm against everybody and I can't take a side". Nor can the man who found so many snappy couplets and delightful tunes in impending nuclear doom see any toe-tapping inspiration in September 11, the invasion of Iraq, or the thing he seems most keen to talk about the Columbia space shuttle explosion.

"They are calling it a disaster instead of a screw-up, which is all it was. They're calling these people heroes. The Columbia isn't a disaster. The disaster is that they're continuing this stupid program.

"One of the things I'm proudest of is, on my record That Was the Year that Was in 1965, I made a joke about spending $20 billion sending some clown to the moon.

"I was against the manned space program then and I'm even more against it now, that whole waste of money. And so, when seven people blow up or become confetti, then they've asked for it. They're volunteers, for one thing."
Not much else to say, I guess.

Thanks to Australian blogger Tim Blair for spotting this.

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