Lehrer's deft skewering of the idea of a week established to promote unity in a country where the KKK was still lynching people was decades ahead of its time
In 1934, the National Conference for Christians and Jews – a real organization founded in 1927 and dedicated to “bringing diverse people together to address interfaith divisions – came up with the idea for National Brotherhood Week.
In an official declaration proclaiming “Brotherhood Week,” President Franklin Delano Roosevelt wrote “We are fighting for the right of men to live together as members of one family rather than as masters and slaves. We are fighting that the spirit of brotherhood which we prize in this country may be practiced here and by free men everywhere.”
This all brings us to Tom Lehrer. Lehrer was (and is) a prodigiously talented piano player who, for a time, was active in bringing some of the most biting and hilarious satire songs to pop music in the 1950s and ’60s. (He retired from music to concentrate on teaching advanced mathematics and has since given away the master recordings to his music.)
Lehrer recorded a song called “National Brotherhood Week” that is perhaps one of the most lacerating and hilariously trenchant pieces of musical satire ever, and we’re delighted to share every minute of its un-P.C. joy with you.
Lehrer’s deft skewering of the idea of a week established to promote unity in a country where the KKK was still lynching people was decades ahead of its time and earned him as many detractors as it did fans: In 1959, Time declared Lehrer – along with Lenny Bruce and Mort Stahl – as a “Sicknik,” accusing the groundbreaking comics of peddling “social criticism liberally laced with cyanide a Charles Addams kind of jolly ghoulishness [and] a personal and highly disturbing hostility toward all the world.”
Lehrer – who among his many other accomplishments, also is occasionally credited with having invented the Jell-O shot – stopped performing in the U.S. in 1960. He became a popular teacher of musical theater and mathematics at UC Santa Cruz and was loath to talk about his career.
“Things I once thought were funny are scary now,” he told PEOPLE in 1982. “I often feel like a resident of Pompeii who has been asked for some humorous comments on lava.”