Stop being offended, start laughing, and do “The Vatican Rag”.

Current Events

Fair to say that we have forgotten how to laugh. Be it the corporate world or our personal lives, it has become difficult and, in some cases, impossible for us to laugh at ourselves, laugh about issues, and even make fun of those darkest moments if for no other reason than to give ourselves a break.

I’m reminded of that in noting the birthday of one Tom Lehrer. He turns 96 years of age on April 10, and for those who have never heard his name, you should take time to learn more about the brilliant, funny and often spot-on sarcastic musical wit of this American treasure.

I first heard Lehrer perform when his music was featured on the “Dr. Demento Show”, another true American treasure that was once a weekly radio show, (yes Virginia, there once was entertaining radio in our midst), featuring the oddball, demented and hysterically funny songs and famous comedy bits over the generations. I believe my first exposure to Lehrer was on that show and it came in the form of “National Brotherhood Week”.

Keep in mind Lehrer was performing and becoming a legend during the tumultuous era of the 60’s. Many things were simply left unsaid, and only then were the more brave taking those issues head-on and in public. From a comedy standpoint, one has to understand that Lenny Bruce was the pioneer who went unafraid into that dark night and, some would say, paid for it with his life.

“National Brotherhood Week” was a ripping take on race relations in America at the time. Lehrer used comedy, imagery, and more than a few brilliant sleight of innuendos to make his point. The song ruffled plenty of feathers and didn’t receive a lot of airplay at the time as some saw his lyrics as “subversive”, even insulting. Lehrer’s fame grew mostly from his live performances, and those who caught his act came away with more than a few smiles and a more refined understanding of what the issue was all about.

I was hooked. I then went looking for more of Lehrer’s work, and found myself with an LP, (that’s a record, for those of a tender age), featuring what was then considered a “greatest hits”. I still have a peach crate, (there’s another mention those of that certain era will grasp), of records in my garage, and I believe the Lehrer album is still in there.

I did everything I could to find more of his work. Remember, there was no internet back in those dank ages. I found more albums and become a devoted fan.

For me, Lehrer’s work is best captured in “The Vatican Rag”. As a child of 2 faiths, and having plenty of dogma stuffed into my cranium over the years, I couldn’t, and still cannot, stop laughing at the creative comedy used to describe something that still perplexes so many. The role of religion in our lives. For Lehrer, that means poking fun at the many changes the Catholic Church was undergoing during that time.

My Mom, God rest that lovely lady’s soul, was the religious standard in our home. I did everything I could to keep such music away from her, as I knew she would hear it, shake her head and say something like, “Oh, Edward, do you really have to listen to that stuff?” She would likely smile at the end of sentence. In retrospect, I should have played it for her. I’ll wager she would have smiled and laughed it off as nothing egregious.

Which takes us to the point. Lehrer’s lyrics were neither insulting nor meant to hurt. It was, and remains, brilliant sarcasm aimed at making us laugh at ourselves, to not take every little iota of life so desperately serious. To LIGHTEN UP.

Granted, there is a time and a place for everything. In our professional lives, we shouldn’t just bandy about such discussions that may honestly and, unintentionally, offend someone. As the professional comics at “Toast Boast Roast Comedy” would intone, you have to “know the room”. Proper comedy is not designed to damage. It is crafted to make us think, to have us look at life from a different perspective and understand that we need to laugh about such matters, and laugh at ourselves.

Don’t be so worried about laughing at difficult issues. Use it as a self-teaching tool to learn more about yourself and those around you. You’ll find that comedy opens more doors than it closes, and whether it be in a conference setting, a large event, or a small gathering of people, you would be surprised at how accepting most people are when those doors are opened.

So then, for those who know and those who should know about Tom Lehrer, kick back and enjoy “The Vatican Rag”. Then find more of his work on YouTube and other forms. I cannot recommend more that you take in the entire live Copenhagen performance that this bit was taken from. It’s there on YouTube for all to enjoy.

Then go find “National Brotherhood Week”, “The Masochism Tango”, “Poisoning Pigeons in the Park” and all of his brilliance. You’ll genuflect and thank me.

Hopefully, you will smile, take that smile with you, changing a few lives and opinions along the way.