On Tom Lehrer, one of the most influential people in comedy who abruptly stepped away from the spotlight:
He began performing internationally in 1959, when the Palace Theatre in London asked him to perform the first two Sundays in May. “In England in 1959, you couldn’t put on a play, [on Sunday] so the theaters were closed,” Robinson recalled. “But you could put on a concert.”
Lehrer filled the 1,400-seat theater both weekends and was a big enough hit that they kept him on through the end of May, after which he booked several more performances throughout England in June and early July.
Yet despite his enormous success, global popularity, and the release of his second album, More Songs by Tom Lehrer that year, it was exactly at this time that Lehrer first told Robinson he wanted to stop performing. Lehrer has told friends and various interviewers that he didn’t enjoy “anonymous affection.” And while his work was widely enjoyed at the time, it was also something of a scandal — the clever songs about math and language were for everyone, but Lehrer’s clear-eyed contemplation of nuclear apocalypse was straightforwardly disturbing.