His first public performance was in 1952 at a Boston nightclub called Alpini's Rendezvous in Kenmore Square, near Boston University.
Was influenced as a boy by the witty, rapid-fire singing style of Danny Kaye. This influence is most noticeable in Lehrer's songs "The Elements" and "Lobachevsky".
Parents divorced when he was 14.
He entered Harvard at age 15, having skipped several grades. Everyone applying for admission to Harvard was required to include an example of their written work. Lehrer submitted a long verse, in the style of W.S. Gilbert & Arthur Sullivan, which concluded: "I will leave movie thrillers/And watch caterpillars/Get born and pupated and larva'd/And I'll work like a slave/And always behave/And maybe I'll get into Harva'd." The poem in its entirety appeared in "Scholastic Magazine" in 1943. It was Lehrer's first published work.
Hits include "The Masochism Tango" and "Poisoning Pigeons in the Park".
His three albums for Reprise/Warner Bros. records, "Songs by Tom Lehrer" (repackaged in 1990 as "Revisited"), "An Evening Wasted with Tom Lehrer", and "That Was the Year That Was" have remained in print continually and have continued to sell since they were released in the late 1950s and mid-1960s. It is Lehrer's quiet boast that these albums have actually sold better over the years since, than they did at the time of release.
Contributed songs to the now classic TV show That Was the Week That Was (1964) (NBC: 1963 - 1965), where he also served as an occasional performer. These songs made up the contents of his album "That Was the Year That Was" (Reprise: 1965). He also wrote ten songs and served as an occasional performer for the PBS children's show The Electric Company (1971) in the early 1970s.
His songs served as the basis for the hit off-Broadway review "Tomfoolery" in 1981.
Wrote and recorded several anti-war songs, including "Send the Marines", "So Long, Mom, I'm off to Drop the Bomb" and "We'll All Go Together When We Go."
Three songs he wrote for the educational television show The Electric Company (1971) were made into animated shorts: "Silent E" "S-N (Snore, Sniff, and Sneeze)," and "L-Y," with orchestrations by Joe Raposo.
Has been been erroneously reported as being dead so many times that he keeps a scrapbook of articles mentioning him as "the late Tom Lehrer".
Wrote ten songs for The Electric Company (1971) after a call from producer Naomi Foner because he was a Harvard classmate and good friend of the late Joe Raposo, the show's musical director for most of the time it was in production and its primary songwriter.
Lehrer is a big fan of Stephen Sondheim, who he considers the greatest lyricist in the English language. They actually knew each other when they were children when they attended the same summer camp in 1937 through 1939, but did not meet again until 59 years later.
Lecturer, University of Californa Santa Cruz [January 2004]