Fran Lebowitz is coming to town

Cybele Malinowski

Fran Lebowitz

When I speak to die-hard New Yorker Fran Lebowitz, she is in San Francisco, having previously been in Berkeley, supposed to go to Palm Springs for its Book Festival, canceled due to Covid, moving on to Salt Lake City, and beyond...tour dates are here.

Lebowitz is a public intellectual, a cultural commentator, a pop culture pundit, and a very loquacious lesbian. I mean, people pay to watch her talk. What is that?

Well, what that is, is: A woman whose delivery is dryer than a dry martini in the Atacama Desert; a woman who, in a digital world populated by an infinite number of influencers, talking heads, and scripted video idiots reads books and has thoughts and opinions on everything; a woman who will always choose the analog over the digital (that iPhone software download you're about to accept is capitalism and it is nefarious). I was told to call Lebowitz in her hotel room on her landline. In a harbinger interview (and who can say she was wrong?), check out her early disgust for digital watches here. Here's our conversation.

You are a metropolitan sophisticate, and I see you gigging at all these "smaller cities," you're headed to Scottsdale, how does it feel to go to these places, none of which are New York City? What do they do for you?

Fran Lebowitz: I go to them because I have speaking dates. You know, I don't go to them because I'm an anthropologist. I just spoke to someone from Bellingham, Washington, and to her, San Francisco is a big city. I mean, it's a city, but it's not that big.

Do you ever find these places give you a new outlook. Or you look back on New York in a different way with fresh eyes?

Lebowitz: No, actually, no, I never feel like, Why don't I live in Bellingham, Washington? I never feel that. I'm always happy to get back to New York.

OK, so how about LGBTQ people? Do you feel the word queer encompasses all of us? Are you for it or against it? And where do you stand on dismantling the gender binary?

Lebowitz: I know that lots of people become incredibly incensed over these things one way or the other. But, you know, people should be called whatever they want to be called. It doesn't matter to me one way or the other. When someone tells you something like this about themselves, they're telling you how they feel. So if someone tells me how they feel, I believe them—how would I know how they feel? I mean, if someone tells me they have a headache, I don't say, No, you don't. The thing that does bother me, is using the words 'they' to refer to a single person. This bothers me because the word 'they,' it means something else. You know, in English, it means more than one person. Not that anyone's going to do what I would like, but I would like people to come up with a different word. You know, I'm old enough to remember when people wanted to use the word Ms. instead of Miss or Mrs., and people went insane over this, 'You can't pronounce it. It's impossible.' Of course, now everyone uses it. But it didn't mean something else. Well, it meant manuscript. But not many people knew that. ... So I wish they would find a new singular and that would convey the same thing they're trying to convey, but didn't also mean something else. I have no expectation people will do this.

The AIDS epidemic, which saw a loss of life and so many smart people, a whole generation of gay men, many of whom were artists—you called them the "knowing audience," which I think is such a great phrase. And I feel that this group of people is is getting smaller and smaller—sophisticated people. Are we becoming more stupid?

Lebowitz: One thing you can always do in this country is rely on the stupidity of the population.

But not all Americans.

Lebowitz: Not all. But we know for a fact, at least half. And that's a lot.

Martin Scorsese Presents | Pretend It’s A City | Official Trailer |

OK, let's talk about lesbians. I know you identify as a lesbian. Why is it so hard to have a lesbian relationship?

Lebowitz: For me, it's not hard... I don't believe there's such a thing as a 'lesbian relationship' any more than there's such a thing as a straight relationship. It depends on the people. You know, I know that there are a lot of cliches about lesbians and in lots of ways they are true because that's where cliches come from. I have lived alone my entire life. And that is a tremendous accomplishment for a lesbian. So that, you know, I know this domestic life — I don't want to live with anyone and I never have. The 'no patience' I used to have I don't have anymore so, you know, if that's what you're looking for in life, I would be very bad at that, I've always said that I'm terrible girlfriend. I am a terrible girlfriend. You know, I never am faithful to people, I'm just not that kind of person. From the point of view of the majority of people, it's much easier now. I mean, first of all, when I was younger, it was against the law. You know, this is something people don't seem to know at all. It's not that they just don't remember it—they don't even know that was the case. And certainly it's a lot easier now. Out of the many problems that lesbians have, the problem is that they're women.

Do you believe in astrology?

Lebowitz: No.

Then you wouldn't agree that you're a Scorpio.

Lebowitz: Oh I am a Scorpio. I know that because you can look it up in any newspaper article. I mean, you know, my birthday's October 27th and whenever people ask me, what my astrology sign or whatever it's called is, I always say Scorpio, and they always say I knew it. So, you know, obviously, whatever that is supposed to mean, it conforms to what people think about it. But I myself don't believe in it.

Why do you think feminism keeps failing?

Lebowitz: Because of men, I mean, it's pretty simple. By the way, there's been lots of progress. And I mean the difference between being, say, a girl when I was a girl and then being a girl now is immense in that it is a billion times better and it's probably the most tremendous progress you could imagine. For it to succeed what people mean is, when will the inequality between men and women be over? Never. That will never happen, Covid will be over before that happens. So that will never happen. People waiting for that? Take up another occupation. That will actually never happen. You know, it's much better. But it's never going to be good.

I really admire your friendship with Martin Scorsese. And I would like to call him a lesbro, I think there are straight guys that make excellent friends for lesbians. Why do you get on with him so well?

Lebowitz: I don't know the nature of my friendship with Marty, you know, the two things we did together, Pretend It's a City and Public Speaking, people ask about it a lot. I really don't know. Additionally, neither Marty nor I remember where we met, and we both agree that it must have been a party because where else would I have met him? I certainly didn't know Marty in the '70s so it must have been in the early '80s. I did notice, at a certain point, that whenever I would see Marty at a party, we would spend the whole night talking together. Strong friendships in a way have some of the better qualities of romance, which is: you don't really know why you like that person that much. It's some kind of chemical thing. I mean, I guess we really enjoy each other's company. I can give you a lot of reasons why it's really great to be friends with Marty. I don't think that really describes it. There's something like, really not discoverable about it.

Fran Lebowitz has had writer's block since the '90s but she's talking up a storm all across the country

I believe you've had writer's block since the 1990s. What's the trouble?

Lebowitz: If I knew, the books would be finished. So I can't answer this question, which is asked very frequently. And like anything else that's broken, if you knew, you'd fix it. So I don't know.

But you're a prolific public intellectual, and you were inspired by James Baldwin and the way he brought critical thinking into the public space with eloquence and a sense of profound (in)justice. What are your thoughts on what's happened here the past few years?

Lebowitz: Well, I mean, it certainly is not the worst time of American racism. We did have slavery in this country. So I mean, it is not the worst time, it's just that because of the Internet that people paid attention this last time around. In other words, like the murder of George Floyd, the murder of Black people by cops is every second in this country, it's all the time. But we didn't have movies of it before. It's something that I believe escaped the attention of most white people. But Black people know about it. ... This has always been the case in this country. ... It is the responsibility of all people to make it better but unfortunately ... half the country voted for Donald Trump [and] the appeal of Donald Trump as a politician, in my opinion, was racism pure and simple. This is an ongoing thing in this country. I know it exists in other countries, but this country is built on the crime of slavery. We live in a country where it is better to be racist than to call someone a racist.

Public Speaking - Conversation w/ Fran Lebowitz (HBO)

Do you think he's coming back, Donald Trump or are we done with him?

Lebowitz: I don't think he'll run again for office. I don't. But before the election of 2016, I spent the year prior to that election during the entire campaign going around the whole country, telling literally thousands of people 'He has zero chance of winning' because I believed that, so I was incredibly, horribly wrong. So, I don't think he's going to run again. And that is not my major concern. And by the way, if you hate Donald Trump and all that he stands for, he doesn't have to run again. He has invented this cult around him. Whoever runs as a Republican will be at least as bad as Donald Trump, even if it is not Donald Trump himself.

As we go through these events, as we get older, what can keep us positive and able to deal with life's losses?

Lebowitz: I'm not an expert on the subject. Of course, I have had many, many friends who died and my parents died and many other relatives died. But, you know, I've never missed anyone as much as I missed Toni Morrison. That is for sure. Not a day has gone by since Toni died that I don't think about her or she hasn't come up in some way.

What is one of the good things about being gay and getting older?

Lebowitz: Well, I actually think that not having children is great until you're old. I took care of both my parents and I always say to my friends, My problem is going to be that I do not have the wonderful, perfect daughter I was. So I think the time to have children is when you're older. Here's my dream: Someone knocks at my door. I open the door. There's a 30 year old standing there and I say, 'Who are you?' And they say, 'Hi, I'm your son. The lovely, winning cardiologist. I'm here to take care of you.' So this is the time have children, by the way, not when you're young and having fun and everything is at stake. I don't want to take care of them. I want them to take care of me.

Tickets to the Scottsdale event here.

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