She Is Not Amused

Fran Lebowitz on Bears, Polar Fleece, People with Cell Phones, the Republican “Debates,” and Jail

She Is Not Amused
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Fran Lebowitz has been famous for her wit since 1974, when she began publishing essays on topics such as manners, mood rings, the role of amyl nitrate in nightclubs, science, children, pets, and (always) cigarettes. Her book Metropolitan Life starts with an account of her average day: “12:35 p.m.—The phone rings. I am not amused.” (The day ends: “4:50 a.m.—The sofa wins. Another victory for furniture.” The metropolis in question: New York—always, New York.) Lebowitz’s essays are conveniently collected in The Fran Lebowitz Reader, and you should also watch the Lebowitz documentary Public Speaking immediately.

This Friday, March 2, Fran Lebowitz speaks publicly with Dan Savage at Benaroya Hall—a ferociously hilarious prospect.

How are you today?

Compared to who?

There is one thing you should know before you take the stage with Dan Savage: He hates cigarettes.

Yes, well, this puts him in the vast majority of middle-class householders. I don’t expect to be able to smoke on the stage, so he has no concerns.

In Seattle, we have no subways, cabs drive excruciatingly slow, people are unfailingly polite, it’s really hard to find a good deli sandwich, and smoking is tantamount to murder.

This smoking thing—the suburbs have won. It’s a suburban idea, though this idea has extended all over the country, and not just this country.

Are you aware of polar fleece? We have a lot of that here.

I am aware of it, because certainly, you must be aware that the ideas of places like Seattle have spread. Okay? What’s wrong with New York is Seattle.

People here are very invested in snow sports…

Yes, I know, I saw the people who died the other day in an avalanche. This has not dissuaded them, apparently. This is not dangerous, but sitting next to someone in a bar who smokes is dangerous. So clearly, it’s not danger that people fear.

Do you have any comment on the virtues, or lack thereof, of hiking?

I actually hiked once, and it’s possible that it was the worst experience I ever had outdoors. And I was in Alaska—a very beautiful place. To me, it’s meaningless. I don’t see the point of it. It’s a hard—physically—thing. I found it hard. And when you get there, there’s nothing there, just more of what you passed. I like to walk—I walk around New York all the time. But of course, I’m going somewhere. And I’m passing through somewhere, you know? I cannot think of a more fruitless exercise [than hiking]. And in Alaska, there was the possibility of bears, which makes it even worse. I assume there’s not bears in Seattle. If there is, please don’t tell me. There probably won’t be any in the hotel.

Multiple choice: Romney, Paul, or Santorum?

Well, I would prefer that either Santorum or Ron Paul win the primary. I’m certain every Democrat would prefer that. I don’t actually expect it, and the reason I don’t expect it is because it’s so rare that anything I prefer happens.

Have you been watching the debates?

No. I mean, I’ve watched a couple minutes of a few of them, but I—I just—I don’t have the substance to sit through it. And they’re not debates. I would be happy if there was a debate—I would watch it if there was a debate—but this is not a debate. This is like, you know, an episode of Oprah Winfrey or something.

What, right now, is the biggest scourge in terms of manners?

Well, it seems to me, at least in New York, that every person on the street imagines themselves in a world of one, you know? They come toward you, they’re not looking for you, you’re supposed to go around them, because they, of course, they’re not looking. Because they’re looking at that little thing in their hand—whatever it is—the iPhone or the Blackberry, or whatever the thing is. And if you actually do bang into them, which you sometimes do deliberately, they seem startled. They act like they’re in their house.

What do you think of Dan Savage’s It Gets Better project?

I’ve always thought that in any given high school, there’s really only two people who are enjoying themselves. One is the guy from the football team, the other one’s his girlfriend, and these will be the people who have the worst adult lives. Go to your high school reunion. Go to your 20th high school reunion. It’s a very satisfying experience, no matter what high school is like for you. All adult life is better than high school.

It does get better.

Yes, for everybody.

Except the captain of the football team.

Yes, except for two people in every high school. For them it gets worse. A 30-year-old man wearing his high school sports shirt? There’s a sad man. And a deservedly sad man.

I have a couple of things that I never want to have happen to me—one is to be incarcerated, the other is to have back problems. Do you have a mental list of things you never want to have happen?

Well, being put in jail is number one through a hundred. When I was young, I used to go to these marches. Everybody was trying to get arrested—people wanted to get arrested. It was a status symbol to be arrested, and everybody would write on their hand in a ballpoint pen the phone number of the ACLU, which was supposed to get you out of jail. And the second the cops would appear, I would run. I would just take off. I have a terror of being in jail. The things—the weapons—that I use in my actual life would be insufficient in prison. No one would say, “Oh, stay away from her, she’s very sarcastic.” I can’t imagine how people could tolerate being in prison. I can’t tolerate a cross-country flight, which is the closest I want to get to being in prison.

But you must have to tolerate cross-country flights.

I do. I have to tolerate them, and that’s enough jail for me. Basically I just try not to jump up and kill someone. recommended

This interview has been condensed.


Comments (46) RSS

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Knat 1
I've never heard her speak, so based mostly on that image, I imagined her to sound like Jim Varney (example). I'm sure she would not be amused.
Posted by Knat on February 27, 2012 at 12:44 PM · Report this
camlux 2
Sarcasm is fresh and interesting for about, oh...10 seconds. It's a wonder she has garnered the attention she has since 1974. She is more caustic and bitter than witty. This show at Benaroya has all the hallmarks of being even more dull than the Starbucks Shareholders Meeting--a Benaroya event that I thought couldn't be topped for ennui.
Posted by camlux on February 27, 2012 at 2:31 PM · Report this
If you only ever read one humor book in your life, pick up "The Fran Lebowitz Reader". It is so amazingly funny -- I couldn't count the number of times I laughed out loud. And it's funny to re-read, as well. It's well worth it to get it out every few years and go back through it. Her wit is just about perfect. I can't think of a word I'd change. I would love to hear her in person -- I've heard her speak on television, of course, but I'd very much like to see/hear her live. What a sharp mind.
Posted by juleecm1 on February 27, 2012 at 2:34 PM · Report this
Bauhaus I 4
Metropolitan Life changed my life. It gave me a deep and abiding love of NYC through good times and bad, but it also showed me that you didn't have to be a Pollyanna to be fun and smart and likable. You know the saying on the cocktail napkin, right? "If you don't have anything nice to say, come sit by me."

You can be that person and still be a caring, giving, loving human being. You just reserve it for the right people and causes.

Love you, Ms. Fran.
Posted by Bauhaus I on February 27, 2012 at 2:48 PM · Report this
Estey 5
This is the best interview I've read in years. It's absolutely amazing. Thank you so much for doing this.
Posted by Estey on February 27, 2012 at 7:06 PM · Report this
Love her. I saw her on Letterman a while back and she completely won me over. So smart, funny. And she's right about hiking, unless it's relatively flat. I'm a marathon runner but damn, 3 miles uphill? Ugh.
Posted by SaraJean on February 27, 2012 at 7:07 PM · Report this
freesandbags 7
After readin' this interview I felt underdressed.
Posted by freesandbags on February 27, 2012 at 9:02 PM · Report this
Fran's interplay with Dan should be fun to watch--if I lived in the Seattle area, I'd definitely try to attend.

The fundamental thing they share is that they're lefties who like to laugh and poke fun at stick-up-their-ass types of any political persuasion. They put the lie to the right-wing lie that gay liberals march in politically correct lock-step.

Yes, Dan's with the stick-up-the-ass crowd on the topic of cigarettes but that's the exception rather the rule.
Posted by Functional Atheist on February 28, 2012 at 9:22 AM · Report this
This made me laugh.

"Yes, I know, I saw the people who died the other day in an avalanche. This has not dissuaded them, apparently. This is not dangerous, but sitting next to someone in a bar who smokes is dangerous. So clearly, it’s not danger that people fear."
Posted by smitty on February 28, 2012 at 10:26 AM · Report this
lambcannon 10
For myself, I am not against smoking in bars because of the danger. I grew tired of queens lighting one up, parking them in the ashtray, letting them burn down to the girly filter, then immediately lighting up another one.
Posted by lambcannon on February 28, 2012 at 10:48 AM · Report this
I enjoy a lot about Ms. Lebowitz and her writing, especially having lived for years in Manhattan. However, having watched a couple of beloved grandparents rot from the inside out and die prematurely because of their life-long smoking addictions, I find her dismissal of the real dangers of smoking to be completely self-serving.
Posted by Aidan Hadley on February 28, 2012 at 11:33 AM · Report this
Snow sports, like any sports, may result in injury. If you choose to do it, you have decided that the excitement is worth the risk.

Having some bridge-and-tunnel-people loathing nitwit light up beside you is like being seized bodily and plonked onto a tobaggan, and kicked down the slope.
Posted by uther on February 28, 2012 at 3:07 PM · Report this
Uther--you couldn't exist on the island of Manhattan if you think second hand smoke trumps the B&T crowd
Posted by Crepuscular on February 28, 2012 at 3:36 PM · Report this
You probably should have warned her- if she's staying anywhere near Capitol Hill, there's a good chance she'll have bears in her hotel... But luckily they're more into mauling each other, not her.
Posted by UNPAID COMMENTER on February 28, 2012 at 3:55 PM · Report this
This is what I want to be when I grow up. Although I'd like to look a bit less manish.
Posted by catballou on February 28, 2012 at 7:33 PM · Report this
New York snobbishness is funny? I really, really have never cared.
Posted by I have never cared on February 28, 2012 at 9:10 PM · Report this
I have a seat so close to the Benaroya stage I'll be able to detect if anyone's nostril hair situation is getting out of control. I wouldn't miss seeing Fran for the world, no matter how embarrassing it may be she has to come to the sticks like this.
Posted by gloomy gus on February 29, 2012 at 9:28 AM · Report this
Gloomy Gus, I didn't get quite such a good seat, but I'll be there too. FYI, Dan told me he would be wearing a ball gown with his feet bound. This should be a kick-ass evening.
Posted by SeattleKim on February 29, 2012 at 9:53 AM · Report this
@18, I'm looking forward to it very much. Two people not known for putting up with much bullshit.
Posted by gloomy gus on February 29, 2012 at 4:18 PM · Report this
I am not amused by Republicans, either.
Posted by auntie grizelda on February 29, 2012 at 6:00 PM · Report this
Will in Seattle 21
She's right about the football team captain and his girlfriend.
Posted by Will in Seattle on March 1, 2012 at 11:17 AM · Report this
Vince 22
I'd like to live with her. She sounds like the kind of roommate who always has good wine to share and a lot of weird friends with good drugs.
Posted by Vince on March 1, 2012 at 11:50 AM · Report this
Vince 23
I want to be her roommate. She sounds like she always has good wine to share and lot's of weird, smartass friends around with good drugs always done discreetly. We could hold mock weddings and riff on the children of socialites.
Posted by Vince on March 1, 2012 at 12:04 PM · Report this
Vince 24
Sorry, it didn't show up the first time.
Posted by Vince on March 1, 2012 at 12:04 PM · Report this
Great interview. "What’s wrong with New York is Seattle," FTW.
Posted by Tommy Smith on March 1, 2012 at 3:24 PM · Report this
Actually there was a bear roaming through Seattle a few years ago. He(she?) was spotted in Ballard and Magnolia:…
Posted by Chocoholic on March 1, 2012 at 6:59 PM · Report this
Un-condense the interview, willya? Her caustic, bitter wit is fabulous.
(To see the pointlessness of caustic bitterness without wit, look at comment #2.)
Posted by izzy on March 1, 2012 at 10:09 PM · Report this
Funny. I'd listen to her and Dan bitch, for sure.
Posted by aeros66 on March 2, 2012 at 12:22 PM · Report this
I've worked in bars and restaurants all my life, when the smoking thing came out it was originally spun as a way to protect bar employees. To which we all said, "WTF, so no coal mining since that's actually dangerous?" While I don't smoke I really don't care if others do. I will say that dry cleaning in Seattle is much more expensive than in NYC so its nice that all my clothes don't reek of ashtray after a night out. Bar owners in NYC have told me the ban is expensive since the bar gets noise complaints and fines because smoking drunks are forced out on the sidewalks. PS, here in Seattle the law says 25 feet from a door, which would basically mean you'd have to tread water in the Sound to not break that law. I'd empty ashtrays all evening to have these two sit and kvetch at my bar.
Posted by seattletexan on March 2, 2012 at 1:48 PM · Report this
Most provincial interview ever. Why is The Stranger hiring such a greenhorn? I am embarrassed for Seattle.
Posted by bothaus on March 2, 2012 at 5:47 PM · Report this
Isn't the captain of the HS football stereotype played out yet? The captain of the football team from my HS is a doctor. Sure, there are some clods whose best days were in HS, but just as often or moreso, HS athletes are well adjusted adults.

Hilarious that people who were not involved in sports feel the need to disparage those who were. How open-minded. Fran L. is a self-important boob.

(And no, I did not play football)
Posted by Tangled Up In Plaid on March 2, 2012 at 6:21 PM · Report this
Isn't the captain of the HS football stereotype played out yet? The captain of the football team from my HS is a doctor. Sure, there are some clods whose best days were in HS, but just as often or moreso, HS athletes are well adjusted adults.

Hilarious that people who were not involved in sports feel the need to disparage those who were. How open-minded. Fran L. is a self-important boob.

(And no, I did not play football)
Posted by Tangled Up In Plaid on March 2, 2012 at 6:23 PM · Report this
Karlheinz Arschbomber 33
Professionally tedious. Farewell, emphysema queen.
Posted by Karlheinz Arschbomber on March 2, 2012 at 9:52 PM · Report this
she's an amusing dinosaur hey--at least she's amusing!
Posted by ellarosa on March 2, 2012 at 10:22 PM · Report this
i thought the pict was howard stern. bababooey
Posted by Cassette tape fan on March 2, 2012 at 10:22 PM · Report this
Supreme Ruler Of The Universe 36

Pretty disappointing.

Overall, I'd rather hear Fnarf's calumny than hers.

He's a bit more...of the times.
Posted by Supreme Ruler Of The Universe on March 3, 2012 at 3:03 AM · Report this
tainte 37
i'd like to drop this dude in the middle of the alaskan wilderness with nothing but a polar fleece.
Posted by tainte on March 3, 2012 at 7:08 AM · Report this
@31: It's wish fulfillment. People who had a rough time in high school want to believe that the popular jocks and cheerleaders are mindless clods bound for failure because it makes them feel better about themselves.
Posted by Joe Glibmoron on March 3, 2012 at 10:22 AM · Report this
How predictable that so many of her detractors would knock her appearance rather than trying to challenge her opinions. Lots of Seattleites don't care for someone much smarter than them who isn't afraid to present herself as such.
Posted by Amanda on March 3, 2012 at 10:25 AM · Report this
I'm also wondering why the interview is condensed on the WEB version? WTF? Paper I get, but I don't think a longer page would cost more here.
Posted by Petunia on March 3, 2012 at 11:43 AM · Report this
I was there last night. She seemed really unresponsive to Dan. I think he must've pissed her off backstage beforehand. She only gave him one-word answers. Once he left, and she spoke to the audience, she was completely different. Some of her great points: The Tea Party is nothing but pure, veiled racism. Donald Trump is a poor person's idea of a rich person. The worst Supreme Court decision in history was Gore v. Bush; had that not happened, Citizens United could not have happened.
Posted by Jasonkanter on March 3, 2012 at 12:34 PM · Report this
Roma 42
I assume there’s not bears in Seattle.

Obviously, she's never been to Capitol Hill.
Posted by Roma on March 3, 2012 at 2:41 PM · Report this
@42 Or Madison Park in the summer
Posted by snz on March 4, 2012 at 12:05 PM · Report this
Amanda, #39

There are only a few snarky comments regarding Fran's looks while many others challenge her views. But go ahead and cling to the lame "she's just smarter than you" bit.
Posted by Tangled Up In Plaid on March 4, 2012 at 2:28 PM · Report this
her schtick can be boiled down to this: ' i'm from nyc and no where is as cool as nyc USED to is not cool any more,btw, mostly because one cant smoke there. oh, and did i mention thati'm from nyc? if you dont get me your obviously not that smart'

she's actually almost interesting and insightful when she speaks about writing and the creative process and that journey. it seems to be the only time shes not caustic and abrasive to the point of physical pain.
Posted by Cassette tape fan on March 5, 2012 at 4:49 PM · Report this
And Dan couldn't snag her into an interesting conversation about writing because he isn't into the creative process (which he essentially said onstage). I think Dan n' Fran just didn't connect as individuals. She's way less socially conservative than Dan. He's all into pop culture and she's into old school. An artist shoulda interviewed her.
Posted by Stacey on March 6, 2012 at 6:49 PM · Report this

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