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.
This interview has been condensed.