Karen, Renée, Richard, and I saw Fran Lebowitz in conversation at Town Hall on April 6, 2022. For those of you who don't know Lebowitz, she's an American original. A cultural icon, a blazing wit, a truth teller, a curmudgeon, a treasure! She hit the scene with two nonfiction books: *Metropolitan Life* and *Social Studies.* Those were written in 1978 and 1981 and apart from a children's book, she hasn't written a book since then. She says, "It's not writer's block. At this point, it's writer's blockade." (Let me say right off that my quotes are approximate.)
She's recently put herself back into the limelight with two projects directed by Martin Scorcese: an HBO documentary from 2010 called *Public Speaking* and a Netflix documentary series from 2021 called *Pretend It's a City.* The four of us are all crazy for her and had been looking forward to the evening for a long time. Renée put it perfectly: "I'm both terrified of her and want her to be my best friend."
Here's the trailer for *Pretend It's a City.*
The evening started with a conversation between Lebowitz and an unannounced other person. Town Hall had been very coy about who it was going to be - - even that afternoon it wasn't on the website. The lights went down and an anonymous, disembodied voice came over the PA saying, "Ladies and gentlemen, our moderator for this evening is the playwright, actor, and essayist Wallace Shawn." You might think you don't know him, but you do: he's the adorable little bald guy in *The Princess Bride* and *Clueless.* He came onto the stage to huge applause. He introduced Lebowitz and the audience went nutso.
Shawn started by talking about the 50 or 60 million Americans who don't believe in COVID and/or thought the last Presidential election was a fraud. He said that clearly these people have no grasp of reality and are crazy. Lebowitz said, "They're not crazy. They're stupid. They think we look down on them, and they're right. We do look down on them. Because they're stupid."
She was fixated on Wyoming for a while. "There are two senators representing the state of Wyoming. There are 800,000 people living in Wyoming. To give you a little perspective, there are 800,000 people living in my apartment building. My apartment building should have two senators. And let me tell you, those senators from Wyoming wouldn't last ten minutes on my coop board."
On immigration: "Immigrants make the culture. Tourists destroy the culture."
On Joe Biden: "He's much too old to be President. If he were your father, you'd be trying to take his car keys."
On airlines cutting back services: "We are months away from us standing in front of the plane and someone from the airline saying, 'OK, who's gonna fly this thing?' "
She told a story about checking into a hotel recently. It may have been in Charlottesville, VA, but I wouldn't swear to it. There was a sign in her room that said, "Due to COVID and out of concern for your health, there are no glasses or towels in your room. You may get glasses and towels at the front desk." She went down to the front desk and spoke to an acerbic young man. She asked for glasses and towels and he gave them to her. She continued standing there and he said, testily, "Yes...?" She said, "I'm just trying to figure out how much to tip myself."
Shawn wrapped up his talk with her and the rest of the evening was her taking questions from the audience.
Someone asked if there are other cities that she likes other than New York. She said Paris, Rome, Florence. She said the only city in the US that really feels like a city is Chicago. "Los Angeles is supposed to be a city, but it doesn't really feel like a city. San Francisco is also supposed to be a city. San Francisco is...adorable."
On the MeToo movement: "Being a woman was the same from Eve until about three years ago."
On being a progressive: "I've always heard that you get more conservative as you age. That hasn't been the case. I'm now somewhere further left than AOC."
On critics: "The worst thing for good artists is that bad artists are praised."
On mental health issues: "That's how you know you're awake."
On newly-created outdoor seating in Manhattan: "I was almost killed having dinner in the middle of Seventh Avenue. I've often thought I might be killed in a taxi accident but I didn't think it would be while I was eating dinner."
The four of us walked out of there in such a delighted, refreshed mood. Karen described the evening as "a tonic."