In A New York Minute: Satirist Fran Lebowitz has plenty to say

In A New York Minute: Satirist Fran Lebowitz has plenty to say
MONICA HOOPER
mhooper@nwadg.com


Editor’s Note: This performance has been rescheduled to 7 p.m. Nov. 29 due to inclement weather. Tickets already purchased will be honored then.

Fran Lebowitz has done billions of interviews, by her count. So when she sat down to talk to What’s Up!, our first question was: “What question are you tired of people asking you?”

“This is now my favorite question. I wish other people would ask me this,” she replied in her rapid-fire, New York cadence. Lebowitz will stop by the Walton Arts Center on Feb. 4 for “A Conversation with Fran Lebowitz,” an onstage interview with Kyle Kellams of KUAF 91.3FM followed by a question-and-answer session with the audience.

“I’m tired of people asking me why it’s so hard for me to write. That is my No. 1 question that I’m tired of answering. Obviously if I knew, I would be writing more,” Lebowitz continued. Fair enough. She’s just as well known nowadays for not writing but rather for sharing her observations and criticisms. In her Emmy-nominated Netflix series, “Pretend It’s a City,” there’s a clip of an audience member asking her when her next book will come out, and without missing a beat, she quips, “give me your number, and I’ll call you.”

Despite the question haunting her interviews with the likes of David Letterman and Conan O’Brien, she’s made a career of sharing her wit and opinions on all of her likes and dislikes, many of which involve New York City.

“I never cared what people think of what I think. I’m not saying I don’t care what people think about me, because I’m human. But if people disagree with me, so what? I’ve never understood why [my opinions] anger people. I have no power, I’m not the mayor of New York, I’m not making laws. These are just opinions!” she said in the first episode of “Pretend It’s a City.”

Fran Lebowitz disapproves of virtually everything except sleep, cigarettes and good furniture, states the Walton Arts Center in marketing her appearance there Feb. 4. But “in a landscape filled with endless pundits and talking heads, she stands out as a cultural satirist whose works are regarded as classics of literary humor and social observation.” (Courtesy photo/Brigitte Lacombe)

Now that she’s better known as a cultural critic who has been on the talk show circuit for decades, does she mind being called a cultural critic? “I don’t mind,” she said. “I’ve always been called this, so it’s not new, but I am probably new to some people. … It’s one of the things that I am.”

She began her career in New York working for Andy Warhol’s Interview magazine and moved on to write for Mademoiselle, The New York Times and Newsweek. She is the author of two best-selling books, “Social Studies” and “Metropolitan Life,” which have been combined to form her latest release, “The Fran Lebowitz Reader.” She played a judge in “The Wolf of Wall Street” and the TV show “Law & Order.” She’s been part of several documentaries, including “Public Speaking,” produced by Martin Scorsese, who also produces her Netflix show. She’s a walking, smoking and acerbic history of the city, someone who seems to know everyone, and she always has a story to tell — just not in any online format.

She famously shuns technology, specifically social media platforms. In “Pretend It’s a City,” she said that people will talk to her about things like Instagram and Facebook as if she doesn’t know what they are. Then she said: “I don’t have these things not because I don’t know what they are. I don’t have these things because I do know what they are.”

Still she remains an informed commentator on current issues, still reading The New York Times and saying she was pleased that Northwest Arkansas has a newspaper.

“I’m always delighted that a city still has a newspaper! Thousands of newspapers have gone out of business; most towns don’t even have them anymore,” she said. “I get The New York Times only on Sunday. Now of course I get the actual paper paper, what you call the print edition. Most people I know, even people my age, read it online.”

About the Sunday paper she said: “I only get the Sunday paper because I always say to people, ‘How do you read this every day?’ It takes me the whole weekend to read the Sunday paper, and I’m a pretty fast reader. A friend of mine gets all three of the New York newspapers every day, and I said, ‘I don’t understand how you do this.’ And she said, ‘That’s because you read it.’ I said, ‘What does that mean?’ And she said, ‘No one else reads it; they flip!’”

In “Pretend It’s a City,” she and Scorsese lamented the loss of papers in New York City. She commented that the city used to be covered in papers, and now what was once a bustling newspaper stand has been replaced by a bike rental kiosk.

“I think it’s a terrible thing, the lack of newspapers, not because I’m old and old-fashioned, which I am, but also because local newspapers of small towns or small cities — that’s the only way that you hold local politicians to account. We can surely see that politicians of every stripe — local politicians, national politicians — they’re all getting away with murder. And this [the loss of local newspapers] is the reason,” Lebowitz said.

In addition to her Sunday Times, Lebowitz is also known as an avid book reader. She joked in an episode of her show that she couldn’t afford an apartment large enough to house all of her books. Despite regularly sharing what she doesn’t like, she refuses to throw cold water on any author’s efforts, although she admitted she tends to only remember the ones that she likes the most.

“In my opinion, there’s an excess of praise of books, not that there should be people denigrating books. I’ve always said it’s exactly as hard to write a bad book as it is to write a good book. The difference is talent, but the work is just as hard. I have always refused to write book reviews for The Times — they’ve always asked me since I was 27,” she said. “I’m not an assassin, and I know how hard it is to write.”

She said that she loves Colson Whitehead’s book, “Harlem Shuffle.” “I think he’s a wonderful writer, I really do. She also mentioned enjoying “After Parties” by Anthony Veasna So — which led to a question about Toni Morrison, who died in 2019.

“First of all, I would not only recommend, but if I was president, I would command everyone to read Toni. OK, It would be a law,” she said. If one has never read a book by Toni Morrison, who was a personal friend of Lebowitz, she said: “What I always do with people, even lesser writers than Toni — most writers are lesser writers than Toni was — if you’ve never read an author, especially an important writer like Toni, read them in order. Read [the author’s work] in the order in which they were published. Then you see the writer developing and the changes. To me that’s the most interesting thing to see.”

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FAQ

‘A Conversation With Fran Lebowitz’

WHEN — Rescheduled to 7 p.m. Nov. 29

WHERE — Walton Arts Center in Fayetteville

COST — $21 & up

INFO — 443-5600, waltonartscenter.org

Categories: Theater