How do you become a real New Yorker? Fran Lebowitz says move there and 'complain about something changing'
In Netflix's Pretend It's a City, the American author and humourist shares her opinions on a bit of everything
While out for a long walk at the height of the COVID-19 lockdown, Fran Lebowitz noted how eerie New York City felt. It was only the second time in her life that she could actually hear her footsteps on the city streets — the first time was during the days following the Sept. 11 attacks.
"I took a really long walk, during which I saw maybe a dozen people," Lebowitz told q host Tom Power in an interview. "Ordinarily, I would literally have seen a million people. And [I'm not] exaggerating the way people say a million, no, I mean a million."
The American author and humourist was shocked to see that, during the middle of the day, iconic city landmarks like the New York Public Library and Times Square were either closed or nearly empty.
"For decades, I've been saying, 'I wish the tourists would leave Times Square,'" she said. "But I didn't mean this."
A real New Yorker
While New York is no longer as eerie as it once was in the early days of the pandemic, Lebowitz said the city has changed considerably in the past year. Then again, she's seen the city change many times since moving to New York as a young aspiring writer in 1970.
Although born and raised in New Jersey, Lebowitz has earned herself a reputation for being a quintessential New Yorker: someone who's fast-walking and fast-talking with a dry sense of humour. From her perspective, anyone can become a New Yorker; you just need to complain about something changing.
The second you complain about something changing, you're a New Yorker.- Fran Lebowitz
"One thing that's true of New York is that whatever New York is like when you move there, that's what New York is supposed to be to you," she told Power.
"It doesn't matter if you've been here two weeks, or you know, two decades or three decades," she continued. "The second you complain about something changing, you're a New Yorker."
Lebowitz's personal complaints about the shifting nature of New York are documented in Netflix's new limited series Pretend It's a City, directed by her longtime friend Martin Scorcese.
WATCH | Official trailer for Pretend It's a City:
Divided into chapters like "Metropolitan Transit" and "Cultural Affairs," Lebowitz offers her opinions over seven episodes on a wide range of topics, skewering things like driverless cars and wellness culture with her sarcastic wit.
While the observations she shares in Pretend It's a City mostly reveal her irritation with New York, Lebowitz clearly has a deep affection for the city. Even as a child growing up in New Jersey, she knew New York is where she wanted to be.
"I always said, 'I'm going to move to New York when I grow up.' And I did," she told Power. "I achieved my goal instantaneously. This is the thing that people can achieve. You know, if there's a place you want to live, go to that place. You've already achieved your dream."
'A tourist's idea of a New Yorker'
While Lebowitz maintains that anyone can become a New Yorker, there's one person who she said will never be a real New Yorker — former U.S. president Donald Trump.
"I never thought he was a New Yorker," said Lebowitz. "No one in New York thought he was a New Yorker. No one. I know he was born in New York. I know he lived in New York. But he was so much a tourist's idea of a New Yorker. No one in New York took him seriously at all."
She said she thinks Trump is so obviously a con man that it's "very hard to understand how anyone could take him seriously as anything, let alone the president of the United States."
When Power noted that Trump's post-presidency life is now being spent in Florida, Lebowitz responded that Florida is "where he belongs."
"He deserves Florida and Florida deserves him."
Hear the full conversation with Fran Lebowitz near the top of this page, where she also talks about her decades-long writer's block, her thoughts on being an artist and her virtually technology-free lifestyle.
Written by Vivian Rashotte. Interview produced by Cora Nijhawan.