Writers & Company

Fran Lebowitz shares her observations on contemporary life with unfiltered wit and wisdom

In this 2012 conversation, the American author and cultural critic spoke with Eleanor Wachtel about writing, culture and life in general.
Fran Lebowitz with CBC Radio host Eleanor Wachtel.
American author Fran Lebowitz with Eleanor Wachtel in 2012. (Submitted by Eleanor Wachtel)

This episode originally aired November 25, 2012.

Fran Lebowitz has been compared to everyone from Dorothy Parker to Oscar Wilde, Alexis de Tocqueville to Mary McCarthy. In other words, she's an original — an idiosyncratic public intellectual who's also wickedly funny. 

Born into a middle-class Jewish family in 1950, Lebowitz moved to New York City after getting kicked out of high school. By age 20, she'd begun writing for Andy Warhol's Interview magazine. She soon made a name for herself with her satirical pieces, which were collected in two books, Metropolitan Life and Social Studies. 

Since then, Lebowitz has written for Vanity Fair and become something of a sensation when it comes to her public speaking. She was featured in Martin Scorsese's 2010 documentary, Public Speaking, and more recently she was the star and co-producer of the hit Netflix series Pretend It's a City. She's currently on tour, visiting eight cities across the U.S., and is regularly sought after for her astute observations on everything from politics and literature, to clothing and music. 

Lebowitz spoke to Eleanor Wachtel in 2012 when she was in Edmonton for the University of Alberta's Festival of Ideas. 

The Fran Lebowitz Reader is a book by Fran Lebowitz.

Origin stories

"I thought of being a writer as soon as I realized that people wrote books. 

"When I was really little, I didn't realize that people wrote books. I thought they were like trees, that they were just there. I remember one of my parents' books. In the jacket flap was a picture of someone and I said, 'Who's that?' I remember they said, 'That's the man that wrote the book.'

"That seemed like such a huge thing to be able to do. So that's what I wanted to do.

"I did discover, several years ago, this book I wrote as a kid. It was in a loose leaf notebook and it was written in pencil. And then it disappeared again. I don't know where it is. My parents saved nothing, but I wrote tons and tons of things. I wrote plays for my sister and my cousins to be in, for example. But my parents saved nothing that I did. All my other friends, their parents saved every little thing.

I thought of being a writer as soon as I realized that people wrote books.

"It was not a value thing. It wasn't even a thought of thing."

Hurtling backwards

"What upsets me most in the political landscape at the moment? I would not know where to start, really. What I would have to say, generally speaking, is that we hurtle backwards ever faster. The thing about the Republicans is that things that were done 30 years ago cannot move forward if they keep going backward. 

"They're really trying to hold back the hands of time, and they are somewhat cheating because we have a horrible Supreme Court. So that's one of the reasons it was imperative that Obama win, because there might be one or two appointments. These people live forever. My theory on why that is? It's because it's such a good job. 

My dream job is to be a Supreme Court judge.

"My dream job is to be a Supreme Court judge. I would love to do this. I actually read Supreme Court opinions. I make snap judgments, so I'd be very efficient. None of these long deliberations. And you don't have to be a lawyer to be on the Supreme Court. And I'm already not a lawyer. So I am ready to be a Supreme Court judge.

"No one lives longer than Supreme Court judges. No one."

Fran Lebowitz and Eleanor Wachtel
CBC Radio's Eleanor Wachtel, left, with American writer Fran Lebowitz. (Submitted by Eleanor Wachtel)

Fran, unfiltered

"Popular culture, for the past 35 or 40 years, is an endless merry-go-round of nostalgia. It's like we live in an age of collage. It seems to me that someone my age should be very irritated by young people. I should be saying, 'What will they think of next?' Instead, I go to a birthday party for a 20-year-old child of a friend of mine — and I recognize every single song.

"I think, 'No! Their job is to do something new.' That is their job. They are not doing that job. They should be annoying Fran, not boring Fran.

The truth is you don't make art out of other art. We make art out of life.

"Maybe one of the reasons for that is people my age are deliberately holding back the hands of time. And, from a technological point of view — because everything is available all the time — there's a kind of flatness of time in that you can get an image from 200 years ago, you can get an image from yesterday, and you can put them together. That's collage. But the truth is, you don't make art out of other art. We make art out of life.

"So that's why, to me, today's [pop culture] has this kind of tinny quality to it. And it's certainly just nostalgic. People always are going back to, 'Look at this from the 70s, or look at that.'

"This is not healthy."

Fran Lebowitz's comments have been edited for length and clarity.

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