By Ava Gilchrist

The Most Heartfelt Takeaways From An Intimate Evening With Fran Lebowitz

Intimidating? Yes. Sarcastic? It’s in her DNA. But in the Sydney Opera House’s Concert Hall, New York’s most acerbic resident proves opinions are worth parting with—even if no one asks for it.
Fran Lebowitz. Credit: Brigitte Lacombe

As I took my seat in Sydney Opera House’s Concert Hall for one of Fran Lebowitz’s two “An Evening With…” shows, I overheard the following conversation. An older woman on my left turned to my seat neighbour and asked: “Are you a Fran Lebowitz fan?” She responded: “Yes. Obviously.” It’s this sardonic attitude and quick-witted sarcasm that gave the 73-year-old a career. Lebowtiz’s reputation as one of the most beloved satirists offering unflinching social commentary preceded her. (As for whether Lebowitz would mind if you hold her in high esteem, she would not, telling the audience from the outset, “Why? What do I care?”)

Without objections, Lebowitz is posited as New York’s most acerbic figure. One who has spent decades cutting through contemporary ideals with disillusionment, presenting up “hot takes” (though these were just called judgements in Lebowitz’s heyday) on every circumference of the human existence. Well, at least how it pertains to her corner of the globe.

In her collection of essays Metropolitan Life and Social Studies—both of which have been consecutively published in tangent under the singular The Fran Lebowitz Reader—Lebowitz wrote a compendium of New York’s cultural landscape. In the subsequent documentaries Public Speaking and Pretend Its A City, both of which she is the subject of and directed by Martin Scorsese, she supplies pertinent examinations with backhanded charm—dry and slicing as the vodka and tonics she flippantly recommends in her eponymous “Fran Lebowitz High-Stress Diet and Exercise Program”.

Still, absorbing her work through the screen and page is nothing compared to being in her orbit—something I and approximately 2,669 others encountered during our intimate 90-minute conversation. Perhaps jarred by having to quell her nicotine consumption for the flight over, Lebowitz took to the stage with tongue-in-cheek glee to part with her opinion.

For precisely an hour, the writer answered audience questions on everything from the mutual benefits of city life, living chronically offline and why second-hand smoke should be as highly regarded as any other derivative (second-hand thoughts and second-hand clothing). Ahead, the poignant teachings, razor-sharp non-negotiables and formidable faux pas gleaned from one evening with Fran.

Fran Lebowitz. Credit: Brigitte Lacombe
Planning Is Overrated

Despite being the face of a very specific kind of New York—the one captured by Peter Hujar and Robert Mapplethorpe—Lebowitz actually hails from New Jersey. She came to the city in her 20s with $200 in her pocket, before working her way through crummy odd jobs and into Andy Warhol’s Interview Magazine. She attributes this to her lack of planning. “People who are younger are organised. They plan a schedule of things. They are very concerned about things. So, if you’re trying to aggressively plan, then things, I think, are harder for you.” Lebowitz used herself as an example, adding, “If your goal in life is to move to a place, then get on a bus!”

If You Want To Own, Don’t Live In New York

Lebowitz believes that an honorary New Yorker transforms into a bona fide one is the first time they complain about the city changing. “One of the reasons that people live in cities is because they change,” she said. But the bad news for Manhattanites is that they “100% believe they own things they don’t even rent.” That corner table at your local? Not yours. It’s not even someone else’s. It’s the owner’s. “That’s because New Yorkers probably own fewer things than almost anywhere else.” But will that stop you from complaining? Or lamenting how a Trader Joe’s took over your laundromat? Never.

On The Importance Of Memory

When asked if Lebowitz has accumulated any enemies throughout her life, she responded that “there can’t be as many people who don’t like me as people I don’t like.” The key to this is memory. “I remember everything. It’s very important to remember everything if you’re a vengeful person.” If you want to hold a grudge, ensure you can recall your grievances.

Arrest Records Are Permanent

“There are many things I’ve avoided in life, but there’s nothing I have avoided like jail.” Lebowitz recounted how her previous trip to Australia came at the request of our government. An invitation that required filing mountains of paperwork, including about her criminal records. She related this anecdote to her time spent in Washington D.C. attending anti-war demonstrations. Despite many of her contemporaries willingly arrested to advocate against America’s involvement in the Vietnam War, Lebowitz refused. It’s not because arrest records are permanent (and they could inhibit you from being invited into a country in future), but because her sharp whip couldn’t help her behind bars. “I’m five-foot-four. Do you think I’m going to go to jail and these tough women will say, ‘Stay away from Fran, she’s sarcastic?’”

This story first appeared on GRAZIA International