Fran Lebowitz was in town last week and warned her audience at the New Repertory Theatre in Watertown not to expect the latest book she’s been writing for decades to come out anytime soon. “I write so slowly,” quipped Lebowitz, “I could write in my own blood without hurting myself.” Her book, which was excerpted in Vanity Fair in the ‘90s, is very much a work in progress. “I’m not a disciplined writer,” said Lebowitz, author of the bestsellers “Social Studies” and “Metropolitan Life.”
Over the years, Lebowitz has also made her mark as a witty raconteur cum very funny curmudgeon. The 66-year-old writer is arguably the most famous daughter of Morristown, N.J. At the New Repertory Theatre, Lebowitz, who has come to embody intellectual New York, expounded on everything from the unprecedented election season to why she loathes all theater except for “Hamilton.”
In unusually gushing terms, she told her audience that although “most of Broadway is awful, [“Hamilton”] was fantastically great. After seeing that, no one should do that again.” She praised Lin-Manuel Miranda as “endlessly gifted” and said the phenomenon of “Hamilton” would never happen again. “It was a stroke of luck for him and for everyone who sees it,” she said.
For the first part of the program, Lebowitz was in conversation with Jared Bowen, WGBH’s executive arts editor and host of the arts program Open Studio. She strung together gem-like observations about the upcoming election beginning with the dramatic question: “What did you do, Fran, to deserve this? I did nothing this bad. Hardly anyone has done anything this bad.” It’s no surprise that Lebowitz hates Donald Trump. “I could not think less of Donald Trump,” she said. “He looks to me like the president of Trump University. He looks like a croupier at his brother’s wedding.” But she had particular venom for Trump’s vice-presidential candidate. “Mike Pence is much worse than Donald Trump,” she added. “He has actual politics and they are bad, like super bad.”
On Trump supporters she acknowledged that many have legitimate grievances, “but it is the marrying of these economic grievances with bigotry and that’s not allowed. It’s not the reason they lost their jobs. Here’s what takes your jobs away from you: rich people!”
Ironically, many of Lebowitz’s best friends are rich society people. She’s the guest that everyone in New York wants to host. She’s also not shy about strategically name-dropping. She told a story about the time Katharine Hepburn called her up and Lebowitz didn’t believe that it was the actress on the other end of the line. “I hung up on her,” she said. “I thought it was a drag queen I knew.”
Lebowitz is also a well-known luddite. She has no cell phone or computer. She insists that she’s not so much avoiding technology as she’s simply not interested in typing faster or having the entire world in the palm of her hand. “I notice everything because I don’t have these things,” she asserted. She gets her news the old-fashioned way—from a radio tuned in to New York City’s long-time news station WINS. And, of course, people also tell her anything important.
And because Fran Lebowitz knows everyone in New York City, she gets a lot of her information from word of mouth. Last month she pulled a few strings to see Pope Francis at Madison Square Garden—“For a pope he’s delightful.” But she’s quick to note that if she were the pope, she would not be as modest as he is. She owned up to a serious case of real-estate envy for the papal apartments the pope doesn’t use.
Which brought Lebowitz to talk about her bad luck in finding an apartment. “I make one idiotic real-estate decision after another,” she said. “Donald Trump knows more about foreign policy than I know about apartments.” Consequently, Lebowitz moves a lot, and when she’s relocating she takes her massive library of 10,000 books. “I have a private librarian that makes libraries for rich people and me,” she said. “He chooses the books for them. I actually read mine.” She was not a fan of the Elena Ferrante novels and only learned of the reclusive novelist’s unmasking on stage from Bowen, proving her point that people tell her the news all the time.
Lebowitz took questions from the audience, during which she commented on more serious topics that encompassed race relations and gay rights. “Progress in race relations will never reach what happened to gay people,” she said. “It’s totally unimaginable. It never occurred to me that it would change.” Lebowitz, who is a lesbian, declared that, “Being gay was pretty much the same from Cro-Magnon man until about five minutes ago.” As for racism, she asserted that although things are better than when she was young, it will never be resolved. Racism, she said, is what makes Donald Trump appealing. “When you see those rallies, they are like Ku Klux Klan rallies,” she said. “That’s what they are.”
As for her advice to people who don’t like Hillary Clinton: “That’s OK. She’s not going to call you for dinner. You don’t have to like the president in that way.”