Author, speaker and New Yorker Fran Lebowitz is easily one of the smartest and funniest writers living today. Her columns and essays are world renowned, her speaking engagements legendary. In 2010 Martin Scorsese’s documentary about Lebowitz– Public Speaking– premiered on HBO and if you haven’t seen it, you need to. She recently stopped by the SiriusXM studios to talk with Ron Bennington. She’s also touring the country and if she’s appearing anywhere near you, you won’t want to miss it. Excerpts of her interview with Bennington appear below.
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Ron Bennington: You’ve got an audio book out of your book right now. And you’ve read the whole thing yourself.
Fran Lebowitz: Yes. I’m really a good reader. (laughs)
Ron Bennington: And you are on iTunes now. Now we can go to iTunes and listen to Fran read.
Fran Lebowitz: That is what they tell me.
Ron Bennington: You’ve never been to iTunes yourself?
Fran Lebowitz: I don’t have a computer.
Ron Bennington: Nothing at all in that world?
Fran Lebowitz: Nothing. No.
Ron Bennington: I was told that you were a little angry coming in here at the mayor of New York City today.
Fran Lebowitz: Yes. First of all, I’m always angry at the mayor of New York City. Okay. I have been angry at the mayor of New York City for the last 50 years that he’s been the mayor. I knew I was going to be angry at him. I never voted for him. I just didn’t think I was going to get a chance to not vote for him 3 times. Because I’m sure you’ve noted, 6th Avenue would not really be the place that I would choose to put lawn chairs.
Ron Bennington: It has become a picnic area where Times Square is now set up for people to lay out blankets and enjoy themselves.
Fran Lebowitz: Yes. And the thing is the people who do that clearly – obviously are not from New York. Because no one from New York could afford to take 4 minutes off to sit down. And the few minutes that we had to ourselves, we don’t have anymore because we’re burning them in this traffic.
Ron Bennington: And you came to New York in what? The 70s, when you got here?
Fran Lebowitz: Now this is a thing that I used to know because I used to really think there was a big difference between being like 18 or 19. I no longer do. So it was either like 1969, 1970 – could have been 1968, around there.
Ron Bennington: In the 70s and early 80s, there were so many people – oh, New York is in trouble or New York is dead. But now in hindsight, you’ll look back and there was an incredible amount of scene going on and an incredible amount of culture.
Fran Lebowitz: At the time, everyone of course always says New York was horrible in the 70s. We were bankrupt. I mean – to me, New York seemed fantastic. It was dangerous, no question. And it was filthy, no question. It’s still filthy by the way. I’d like to point out, perhaps maybe not in front of the mayor’s house, it may be very tidy, but the rest of the city is pretty filthy. It is less dangerous. That is certain. However, New York – the way that it was went I got there, was New York to me. And that would be true of everyone, no matter where go. If first time you go to Paris is 1812, then I suppose by 1820, you’re complaining – what happened to that great Paris of 1812. We knew that it was bankrupt. I mean they were always like writing about it being bankrupt. But that was meaningless to me, since I wasn’t one of the debtors to New York. It’s not surprising however that those things would go hand-in-hand. In other words, it’s not surprising that when a city is in a kind of state of disruption – that it would be a city that would be interesting. It certainly was. It was interesting to me because I came from a small town in New Jersey. The thing that’s happened to New York – not just that time’s just marched on or that it’s better to be 20 than it is 60. Yes, that it clear. But it’s just become more suburban. It’s become less urban. Period. And that is something that if you like cities, you should not like.
Ron Bennington: Is this an election you’re looking forward to or depressing?
Fran Lebowitz: I don’t know if you – do you have a TV?
Ron Bennington: Yeah. Yeah, I did watch.
Fran Lebowitz: It’s much more depressing today than it was yesterday, I think. I mean it was shocking. The debate was shocking.
Ron Bennington: Well particularly – even by the time we even get to the debates, you would think you would be able to tell these guys apart. But what kills me about last night with Obama, I’m like – I think he cares a little less about this then let’s say – Jon Stewart does. Somebody who’s been defending him constantly throughout the last 4 years. To see Obama showing up with less passion than some of the people who care about him.
Fran Lebowitz: Yeah. Well, that may be true. At first, I thought that I was mis-perceiving it. And let me assure you that I have a fair amount of confidence in my perception. So it’s not usual that I think I’m mis-perceiving it. Well, I thought he’s up to something. There’s something that he’s going to do. This is part of some strategy. But clearly it was not part of some strategy. I happened to be – what I can only imagine to be one of the few people who watched the entire thing. I felt literally like jumping through the television set. I felt like saying – You know what? I got this. Move over. I’ll do this. You wonder why? I’m a Democrat. I do not understand why Democrats are afraid to be Democrats. Why liberals are afraid to be liberals? Or now they call themselves “Progressives”. It was a shocking performance. It was really surprising. I don’t know what his excuse is. I don’t know if he’s going to give us an excuse. I saw a little bit of TV today. And I saw David Axelrod trying to pretend this really didn’t happen. It doesn’t really matter. It may not in the end, matter in the sense that this may not cost him the election, but it shouldn’t even be a question. It shouldn’t even be a question because the truth is Mitt Romney was terrible. Not good. He was terrible. He was awful. One lie after another. He interrupted everybody. He went beyond his time. He was out of control. The whole thing was out of control. Jim Lehrer did not control it at all. I don’t know why. I don’t know his reasoning for that would be. At best, he can perhaps get over this – Obama, but maybe he can’t. And if he can’t – here’s the problem with politicians – it’s their fault, but we pay. Obama was very bad in the debate, very bad. Now it’s just people saying he wasn’t as great as usual. He was very bad in that debate. He was very bad in the debate – that shouldn’t cause Fran to have Mitt Romney as a President.
Ron Bennington: Let’s get back to a thing that you said that –I think is so interesting is somehow Democrats are afraid of their own history and what they brought. If you were to believe some people today – the women’s rights movement never really took place – because it’s really not a part of our history. People forget about people fighting for progress all along the way.
Fran Lebowitz: Oh, not only forget – well that is because there is such concentration on the Right. Never in the history of the world are there more sore losers than the Republican Party. Okay. So that apparently – you think, I mean one thinks – well, that Voting Rights Act of 1965, (wipes her hands), we’re done with that. We’re done with poll taxes. That was fixed. We fixed it. I don’t mean I fixed it. Other people who went before us fixed it. It’s fixed. You can’t do that anymore. And then they did it again. Okay. Abortion was settled in this country. But not really because they’re never ever going to let that go. Something that in my opinion – and no one even says “abortion”. They say “Women’s Health”. Okay. It’s not women’s health. Believe me if a woman needs a flu shot, the Republicans don’t care. Okay? It is “abortion”, a word you can’t say anymore. Abortion – to me, should not be or should never have been even a political question. It has nothing to do with politics. I can truthfully not think of a more private matter than abortion. I don’t even think the father of a child should have a say. That’s how private and individual of a thing it is. And yet, they’re going to keep going till it’s not legal. And already, it’s incredibly hard to get an abortion in this country. So that, as long as they keep trying to pull – the Republicans keep trying to pull back, it’s very hard to move forward. The response on the Left should not be – okay, we won’t do that much. We’re not really like that. It should be outrage. You know, I’m not Obama. I don’t know what he feels, but he did not display any outrage. Now that is not his style. That is not perhaps his makeup. I’ve never seen him personally. But every time you see him, he’s not a firebrand. We know that. And all those big speeches he gave during the last election, they were almost like watching an aria. That was a performance of one person. And that is one of the reasons they were so popular. At the time, I kept saying – I don’t think he’s a great speaker. I think he’s a great singer. It’s all music, no lyrics. Listen to what he’s saying – it’s not that ahead of the game. Is he a great debater? No, he’s not a great debater. But Mitt Romney? You can’t beat Mitt Romney? I mean truthfully, say that you’re a professional basketball player – the worst professional basketball player in the history of the NBA – can you beat Fran? Of course you can. Okay. Mitt Romney is that person. Okay?
Ron Bennington: So you’re saying anybody should have been able to come in there and do that?
Fran Lebowitz: That’s right.
Ron Bennington: Somewhere along the line, we have agreed that money is the most important thing. Not one of the importantthings to life – that it’s become the most important thing.
Fran Lebowitz: Well, you’re right. There are no competing values. This is America. It’s a capitalist country. Americans always love the buck. I, myself, am a highly materialistic person. You see I have these snappy boots. I’m not a communist. I’m not a socialist. And by the way, I have news for the Republicans. No one is. Okay? (laughs)
Ron Bennington: You never run into one.
Fran Lebowitz: No one is. However, there has to be competing values in a culture. There has to be other things that people think are important. And that seems to have gone the way of all flesh. There have been in the history of the world, many countries where money was all that mattered. Those countries have dictators. Here’s the thing about making huge amounts of money. In any given country or society, there’s a couple of people, I mean relative to the population, who are going to be very good at making money. And the similar quality is not genius by the way – yes, you have to be intelligent. You can’t be a moron to make a lot of money. But it is ruthlessness. It is focus on money. That’s all it is. Okay, so if you let capital float unfettered like this, the 6 best people at it are going to take all the money. So you have to make a system where they can’t do that. Because it is not fair. It is not good. And it is not really the idea of America. It’s the idea of a monarchy. It’s the idea of – you end up with kings. It’s not better to have 40 kings than one. It’s better to have no kings. So it’s very bad. But the population seems to be mesmerized by this. There’s no resentment of this at all. No matter what the level is. There’s apparently millions of people that watch these reality shows where these people show you their houses and instead of thinking – how ridiculous. Who should have a house with 40 rooms in it? No one. They think – oh, what a beautiful house. What a genius these Kardashians must be? (laughs) To have acquired all of these houses. I’m going to copy these Kardashians, so I some day can have one of these ridiculous houses. I mean there has to be character with some sort of common sense.
Ron Bennington: Did you watch the debate alone or were you with people?
Fran Lebowitz: Alone. Luckily for anyone who might have been with me. I was alone. I was alone, literally yelling at my television set.
Ron Bennington: This is while it was happening.
Fran Lebowitz: Yes. Which makes you feel like a maniac. You think – I’m alone in this room. And I am yelling at a machine. (laughs) It’s like yelling at a spoon. You think like – he’s going to hear you. “Don’t do that! Don’t do that!” And I suddenly found myself to be one of those people. I see people watching sports on TV. And I see them like yelling – No! Hit it! Run! And I think – It’s a television set. I’ve now become that person.
Ron Bennington: See and I do worry just like – in the fact that it is kind of sport now too. Politics. Particularly with those guys. Because I didn’t see Obama, the last 4 years, getting back in touch with the people. Regular people. It still felt like he was doing business with corporations. When they had the Occupy people, he just ignored it as if the same people who voted for him didn’t have problems in this country.
Fran Lebowitz: That is true. That’s what a plutocracy is. Also, he did not help himself by continuously – he said I don’t know, numerous times – people like Governor Romney and myself who have done very well in this country. I was really appalled by that. Because I know that Obama has made money recently. And by the way, I have bad news for Obama. Not as much money as Mitt Romney has made. Also, I believe that the money he has made has been from writing books and things like that which is, as money goes, clean. Clean. That’s a clean way to make money. That is not hedge funds or Bain Capital. But truthfully, I don’t know what he was trying to achieve by lumping himself in with Mitt Romney like that. I guess he was afraid of Mitt Romney saying – you are a phony. You say you care about working people, yet you’re a rich man. And he is a rich man, but not compared to Mitt Romney. And anyway, it doesn’t matter whether you’re rich or you’re not rich, the Kennedys were rich. Franklin Roosevelt was really rich.
Ron Bennington: Well, the interesting thing is go down to Washington DC, into the suburbs and there is more new money that surrounds that city than any place.
Fran Lebowitz: Oh, in the center of the city. They gentrifying finally, Washington DC. Now they’re gentrifying Washington DC because now – like the new rich people in Washington DC, they want to live in Brooklyn which they’re building there. The money that is in government – this lobbying. This is morally grotesque. This should be changed. This has to be changed. But it doesn’t get changed – the changes I’ve seen in my lifetime which is long, but not endless. When the people of the United States changed something, you have to go in the street. That’s what you have to do. There’s only been 2 times – I mean the Civil Rights movement was largely – like I was either not born or a child, but of course I’ve seen it like everyone else. People went into the street. People – they need to see millions of people. Thousands of people. In the gay civil rights movement, people risked their lives. But people don’t risk their life for this. This is not like the civil rights movement because no one is going to sic dogs on you. No one is going to shoot you. There’s not going to be the Ku Klux Klan coming to your house. The Vietnam War marches which I did participate in, no one was in danger. There was Kent State, but basically people were not really in danger. And it was, I believe – I truthfully believe it was seeing those hundreds of thousands of people constantly showing up in Washington DC. And they were kids. We were kids. Constantly in Washington DC until some adults who had some power – we couldn’t vote then – you couldn’t vote until you were 21 then, finally acquiesced to it. When “Bush v. Gore” happened, I thought there was going to be a huge march on Washington. A Presidential election decided by one person? By Sandra Day O’Connor? One vote. One person. Really? A Presidential election? I thought – well, finally these kids, they’re gonna go…nope, not a word.
Ron Bennington: Never.
Fran Lebowitz: Okay. Never. So, someone has to do it. When Occupy Wall Street started, I thought that’s what it was. As we now know, it wasn’t. Occupy Wall Street was a thing that at first, I was for, then I was against. And now my feeling is – well, it certainly wasn’t what I thought it was going to be. It certainly wasn’t what had happened previously. And it did not succeed like that either because it can’t. Because it was too diffused. Now however, it seems to me, truthfully, the thing that got people talking about income equality. For that, it was immensely valuable. I mean that was a tremendous contribution. And maybe in the end, a bigger contribution than some other contribution that could be made. But at any rate, they made a contribution which is much more than anyone else seems to have done lately.
Ron Bennington: And when actually polled across the country, over 50% of the people agreed with Occupy Wall Street on that part of it. Where they said – wait, yeah. There is such a disparaging amount between my family and the people on Wall Street. It’s gotten insane. And they are without, Fran, which is just amazing, without any sense of shame. That people can go into a company, gut it, take billions of dollars and not worry about whose money it was.
Fran Lebowitz: Because no one tells the truth anymore. It’s like – people keep saying things like – how can we get these great manufacturing jobs back to this country? Here’s the truth. First of all, I have really bad news for everyone who thinks that’s going to happen. Here’s when it’s going to be 1960 again – never. Okay? So, it’s not going to be 1960’s Detroit anymore with people on the Ford line making 30 bucks an hour and getting health care. That’s over. It’s not going to happen again. Should that have happened? I don’t think it should have, but it did. Okay, so that is over. But the truth is that manufacturing jobs used to be horrible. Factory jobs were really bad jobs. Read Dickens. Read Upton Sinclair. They became good jobs because of unions. That’s how you make a bad job, a good job. Okay, they were bad jobs. People died in factories. People were underpaid, incredibly underpaid. Children worked in factories. Children work in factories now. Here in this neighborhood, I promise you there’s children working in what is left of the garment district. So,they were very bad jobs. They became good jobs. They became very good jobs because of unions. And people died by the way, making these unions too. It is risky to go against these people. They died. Not everybody, but it worked. Okay, now there’s a lot of bad jobs now. The factory jobs now that are bad – hospital jobs, they are horrible jobs. I don’t mean doctors, but everyone else. The orderlies and – and they’ve made a lot of inventions now. There’s like “nurse’s assistant” and that’s so they can pay you less. (laughs) The hospitals and health care, full of terrible, awful, hard – in my opinion, kind of disgusting jobs. They’re very low paid. They’re very exploitive, these jobs. Those people – I mean some of them are in unions. Those jobs can be made good the same way making a car in a factory can be made good. Those are the jobs now that are available for the people that did not go to Stanford. You can’t have a country based on who can go to Stanford. I mean I’m constantly hearing about – don’t worry, Stanford is full of these geniuses. First of all, no one who goes to Stanford needs any kind of help at all. Okay? People who go to Stanford or to Harvard or to Yale or to any of these places are in one or more ways already immensely privileged. Even if just the way they’re privileged is they’re smarter than most people. That’s something you’re born with. You cannot acquire that. Just like money could be something you’re born with. So we need people who are very smart, but most people are not very smart. Most people are average. That’s what average means. You don’t make a society for people who are very smart. They can take care of themselves. So that we have to figure out as a country – and those people should care about that by the way. And by the way, if you’re such a big genius at Stanford, how about, instead of thinking of some other way that you could be rich like inventing Google or some of these other things, how about – I don’t know, cure cancer. I would prefer, that instead of working on an app, they would be working on a cure for – there’s like a million diseases that are uncured, I have news for them. Do that.
Ron Bennington: Fran Lebowitz, you are touring of course, across the country. If people want to check it out, facebook.com/franlebowitz. And the “Fran Lebowitz Reader” audiobook is available now on iTunes, Audible.com and BarnesandNoble.com, as well as I’m sure other places Fran Lebowitz does not go to. I enjoyed so much having you in here Fran.
Fran Lebowitz: Me too. Thank you.
You can hear this interview in its entirety exclusively on SiriusXM satellite radio. Not yet a subscriber? Click here for a free trial subscription.
You can learn more about Ron Bennington’s two interview shows, Unmasked and Ron Bennington Interviews at RonBenningtonInterviews.com.
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