Speaking to celebrated New Yorker Fran Lebowitz over the phone is an experience as hilarious and eye-opening as one would imagine it to be.
The 70-year-old author, humorist and public speaker—who has enjoyed a renewed sort of relevance (at least among a younger crowd) smack-dab in the middle of the pandemic thanks to Pretend It's a City, the Martin Scorsese-directed Netflix documentary in which the two muse about life in New York—is as insightful, intelligent and as belligerently funny as her writing has always indicated.
"To hone your personality into some incredible drama is a favorite past time of New Yorkers," she says matter-of-factly, inciting laughs from yours truly. "Even people who seem very ordinary, if you watch them for two seconds, they are going to do something that makes you think 'what?'" See? Very funny indeed.
Below, read through some very Lebowitz pearls of wisdom, dealing with the effects of the pandemic, required readings and much more.
On Why Pretend It's a City Was So Successful
"Apparently, everyone except me was watching Netflix 24/7 during the pandemic. You could have read books like I did, but people watched Netflix. Also: almost everyone has heard of New York and almost everyone has an interest in New York. Even people who hate New York have an interest in New York—or else why would they bother to hate it? I don't know why, exactly, the show was successful and, by the way, no one does. If everyone knew what makes something popular, then everything would be popular."
On How the Pandemic Changed New York City
"Here's the thing: There are certain people who all they wanted was for it all to go back to the way it was. As if it was perfect before the pandemic. But the people who wanted it to go back to the way it was were those who were profiting from [the situation]. If you are a huge real estate developer or own all the Broadway theaters and chain restaurants, you were making so much money. New York City has always been run by real estate interests and people always hate developers unless they are the developers."
On Being Young
"People tend to blur the difference between being young and [loving] the way the city was. Frequently, people who are 22 or 25 stop me in the street and say 'Oh, I wished I lived in New York in the 1970s.' It doesn't surprise me anymore but it did because it's a very unusual thing for young people to wish they lived in a prior era because the present day is being made by those people. When I was in my 20s, I didn't go up to old people saying 'I wish I was in New York in the 1930s.'"
On Living in New York
"There is no place harder to live in than New York. Not one thing in New York isn't a problem. If you want to go into a store and buy some fruit, there is going to be some sort of opera. When you leave New York and stay in another place for some time, you think it's a dream! You can just go into a store and buy some grapes and it is not going to end in a huge fight. But, obviously, I made the decision numerous times that, although it is easier [elsewhere], I just don't care [to live anywhere else]."
On Her Favorite Drinking Den
"I would never name a specific restaurant or bar. They are too crowded as it is."
On Where She Buys Books to Add to Her 11,000-Tome Collection
"Everywhere. But there used to be one hundred times more bookstores in New York. The leading edge of their destruction wasn't the Internet but chain bookstores. This is what it is to get old: When Barnes and Noble started closing, kids would come up to me tearfully saying 'My Barnes and Noble is closing.' I would laugh because we hated Barnes and Noble because they put all the other bookstores out of business. You know what an independent bookstore used to be a called? A bookstore."
On Required Readings for All New Yorkers
"I always try to get young people to read Edith Wharton because she's a great American writer and she wrote about a New York that hasn't existed in a century or more. Her point of view is unusual because she was this very rich woman that was angry at the new horrible wealth that was coming into the city: the Carnegies and the Melons and the Vanderbilts. She was angry at these people because they were destroying the society she grew up in and her complaints are the complaints that people always make: [new arrivals] are vulgar, crass and all they care about is money."
On Immigrant Culture
"Probably one of the reasons why New York is so great is because it has traditionally had the most immigrants so it's constantly refreshed and never fossilizes. Of course, every time a new group of immigrants come, the people that were there a year before them hates them. It doesn't matter who the group is, [people] always hate the next people that are coming in."
On How the Pandemic Changed Her Lifestyle
"I am never home anymore. I probably have more eagerness to go out than I used to. For decades, I had a rule: I don't go out on the weekends. Don't ask me, because I'm not going. My dream was always to walk into my house late Friday afternoon and not walk out again until Monday because the weekends are too crowded. But someone invited me to lunch the other day, saying: "I know you don't like to go out on the weekends' and I said I will go now! I am sure that will subside and I'll go back to not going out on the weekends but I'm taking advantage of things opening up now."