Drumming Up Enthusiasm With Fran Lebowitz

We caught up with Fran Lebowitz last week to talk to her about her new HBO documentary Public Speaking, which debuted last night. The documentary consists of an interview with Ms. Lebowitz, and assorted clips from her speaking engagements, and is directed by Martin Scorsese. We spoke with Ms. Lebowitz at the HBO offices in midtown, one of many in a long line of interviews for the day. We came just after Cosmopolitan.com.


This movie was Graydon Carter’s idea. Did he have to twist your arm?

Yes he did. I said no, I said no! I never want anyone to make a documentary about me.

I didn’t want to do it because I didn’t want anyone to follow me around. I assume I’m now the only person in the country that doesn’t want cameras following them around but I did not want anyone to follow me around and so when Graydon first suggested it I said no, and then he kept talking about it, talking about it, and he said Marty won’t do that kind of that kind of documentary.


In the film, you attribute New York’s cultural decline to the fact that AIDS killed all top-tier artists, who got laid more frequently.

The first three levels. At a minimum! Three, four. The culture now is made by the fourth, fifth level.


How much of that is a joke?

None. No, you can tell that is no joke, because it’s funny.

I think of a cultural generation of being, like, ten years. And there are three generations below that but they didn’t grow up seeing almost anything good. If you were maybe a stray genius — which I know everyone thinks they are, especially people your age, but they’re not, there have never been that many, they’re not going to start now — the cultural environment is so debased, it has an echoing effect for many generations. I don’t know if the world ever will recover, frankly. I really don’t.


Another place you say we’ve slid is newspapers. You say they’re filled with purple prose, and it seemed to particularly infuriate you in the lede.

It’s mind-boggling. I start to read it and every single story starts the same. It doesn’t matter what it’s about. It makes no difference at all. This used to not be allowed. If you want to write like that, then you should go sit somewhere and write a book of short stories. But that’s not journalism. People always say no one respects journalism anymore. Whose fault is that? If people don’t respect you, that is your fault, okay? I mean what happened? That’s why you read a newspaper or listen to the news, however you acquire news. You really want to know what happened. Maybe people your age don’t. Maybe people your age think news is “What do you think?” But of course you mean feel. Everybody uses the word “think” and they mean the word “feel.” Everyone says, “I think this, I think that.” I think, “You think nothing. You don’t even know what think means. You’re telling me how you feel. I don’t care how you feel.”


You don’t read much on the Internet, do you?

On the Internet, nothing, because I don’t have a computer. I’m going to explain this again to people: I don’t have a computer or a cell phone or a BlackBerry or whatever these things are. Not because I’m a Luddite, because no one knows what that means anyway, but because I have an antipathy to machines. I never had a typewriter. I never had the old machines. It isn’t like I love the old machines, I hate the new machines. I don’t like machines.


In your Paris Review interview, you said you found word processors to be very masculine. What do you make of the iPad?

The iPad is more like a thing a child would play with. To me it’s neither manly nor female. It’s childish. It looks like a thing for a kid. Because we now live in a world where everyone wants to be seven years old. Except people who are seven, who want to be four.


How are you writing these days?

These days I’m doing this. So when this is over I actually do intend to write. Because I found out that there is something worse than writing, and that is moving. So since I always pick like the least arduous thing, fresh in my mind is moving so I’d rather write.

I have two half-finished books. I have been unable to convince Sonny Mehta, my publisher — I say, “Sonny, I have a half of a novel, I have this other one, put them together and you have the book.”

They won’t even notice. Look who we have out there. Or they’ll think it’s fascinating! Book cover here, they turn it around, they have another book here.


Do you still play the drums?

It’s so funny because the opening of this movie was last night and Steve Jordan was there, he’s a drummer, a very fine drummer. The drums were given to me by Keith Richards. He sent them to me as a Christmas present, and he sent Steve Jordan as the drum teacher. And at a certain point I had these drums. I was not great, but not terrible. At a certain point, a former godson of mine — because if you’re my godchildren, you can become former — a former godson of mine became overly involved in heroin and I thought, even though all evidence to the contrary, “Maybe this will distract him from that.” So I gave him my drums. It did not work, of course, as in fact drumming and heroin, they go together pretty well.

So I don’t have the drums, I might get some other drums. Keith’s doing really well, maybe he’ll send me some more.


So Law and Order has left New York.

I know. I was really upset I have to say.

I’m surprised that Dick Wolf cancelled it because he always said that he wanted it to run longer than Gunsmoke and Gunsmoke ran 21 years and this was 20 years. But I guess they didn’t give him a good enough deal and, obviously he’s poverty-stricken, this poor man, so he… I don’t know why he did that. But I loved being a judge. And I’m afraid that that’s it.


Part of the movie details your car, which is a Checker. Have you seen the designs for the new taxis?

Yes. I’ve seen some of them. And why should Bloomberg be in charge of this? See, it’s clear that his desire is: ” I have three years left to ruin every single thing in New York. I don’t want anyone to forget that I was the mayor.” I don’t even understand why the city’s in charge of that.

We don’t have time for Bloomberg, but, basically, there are certain things that are in the public sphere and certain things that are in the private sphere. This, to me, is a business. Cab driving, it’s a business. What people eat? It’s their own business. Bedbugs he should take care of. That’s a public health issue. Did you ever hear anyone say, “Do you like New York?” “No, too salty.” He’s always interfering with things that are none of his business, that are private matters, whether it’s business like cab driving or what people eat.

See, each time, starting with Ed Koch — I used to say I could never hate a mayor as much as Ed Koch. Then we had Giuliani, then I thought, I could never hate a mayor as much as Giuliani. Then we have Michael Bloomberg! It’s unbelievable to me how it escalates.


Anthony Weiner’s not so bad.

I like him. No men like him. Men say to me, “He could never be the mayor with that name.” I say that is right if all the people who vote are twelve-year-old boys. I like him because he was against the smoking law. I like him. He could be the mayor. Drumming Up Enthusiasm With Fran Lebowitz