Fran Lebowitz at the Harris Theater | Comedy review
What is Fran Lebowitz's favorite thing about being a New Yorker? "I got there before I had to move to Brooklyn," she quips. In perfect form last night at the Harris Theater, Lebowitz delivered crackling one-liners while in conversation with Steppenwolf artistic director Martha Lavey. This was followed by an hour-long audience Q&A. Ms. Lebowitz was witty and incisive, completely candid and never pandering to an audience that bordered on obsequious (including this writer).
Lebowitz, in case you're among the unitiated, is an author, essayist and public speaker who dropped out of high school to move to New York and landed a breakthrough gig when she was hired by Andy Warhol to be a columnist for Interview magazine. She has two collections of essays including Metropolitan Life and Social Studies and was the subject of a recent documentary by Martin Scorsese called Public Speaking. Most notably, she is a wry observer of our times and drops pithy one-liners in rapid-fire succession.
The conversation began with a discussion on education. Lebowitz was kicked out of high school and moved straight away to New York. She's an avid and obsessive reader (it was the subject she spoke most passionately and frequently about last night) and excoriated Oprah for turning literature into a vanity pursuit. "You're not supposed to see yourself in every book," she said of Winfrey's tendency to always ask, "Where am I in this book?" Lebowitz then offered harsh words regarding a recent Sun-Times headline that claimed schools would be de-emphasizing literature in favor of non-fiction. "I'm shocked to discover there's an over-concentration of literature in Chicago Public Schools," she said.
After a 30-minute discussion with Lavey, Lebowitz announced, "I'm now going to answer questions in an entertaining fashion." I was too afraid to ask one. Lebowitz outright cut off one audience member who was stumbling to string together a cohesive question about the death of Gore Vidal. Ms. Lebowitz does not suffer fools gladly. One person asked her how many nights a week she goes out on the town and why doesn't she have a radio show. Lebowitz answered, "Five, seven, nine? Why don't I have a radio show? I don't have time, I'm out."
Politics provided much of the fire last night. You could hear the audience rustling in their seats with anticipation when Lebowitz would get asked a political question. She's no fan of Mayor Bloomberg. "I once told him I never thought I'd have the chance to vote against you three times." But in Democratic-leaning Chicago, the harshest words were for Mitt Romney. "He doesn't describe a country," said Lebowitz, "he describes a country club." Her advice for Obama? "Be a Democrat." She also lamented the enthusiasm gap among young voters, the dumbing down of our political process and the war on women. One audience member asked her who she'd like to see get the Democratic nomination in 2016. "I know you want me to say Hillary Clinton," said Lebowitz. "I do not like dynasties."
My favorite Lebowitz moments were the breezy, off-the-cuff zings for which she is best known. Someone asked the now 61-year-old Lebowitz which has greater advantage, age or youth. Lebowitz replied, "It depends. If you're trying to get a social security check, age. Everything else, youth."