Fran Lebowitz for president in 2016.
Prepping for an interview with Fran Lebowitz, perhaps our pre-eminent (and certainly our most curmudgeonly) social critic, is a piece of cake. That’s because almost nothing—including her unrepentant pro-smoking stance—is off the table. Lebowitz’s unlikely ascent into punditry began in the early ’70s when Andy Warhol tapped the high-school dropout to write a column for Interview magazine. Her classic essay collections Metropolitan Life and Social Studies appeared in 1978 and 1981, respectively, and by the mid-’80s she was showing up now and again on David Letterman’s late-night TV show. Now a fixture on the college speaking circuit, Lebowitz is currently on the stump with her own satiric “State of the Union” address, coming to Cal Performances Thursday, Nov. 15. She called me recently from New York City for a sneak peak at some of the post-election bombshells she has in store.
Paul Kilduff: Under what circumstances can you imagine having a good time in Berkeley?
Fran Lebowitz: You know, I’m not as imaginative as you may imagine. I was trying to think when was the last time I was in Berkeley and it’s certainly been a number of years. But I doubt that it’s improved. First of all, you have horribly draconian smoking laws, which we have here [in New York City] now.
PK: Thanks, California.
FL: We have more cabs, though. I’m not the world’s expert on Berkeley. But it is interesting to me that Berkeley and also San Francisco, which used to be kind of libertine in certain respects, have become incredibly teeming with rules of every sort.
PK: Could you imagine endorsing a brand of cigarettes?
FL: No. I cannot imagine endorsing anything. I don’t do any kinds of ads or commercials. I am apparently the last person on the planet who doesn’t do this. I know it’s outmoded, I know selling out doesn’t exist—but to me if you do something like that, it’s not that it’s immoral, it’s not like killing someone. What you’re really selling is a tiny bit of your freedom.
PK: What would the Lebowitz administration look like?
FL: This is something so dear to my heart. You have no idea. Whenever people say “Who would want to be the president?” I always say, “Me!” I would love to be the president. I watch the president speak, no matter who the president is or what I’m thinking about. I also have to admit I’m filled with envy.
PK: I think you would be a very decisive president.
FL: I would be. I would definitely be the president if only anyone would vote for me.
PK: You’d have a hard time getting elected.
FL: I never go to a dinner party where I can win the room, so I’m aware of the fact that I’m not going to be the president. But I would be a very good president. First of all, I would announce I am going to be a one-term president. Even presidents that are well-intentioned (not that we have them that frequently) do the wrong thing, thinking “I can’t do anything that’s going to keep me from being elected the next time.” That is bad for the country. I would just say, “You know what? I don’t care whether you like me because I’m not running again. And also one of the first things I would say is, no one in my administration is allowed ever to compare the United States of America to a business. That is an awful model for a society. A business is an entity that has one purpose: to make a profit.
PK: That’s true.
FL: The language of business, starting in the 1980s, started to become the language of poets. “Vision.” Steve Jobs was not a genius; he was a businessman. When Steve Jobs died, I happened to be in a neighborhood where there was an Apple store, and in front of it was a shrine. I mean candles, flowers. That is morally grotesque. You may have loved these things that Steve Jobs sold. But do not mistake them for either instances of morality or objects of art.
PK: Equating the government to a business—
FL: It’s wrong.
PK: The government’s running so many things. It has to take in revenue via taxes. You can see how people would make that comparison.
FL: No. I can see how businessmen would repeat it often enough so that you think that the two things are analagous, but they’re not. Revenues are not profits. They’re not meant to be kept in the pockets of people, which profits are. Businessmen always say that business is more efficient than government. Of course it is, because it has this one little, tiny goal: to make money.
The public school system cannot be run as a business. There is no profit that should be made in the public school system. Period. Michael Bloomberg called the students of the New York City public schools “customers” in a speech I saw him make after he had appointed Cathie Black (who was an executive at Hearst Corporation) to run the public schools, even though she had never been a million miles from a public school. Not her, not her children. She wasn’t an educator. I’m surprised she knew there were any public schools. There are no customers in schools, there are supposed to be students in schools. The customers are supposed to be in stores.
PK: We’re trillions of dollars in debt. What if we just got rid of some stuff that maybe we don’t need? Like maybe we give Hawaii to China and just say now we’re settled?
FL: I’ve never been to Hawaii because I am not the beach bunny you might imagine.
PK: You don’t personally have a Facebook page, but your publisher has one for you and you actually have over 13,000 “likes.” Are you impressed with that?
FL: They put that up without even informing me. I don’t just not have a Facebook page, I don’t have a computer. I have no idea whether that’s a lot of people looking at a page or a small amount.
PK: It’s a lot.
FL: I don’t have an opinion about it. Unlike everyone else, I don’t have that many opinions about things I know nothing about.
PK: I’m assuming you resolved your writer’s block. Or are you still suffering?
FL: Obviously if I had really resolved my writer’s block I wouldn’t have to go around the whole country talking to people. I could stay home.
For more Kilduff, go to thekilduff-file.blogspot.com.
Birthplace: Morristown, N.J.
Astrological sign: Scorpio.
Book on nightstand: “I have far too many books to put on a nightstand.”
Documentary: Public Speaking, directed by Martin Scorses