Review: FRAN LEBOWITZ (CAP UCLA’s Words & Ideas Series at the Theatre at the Ace Hotel)

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by Samuel Garza Bernstein on October 4, 2018

in Extras,Interviews,Theater-Los Angeles,Tours


A worshipful cult greeted Fran Lebowitz at the Theatre at the Ace Hotel in downtown L.A. on September 30. She seemed incredibly pleased but not at all surprised, quipping, “I feel like Donald Trump at a Ku Klux Klan rally.” The Center for the Performing Arts at UCLA (CAP UCLA) presented Ms. Lebowitz as the first offering in their 2018-19 season’s Words & Ideas series. She opened with a conversation with KCRW’s Matt Holzman, then went solo at a podium taking questions from the audience.

It was a warmly funny evening, thoughtful and incisive, and surprisingly nostalgia-free. When asked if New York in the 1970s was “better” than it is now, she was very clear: “Being in your twenties (as she was in the 1970s) is better than being in your sixties. That has nothing to do with nostalgia.“ She spoke about politics, art, culture, and history, making modern observations about the world we live in today.

Lebowitz is perhaps less well-known to the broader public for her early essays collected in Metropolitan Life and Social Studies, than as someone funny on television. She is always the last guest when she appears late-night chat shows, where her observations are trenchant and on-point. “Donald Trump is a poor person’s idea of a rich person,” she said when he entered the presidential race.

She believed wholeheartedly that Trump would lose. She counts that as the only important thing about the world that she has ever gotten wrong. That admission prompted an extended rift during the show about how she is profoundly disappointed that she can’t be president herself. She has excellent qualifications — she is smart, makes snap decisions, and is always right (except about Trump winning). If not the presidency, she believes she would be a terrific supreme court judge. I cannot disagree.

Though she has written pieces for a wide range of publications, including Vanity Fair, and has published a children’s book, Mr. Chas and Lisa Sue Meet the Pandas, she has gone over forty years without publishing another book of non-fiction. “I’m such a slow writer,” she says, “I could write in my own blood and not hurt myself.” Famously, she still writes in longhand. No typewriter, let alone a computer.

The sardonic pleasure she takes in making her observations is not without costs, and she is sometimes burdened with perfectionism and unachievable standards. “I’m made of language,” she says, referring to the impossibility of functioning anywhere but America, but also defining the essential truth of her existence. Among her other observations:

“The Founding Fathers could have more easily imagined an iPhone than Mitch McConnell.”

“All God’s children are not beautiful. Most of God’s children are, in fact, barely presentable.”

“My favorite animal is steak.”

“Bruce Jenner is the only person in the history of the world who wanted to be a 65-year-old woman.”

“No animal should ever jump up on the dining-room furniture unless absolutely certain that he can hold his own in the conversation.”

“Original thought is like original sin: both happened before you were born to people you could not have possibly met.”

“Humility is no substitute for a good personality.”

“Dorothy Parker and I are producing the same amount of work right now.”

Lebowitz is one of the writers who influenced me most when I was growing up. While some teens gravitated to the angst of J.D. Salinger, S.E. Hinton, or Judy Blume, my sights were set on something more sophisticated, more urban, more New York. I smoked early and feigned a sense of dead-pan maturity. After all, nothing is as chic as an 11-year-old smoking and quipping borrowed bon mots.

To this day, when anyone proposes an outdoor activity like camping or hiking, I paraphrase Ms. Lebowitz in response, broadly declaring that I do not wish to go back to the land, I want to go back to the hotel. Her observations about being a writer stayed with me, how one knows a baby will be a writer because it sleeps through the night — and through the day — and how a writer is born full of excuses. Inescapably true. I would have posted this article earlier, but my dogs ate my notes.

photos by Reed Hutchinson

Fran Lebowitz
in conversation with Matt Holzman
part of the Words & Ideas series
presented by Center for the Performing Arts at UCLA (CAP UCLA)
Theatre at the Ace Hotel, 933 S. Broadway in DTLA
played Sunday September 30, 2018
for future events, call 310-825-2101 or visit CAP UCLA

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