At 30, New York humorist Fran Lebowitz (Metropolitan Life and the recently released Social Studies, now in its fifth printing since publication Aug. 31) is one of the United States ’ most eccentric and acerbic social critics. Her major field of study: “the profoundly superficial" in North American culture. En route to her celebrity, Lebowitz drove an NYC cab, sold belts on the street and was a waitress. Although she would rather go to the dentist than write, Lebowitz promises a third book, “thinner and more expensive than the last. "Maclean’s New York bureau chief Jane 0 Hara interviewed her in New York.
Maclean’s: When did you first realize you were funny and could make money out of it?
Lebowitz: I don’t know; when I was a young child people just accused me of being fresh, a bratty kid, which is never appreciated in a young child. This is why I failed a lot of things at school including sports and gym. You don’t get good marks in gym for making unflattering remarks about the gym teacher, which was my favorite sport.
Maclean’s: Were you booted out? Lebowitz: I was expelled from a private school for something so nebulous that I can’t even to this day tell exactly why. I wasn’t kicked out of public school—only suspended four or five times for smoking—but it was strongly suggested that if I had any intention of continuing any sort of academic career that I remove myself to a smaller institution. In high
school the classes were like 30 or 35 kids, so it was easy to run to the bathroom and go to sleep. In private school there were 10 kids in a class, so it was immediately noticeable that I was napping quite a bit.
Maclean’s: What did you do in the ’60s? Lebowitz: I was a teen-ager, a painful state for me.
Lebowitz: I hated it because I couldn’t stand being in high school. I think there are only two people in any given high school that like it. One is the captain of the football team and the other one is his girl-friend. I was neither one of these people. I was not a hippie. I took a lot of speed and I took a lot of cocaine. Maclean’s: Do you do any drugs now? Lebowitz: No. Too old. Heroin is a drug I actually don’t disapprove of. I mean, for myself I do because I like to keep my career, but, for less ambitious people, I think that heroin is the most honest drug. It gets right to the point. What I object to in heroin is that it causes people to break into apartments. I think that on every corner they should give it out for free.
Maclean’s: How long have you smoked? Lebowitz: Since I was 12.
• ' È 'o get elected you Á. have to be popular. Anyone who has that many people liking them is dull. ’
Maclean’s: Do you worry about your health?
Lebowitz: I always worry about my health. I imagine I get every possible disease. I was in Dallas two days ago making an appearance on a news show. Right before I went on, the newscaster reported an outbreak of Rocky Mountain spotted fever, which is extremely rare. It is caused by a tick that you get if you have a hunting dog or something, not a very likely thing for a writer from New York to acquire, but the second he told the symptoms I had them. Maclean’s: How do people react to your book outside New York ?
Lebowitz: For some odd reason that no one can determine my book sold second best in Texas to New York. If a book becomes successful, in a way that book becomes a social event, and that may be the reason. People may buy the book and not read it. I personally don’t care if they read it or not once they buy it. Maclean’s: Will you make more on this book than you made on Metropolitan Life?
Lebowitz: It looks like I’ll sell more books, and I will make more money. I have no money left from my first book. I made a substantial amount of money but not what people imagine you make from a best seller. I didn’t make anything approaching a million dollars. Maclean’s: Were you ever poor? Lebowitz: I never made more than $3,000 a year before Metropolitan Life. That’s not exactly rolling in dough, but I never imagined that I wouldn’t have
food. I have a great array of wealthier friends; really poor people only know other poor people. That’s one of the things that makes them really poor is that they have no one to take them out to lunch. Really being poor is a tragedy; it was not that.
Maclean’s: Do you think your humor is cruel?
Lebowitz: No. I think the word cruelty has to be associated with specific people. I don’t think it’s cruel to make general remarks. I do think I am negative, but I think all comedy is negative. I really get angry at people who think there is such a thing as loving comedy. Maclean’s: You donÏ touch on politics or serious social issues.
Lebowitz: Politics do not interest me because I don’t feel them to be important to America. The parties in democracy are always uninteresting. To get elected you have to be popular. Anyone who has that many people liking them is dull, so that’s why politics don’t interest me. Maclean’s: You prefer writing about superficial topics?
Lebowitz: I love it. I think, first of all, it’s entertaining and second of all, it’s really the most revealing thing about people. You could tell more from a pair of shoes lying on the floor than you can tell from nine hours of talking. Maclean’s: Why are you so intrigued by trendy people?
Lebowitz: The middle class is not that hilarious to me. It’s possibly because I am middle class and possibly because the middle class is on the whole dull and aspiring. Neither thing is flaunty enough for me.
Maclean’s: Could you write a column? Lebowitz: No. I’ve been offered a newspaper column a number of times. I think it’s impossible to be that good for long, and I am not interested in being bad. Maclean’s: What do you do when you are not writing?
Lebowitz: If I am not writing I am on a book tour.
Maclean’s: Do you go to Canada? Lebowitz: Only to Toronto. The first time I did a show in Toronto was the night of the hockey playoffs. Of course no one in New York would know this, but I get off the air and I find out that no one has been watching the show. I said: I cannot think of anything in the United States that is even equivalent to this. Would you put me on opposite the Academy Awards?
Maclean’s: Would you ever like to be the host of a talk show?
Lebowitz: I would like to be the host of a talk show if I didn’t have to have guests. I would like to have my own talk show called Fran and I could be on there every night just talking. I wouldn’t have any guests because I am not that interested in many people. I know they won’t give me that job. <£?
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