Lebowitz maintains sharp wit, tongue
By Lou Fancher Correspondent San Jose Mercury News Posted: InsideBayArea.com
BERKELEY -- Don't tell Fran Lebowitz, but she just might be the Queen of Tweets.
In a 90-minute Cal Performances ask-and-tell at Zellerbach Hall on Nov. 15 -- ironically, the American Cancer Society's "No Butts Day" -- the social commentator, writer and determined cigarette smoker delivered her prototypical platter of patter in brief, often hilarious bursts.
Famously irascible, ferociously opposed to computers, cellphones, microwave ovens and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Lebowitz is a rare bird: an author with "writer's blockade" so severe her novel is more than 10 years in the making and a woman who says what she thinks, regardless of the consequences.
A New Jersey girl who crossed the bridge to begin a lifetime in New York City, Lebowitz took command of the social scene in the pages of Andy Warhol's "Interview." She went on to write best-selling books and appear as the star in a documentary and on television (Law and Order, Late Night with David Letterman). But it's her smart, swift commentary that causes her fans to swoon and redefines talking as talent.
Superstorm Sandy was offered up for consideration by moderator Peter Stein, who led the first half of the program, before surrendering the interviewer's chair to members of the audience.
Lebowitz might have lost power from Con Ed for four days, but the outage didn't diminish her response.
"Does something special happen when New Yorkers suffer a tragedy? No. Was it worth it because I met my neighbor?" she asked, allowing the briefest of pauses. "No. Before, my neighbor was represented by a barking dog and for that matter, might be a barking dog. But I think it helped elect Obama, so for that I'm grateful."
Complaining that Obama was not liberal enough, Lebowitz said she voted for him because "a presidential election is not a menu. When the other choice is Mitt Romney, there is no choice," she said.
About the David Petraeus sex scandal, Lebowitz was firm.
"Why does everyone say he's such a great general? Are we winning any wars? He's as good a general as he is a husband," she concluded, to applause and laughter.
Her sarcasm became the stuff of Twitter with an added comment.
"To me, poor judgment is invading Iraq. Everyone lies: that's what sex is."
Moving to media, Lebowitz said news should be what happened, not what might happen.
"Guessing should not be a profession," she said.
Claiming an "antipathy toward machines" and comparing today's cellphones to telephones in Italy in the 1950s, she confessed a tiny interest in the iPad.
"You can write on it, so it's creeping toward something I can recognize. It's almost a legal pad!" she suggested. "Can you relate to average people without these devices?" Stein asked. "I have no idea. I don't care what the average person is thinking," she stated. The publishing world received her wrath for overlong books and ersatz irony.
"Twitter has made books too long," she said, suggesting writers feel obligated to make up for it's 144 character limitation. "And comedy lacks bitterness, has no darkness. The tone of voice is recycled. All the newness is in machinery; culture is dead."
Stein, determined to find a glimmer of gold in her gloom, asked if anything gives her hope. "Nothing comes to mind," she said. "Art made from other art isn't art."
What's nearly impossible to convey in written form -- one reason she is continuously on a speaker circuit and hugely popular on college campuses -- is her ability to make four negative words hilarious (tone, timing) and a sentence with "art" appearing three times something audiences will think about for months afterwards.
After a rant on Bloomberg's Time Square lawn chairs, ban on big soda and war on trans fats -- "A healthy doughnut? A healthy doughnut is an apple!" she joked -- she gave an expat from New York who had asked what he missed since his departure her Twitter-worthy conclusion: "Nothing. You left just in time."
Blazing with despair over cities focusing on tourism at the expense of culture, Lebowitz chose Italy as the only place she'd move, if forced out of her hometown.
"Italians argue, but they will stop for lunch," she said. And her dream job, if the speaking gigs dry up?
"The Supreme Court," she announced. "Justices don't have to be lawyers and I'm already not a lawyer. I make snap judgments too, so I'd be efficient."
The final question, "Will men change?" drew a last blast tweet from the Queen. "No. Men will never change. All lack of change is due to men. Move on, concern yourself with something else."