Fran Lebowitz explains it all for you

  • by Sari Staver
  • Wednesday January 31, 2018
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New Yorkers understand Donald Trump, according to Fran Lebowitz. "He's just a cheap, trashy hustler," said Lebowitz, a 67-year-old lesbian raconteur who makes a living making dour observations about life, typically in onstage conversations in theaters around the world.

While many people seem shocked by Trump's constant stream of ignorant tweets, "Everyone I know in New York already knew that he is an incredibly dumb guy. None of us ever thought he was either a billionaire or a developer. That's no secret here in New York," she added, where Clinton beat him by a margin of 9-to-1. "And now, for the first time, Trump is exactly what he says he is: president of the United States," said Lebowitz.

We called Lebowitz at her New York City apartment to get a preview of her upcoming appearance at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre this month, where she will offer three different conversations, each with a different local writer, followed by a conversation with the audience. While the onstage interviewer chooses questions for the first half-hour of her appearance, the hour-long Q&A period with the audience is a free-for-all, said Lebowitz. While most celebrity onstage interviews are scripted and audience questions screened, Lebowitz wants to encourage spontaneity.

"I love the onstage experience," she said, "but especially the audience questions. They can be so nutty and so much fun."

The author of two best-selling books, the collections of essays "Metropolitan Life" and "Social Studies," Lebowitz first gained her large LGBT following as a writer for Andy Warhol's "Interview" magazine in the 1970s. But she doesn't really like talking about herself.

"I value my privacy," she said, declining to discuss any romantic relationships, past or present. "I won't even allow a journalist or photographer to come to my apartment," she said. "I've never wanted to make a career" about being gay. The politics of sexual identity "are narrowing," she said. "I grew up in a small town, and all I ever wanted was to have a bigger life."

Lebowitz has also declined any sort of "life" online, she said. "I have absolutely no idea what is being said about me," she added, having never owned either a computer or a smartphone. "I've never liked machinery. When people were using typewriters, I wrote longhand. People ask me why. I say I also don't own a plane or have a personal chef, but of course there's the fact that I can't afford those, either."

Lebowitz said she gets her news from the Sunday New York Times, which she reads cover-to-cover (except for the sports section), typically finishing by Wednesday. "If something else important happens, I assume people will tell me about it," she said dryly.

How does Lebowitz envision the rest of Trump's term in office? "I'm kind of out of the prediction business since I was so wrong about the election," she said, having repeatedly announced Trump "didn't have a chance in hell" of beating Hillary Clinton. "I don't think he'll be impeached," she said, noting that the "craven Republicans" currently in power in Congress are not interested in removing him.

"It's more likely that he will resign" rather than face any consequences from the current investigations, she said. "Trump has led the most charmed life of anyone in this country, and I don't see that changing.

"He's not at all interested in politics," she said. "His focus has always been on money. He will do whatever it takes to make money." And Trump's base isn't likely to desert him, because his bigotry was "100% of the appeal" for them. People who are old enough to remember George Wallace or KKK rallies "will remember the similarities," she said.

During the run-up to the election, Lebowitz said she "never believed" the reasons Trump's supporters gave for liking the Republican candidate. "I admit that I don't personally know any West Virginia coal miners who lost their jobs, but anyone who thinks Trump will bring those jobs back has got to be delusional. It's not going to be 1950 again."

The "real reason" most of these people supported Trump, she theorized, "was that they found his bigotry appealing. They knew the jobs were not coming back."

Is she worried about Trump dismantling our democratic institutions?

"I'm more worried about whether we are even going to be around," she said, noting the increasingly hostile relationship with North Korea.

As to her own future, Lebowitz predicts she will continue her decades-long tradition of doing onstage conversations. "People are always asking me when I'm going to write another book," she said. "Writing is my central problem. If I didn't have writer's block, I'd be writing right now. I've been offered the opportunity to write plays, but if I can't write a book, how can I write a play?

"Some people think talking and writing are in some way connected. They are completely separate talents, and are unrelated." Lebowitz said she doesn't even have to prepare for her speaking engagements. "I just show up. For me, talking is effortless. Like having a trick thumb."

Fran Lebowitz appears at Berkeley Repertory Theatre, 2025 Addison St., Feb. 2, 3 & 4. Reserved seats ($50) at

Fran Lebowitz: "I've never wanted to make a career" about being gay. Photo: Courtesy the subject