“Chris Christie is Santa Claus”: Fran Lebowitz & Martin Scorsese in Conversation at BAM

Last night I watched Fran Lebowitz and Martin Scorsese (longtime friends who made a movie together four years ago) hold a talk together at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.


Photo: IMDB Fran — inveterate New Yorker, essayist, author, humorist, and unapologetic smoker — did most of the talking; Martin offered one-word responses to most audience questions, seemingly overwhelmed by Fran’s uncanny ability to hold up a conversation for the both of them. Fran is that super-opinionated person who’d probably otherwise get on your nerves if you ran into her at a party…except that she’s smarter than you and crazy funny so you just shut up and listen. Here are a few Fran-ism highlights from yesterday’s discussion:

On Awards Season:

“It’s an endless cavalcade of knick-knacks.” (Webster definition of knick-knack: a cheap ornament.) Needless to say, Fran apparently isn’t a huge fan of awards season. Call me a crank, but I think she’s totally right — to me it’s red carpet hype, snoozer speeches from people who get paid big bucks to speak yet can’t prepare one minute of entertaining words for ostensibly the most important moment of their lives…and the wrong winners getting the knick-knacks most of the time, anyway.

On computers:

“It’s like a very fast typewriter.” She hates all technology and doesn’t have any gadgets, including a cellphone (“nothing is an emergency” — she’s right about that!), computer, or even a typewriter (she never learned to type, period). Yet I sensed some regret that she never got on board: “I just didn’t know the whole world was going to go onto it.”

On microwaves:

“It’s like having a small atomic bomb in your home” (you guessed it…she doesn’t have a microwave!!).

On the worst place in the world:

“The Whole Foods on Houston and Bowery: it has its own foreign policy. You get to the checkout and it’s like, now we’re boarding…when you finally pay the cashier asks you ‘would you like a bag for that?’ with contempt in their eyes. It’s like ‘no, I plan on juggling these all the way back to my apartment.’ They make you think you’re causing global warming with your grocery bags.”

On being a kid:

“When we were kids, we sat in the front seats on the laps of our smoking mothers. And we’re still alive.”


“When we were kids, our parents hated us.”

On kids today:

“Parents today love everything their kids do. Except smoking.”

“Aging…makes listening to people much more annoying.” She lives in the village (“NYUistan,” as she calls it) and has to overhear NYU students talk all the time. “I feel like saying, ‘No, that’s not going to happen. I know everything there is to know, and it doesn’t happen the way you think it does.'” Sounds about right: The older you get, the more you realize life is unpredictable and unfair and you’re better off learning to go with the flow.

On New York:

“New York was always an expensive place to live,” even when she moved here to live in the village in the late 60s. “No one can afford to live here…yet eight million people do.” It’s true — most of us come here not knowing how we’re going to make it yet we somehow do. And then we’re hooked.

On Times Square:

The Bloomberg administration spent $40 million — $40 million! — paving Times Square to make it more pedestrian-friendly. Why? Because “tourists were saying, ‘you know what I hate about Times Square? There’s not enough places to stop and lie down.'”

I think most New Yorkers can relate to her distaste for tourists, and her Times Square anecdote is the perfect example. Reminds me of John Skylar’s brilliant Huffington Post essay on New Yorkers’ reputation for rudeness: “for some reason, a huge number of tourists to New York seem to totally forget that when you are a guest somewhere, it behooves YOU to learn the unwritten rules of conduct so that you will not upset the delicate social balance of the place you are visiting. Because New York relies so much on foot traffic, these people often utterly disrupt the flow in the subway or on the street, and then complain that New Yorkers are “rude” when we do not accommodate their interference with our lives.”

On Chris Christie: 

“Chris Christie has become a Santa Claus figure,” for the gift he gives us all — his  shenanigans make endless dinner-table fodder. As a former New Jerseyan, Fran says she’s confident Christie will “never become president” because he’s so dirty: “‘I’m not a bully’ really sounds nothing like ‘I’m not a crook’.” Well Fran, when you put it that way…

On her best advice to young people:

“If I was young kid, I would start looking for water” because we’re running out of it, she said, referencing Thomas Malthus’s population theory (too many people = not enough resources), which exploded in the 1970s. Deja vu: my own dad — same generation as Fran — loves to go into detail about this theory with me every time I visit. Call me an optimist, but I think since most first-world countries (U.S., France, U.K., etc.) don’t have an expanding birth rate, maybe avoiding populationclypse is a matter of access to education and birth control. At least that’s better than the alternative…

On the South:

A lifelong New Yorker, Fran claims the deep south (and West, and, well, pretty much everywhere but New York) wants to erase 200 years of progress…alluding to women’s rights, abortion, gay rights, abolition of slavery, even evolution. “Evolution is not a religion: You don’t have to believe in it. That’s the difference between science and religion.”

Preach it Fran — though in saying so she contradicts her own earlier assertion that she doesn’t believe the science behind second-hand smoke (she and her mom have both smoked their whole lives and they’re still alive!, she says). But that’s what’s great about Fran: She knows she may not always make sense, but that doesn’t stop her from opening her mouth.


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