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Still Smoking

The fast-talking and unforgiving cultural satirist Fran Lebowitz comes to the Pantages
 Lebowitz, ever-present cigarette in hand. Smoking is, as far as I’m concerned, Lebowitz said, the entire point of being an adult.
Image by Photo Courtesy Hennepin Theatre Trust
Lebowitz, ever-present cigarette in hand. “Smoking is, as far as I’m concerned,” Lebowitz said, “the entire point of being an adult.”

What: Fran Lebowitz

When: Friday, Oct. 14, 8 p.m.

Where: Pantages Theatre , 710 Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis

Cost: $32.50/ $42.50

Fran Lebowitz is what she describes as âÄúthe most discursive speaker on the planet.âÄù This would be frustrating for her listeners if it wasn’t for her constant stream of biting one-liners and caustic annihilation of cultural pretensions.

In 1975, when Lebowitz was 25, she started writing for Andy Warhol’s âÄúInterviewâÄù magazine, where she displayed her unflinching ability to satirize the everyday in a few quick, incisive strokes.

The launch of LebowitzâÄôs career as a cultural icon was similarly precise and to-the-point. Her published works are limited to two compact essay compilations and a childrenâÄôs book, but she has been the subject of features in the New York Times, the Paris Review and a 2010 documentary by Martin Scorcese.

Tomorrow, Lebowitz will appear at the Pantages as part of their âÄúLiving LegendsâÄù series.

Despite what her modest oeuvre may indicate, Lebowitz has not run out of things to say.

The loquacious and husky-voiced New Yorker spoke with A&E on the phone about why people are more average than they’d like to believe, what’s wrong with following your dreams and why genius is hard to find.


You said in âÄúPublic SpeakingâÄù that wit is judgment. Do you think the public perception of wit has changed?

I don’t think the public knows what it is. I think what’s mostly changed is âÄúthe public.âÄù And I don’t mean every single person, but I mean the idea that there is a general public. You know, the assumptions âÄî this is right, this is wrong, this is acceptable, this is unacceptable âÄî those kind of things. Those things have been split into five million little pieces. Everyone lives in their own tiny world. And in fact, many people seem, if you walk around the streets of New York, to live in a world of one. You never hear the word âÄúaverageâÄù anymore. No one wants to be average.


Can you cite any time where you think there was a height âÄî a peak of American culture?

You mean popular culture? I don’t think there was. Except in painting and art. American art âÄî the abstract movement of art. That was incredibly influential and it changed something. And of course, music. Popular music. Jazz. I think those are the two probably peak things.

A lot of people will say to you âÄúpop art.âÄù I will not, because I think pop art has turned out to be a very, very bad influence. I think people took it too seriously. That’s why it’s lasted so long. But this is never gonna die. It’s like Coca-Cola.


Why do you think it has endured?

People like things that make them feel smart. What could make you feel smarter than a soup can?


Do you see any end to the recycling of the culture from the last 30 years?

Certainly, it will happen. The only thing, really, that I’m certain of is that things change. If I knew in what direction every single thing would change, I would be not here, I’d be in my villa in Tuscany. One of the worst things in the culture is that we now have an entire industry of people who tell you the future. You know, how would they know this? I mean, people who are truly farsighted and visionary are very few. There are some people who might be that way, but that person is not going to have a show on FOX or on MSNBC. Or they’re not going to be a columnist for the New York Times. They’re not. That’s not where genius resides.


Where does genius reside?

We don’t know! That’s the thing. We don’t know. Genius is an anomaly. We know exactly how someone becomes a CEO, we know exactly how someone becomes a senator or president or a successful writer. But where a genius might come from? Anywhere. Where it’s unlikely to come from is where people believe they’re cultivating it. It’s probably not going to come out of Brown University.


What do you think of the university system right now?

What I certainly do know about it is that, naturally, if you say everyone should go to college, colleges are going to become like high schools. Also the way that it’s financed is beyond absurd. I don’t have children, for which I think I should get an award. I think everyone who didn’t have children should get some kind of prize.


What kind of prize?

Money. Because the burden that we are not placing on every single system in the world is immense. We certainly should be allowed to smoke in a restaurant, not having bred two or three children who are going to drive around in cars.


You mentioned that you would love to be the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. What would your first action be?

Well, my first action would be something you can’t do. I’d fire the five people on the court that shouldn’t be there. I donâÄôt know everything about the Supreme Court, but I know more than most people, because it is my fantasy the way everyone has their fantasy like, âÄúI’m going to be a movie star,âÄù or they want to live in a castle âÄî I don’t know what people’s fantasies are. That’s mine. If I had a position of actual power, I would stand up in front of the country and just give them a little lesson of the things they seem to have forgotten.


Do you ever feel overwhelmed? Do you ever throw up your hands and say you don’t know what to do anymore?

No, because I don’t do anything. I just talk. So it’s not a problem for me. I am surprised that the number of people who stop me in the street and tell me they agree with me seems to exceed the number who vote that way or who act that way. From my first book, I would get letters from people: âÄúI agree with you. You say the things I think.âÄù And I would think this can’t be true. They just think they think this. Because if they really thought this, why are they living this way?


And when you say âÄúthis way,âÄù what do you mean?

Why every single person goes along with whatever environment they’re in. They imagine, as everyone does, that other people agree with them.

Everybody has these crazy ideas, which the culture promotes. Like constantly saying the word âÄúdreamâÄù to people, instead of reality. âÄúWhat’s your dream?âÄù âÄúI want my child to have their dream.âÄù Really? How about your child should just, you know, move out of your house? How would that be? You’d be a lot better off if you were training this child to make enough money âÄî and fixing the world so that child can make enough money âÄî so they’re not living in your house for the rest of your life. That is a goal that is possible

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