Fran Lebowitz on Trump: "No one in New York thinks he's a New Yorker"

Fran Lebowitz doesn't believe Trump can win again

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Senior Writer

Published October 17, 2023 9:00AM (EDT)

Fran Lebowitz (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Fran Lebowitz (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

Fran Leibowitz doesn't care. She doesn't care if you're upset that can't reach her because she doesn't have a cell phone. She doesn't care if you don't know what to do with your career. She doesn't care if you agree with her opinions. 

This is not to say that the acerbic essayist and commentator is without feelings. "I don't mean I don't care what people think of me," she told me during a recent Salon Talks conversation, "that people that I know think of me as a person. I am a human." But the 72-year old author of the seminal "The Fran Lebowitz Reader" and subject of 2021's breakthrough Netflix documentary series "Pretend It's a City" isn't invested in whether her relationship with technology makes other people mad. "What does bother me is people think of some kind of moral stance," she explained. "It's not."

But as she made clear in our discussion, Lebowitz still has plenty of other moral stances to go around. She readily offered her opinions on the too-comfortable behavior of movie audiences, the number of American cities she considers "great" (two) and why she was wrong about the 2016 election. "I spent the year prior to the election going around the country telling thousands of people, 'He has zero chance,'" she recalled, before boldly taking another chance on forecasting. Ever ready with an opinion, she teed one up for us. "Are you going to ask me if he's going to win this time?" 

You can watch my full "Salon Talks" interview with Lebowtiz here or read a transcript of our conversation below to learn what she thinks will happen the 2024 election, her advice to young people and making the trek all the way to Brooklyn for her next show. 

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The following conversation has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

You’re currently on tour around the country and around the world for the next year. You're going to Australia. You're going to Amsterdam, you're going to Berlin, you're going to Zurich, but next you're going to Brooklyn. 

Yes. The upside of that is, no plane.

As a New Yorker, I love you and I would love to see you, but I'm not going to Brooklyn, Fran. I'm not going to lie.

That's OK. It's far. This place is called Kings Theater. I don't know where it is. It's in Brooklyn. Many people do know where it is. All the people that I know who know where it is are 22. It must be a youthful venue.

You have youthful fans, and new generations are being introduced to your work. “The Fran Lebowitz Reader” just came out in the UK only three years ago and became a bestseller. You released “Pretend It's A City” in 2021. What is it about your younger audience that you see connecting with your writing?

I don't know. I really have no idea, but I have always had a young audience, to some extent. The difference really in my audience is the size of it, because it turns out that Netflix is really popular. Netflix is more popular than I think probably every book ever written. I always did this, I've done this since I was 27, but I always did it in the United States and Canada. Since Netflix, I do it all over the world, so that's a big difference. 

"You can only think about one person for a certain amount of time, even if that person's you."

Quite a while ago, I noticed that when kids saw me in the street, the main thing they would say to me — well, they say a number of things — but a primary thing is, "I wish I'd lived in New York in the '70s. It seemed like it was so much more fun. Was it?" I found this an odd thing for kids to say, so I actually thought, was New York more fun in the '70s than it is now? I don't know. I was in my 20s in the '70s, so I do know it's more fun to be in your 20s in the '70s than in your 70s in the '20s. Definitely more fun.

New York in the '70s has now achieved this kind of permanent glamor, like Paris in the '20s. I think really that's it. They want to know about it. They also are surprised. They see all these photographs and they're stunned. Like some of them say, "How could all these people know each other? How could you all be in this room?" What they don't understand is how small these worlds were then. The New York art world fit into one restaurant, and it was called the New York art world. Now it's called the global art market. Of course, it doesn't fit anywhere except in a bank. I really think that's a big part of it. 

Also, lots of times they ask me what to do. "Fran, I don't know what to do with my life. What do you think I should do?" Really, truthfully, I think, what do I care? Kids that age, their parents paid so much attention to them that they think all of the people care about them. Do whatever you want. What do I care?

On the radio, I heard a reporter say, by 2050, we'll be out of water. I froze in terror until I realized I'll be dead. I don't care. I have no children, I don't care. So when they say things like, "I'd like to be a filmmaker, but I'm also a very good musician," they seem to be quite confident in their abilities. "What do you think I should do?" I think, I don't know. But if I was your age, I'd look for water because apparently we drank it all. I don't even know what happened to it, but apparently it's gone. It will be gone. Go look for water.

If you're worried about your creative career, don't, because in 25 years, the planet is not going to exist anyway.

That's what it seems like. I mean, really there are bigger things to worry about.

I was reading your book again recently and I realized it'd been so long since I read it. When was the last time you read something you wrote? How often do you go back and revisit?

Never. Some of these people show me stuff when they tell me things. I never look at things that I wrote. I never watch myself. I never listen to myself. I don't read anything about myself. I lost interest in myself. You can only think about one person for a certain amount of time, even if that person's you.

Also, when I have a photograph taken, which I hate, which I've always hated even when I was young, now of course I hate it more. Photographers are always saying, "I'm just trying..." because it takes so much time, "I’m just trying to get ready for a picture." I always think, "Well then you should have called me in the '70s, OK, so let's snap this up.” When they say, "Do you want to see the picture?" No, I don't. I don't ever look at this stuff.

You don't look at your pictures. You also very famously don't have a cell phone or a laptop. It's not like you're not engaged. You read the paper, you listen to the radio, you listen to the news, you know what's going on in the world, but you don't have a cell phone. Tell me what's great about not having a cell phone.

I don't know because I never had one. Not having a cell phone was not like some deliberate decision. The cell phone is not the first thing they invented like that. The first thing they invented like that, that I'm aware of, that you would have in your house, was called a word processor. A friend of mine who's a screenwriter got one. She said, "This thing's fantastic. You have to come and look at this." So I looked at it and I thought, "Well, this is just a very fast kind of typewriter." Which is all it was. There was no internet then. I didn't have a typewriter. I thought, I don't need this fast thing, which I don't know how to use. I write so slowly I could write in my own blood without hurting myself. So, I said, "I don't need this." 

I didn't know the entire world would go into a little machine, but it did and I just still don't know how to type. I just don't care. It really angers people though. Especially people I know. People are furious at me. “I can't reach you.” I think, "So what, who am I?" Truthfully, if you have a real emergency, I can't help you. I have no skills. In other words, I'm not like the head of trauma brain surgery at neuro hospital. Let me give you a list of people that you should call if there's an emergency, I'm not on the list. I don't care if people can't reach me. I don't really care if I can be in constant touch with people. It doesn't bother me, but it does bother everyone else. What does bother me is people think of some kind of moral stance. It's not. It's happenstance, really. It had to do with typing.

I've read so many interviews where people will say, "Well, do you care about what people say about this?" Your response is always, "I don't care what people think about me." I would love to be able to cultivate that. How does one do that? 

I don't mean I don't care what people think of me, that people that I know think of me as a person. I am a human. I mean, I don't care what people think about what I think about things. I don't care if you agree with me. I don't care if anyone agrees with me. You don't agree with me, so what? That I've always had. OK, so all right, I think this, you think that. 

"What does bother me is people think of some kind of moral stance. It's not. It's happenstance, really. It had to do with typing."

It does anger people. I think that is also surprising because it really doesn't matter. Unfortunately, it doesn't matter what I think. I'm not in charge of anything. I would like it to matter. I would like, "I'm the President of the United States and it really, really matters a lot in my opinion." But I'm not the President of the United States, so it doesn't matter. I don't have any power. People shouldn't get so angry at me. Although they do. But I don't understand why anyone cares what people think about what you think, but a lot of people do, and people always have. 

Now I understand a politician, because they need people to agree with them. But most people are not, say, a senator, although it seems like anyone could become one. But most people don't have that kind of power. I think people should just stop thinking about it.

You're going on this tour, you're embarking on all of this travel. When you leave New York, what do you miss about it?

I miss everything about New York. There's lots of great cities in the world. There's not lots of great cities in the United States, though. In the United States, there's only one other city, that's Chicago.

San Francisco?

San Francisco is a village.


L.A. is not dense enough to be a city. There are things I like about these places, but a real city to me, New York and Chicago, that's it. The other places are either too small or they're too adorable, San Francisco…

Philadelphia is not adorable.

No. Philadelphia's pretty. I really like Philly, but it's so close to New York that if you want to live there, you could live in New York. I know it's less expensive, but every place is, alright? Every place is less expensive than New York. But it's not my fault New York's so expensive. I would prefer it [to be] less.

But really where I want to go, I want to go home. I travel all the time. I've been doing this for years and years. People say, "Where are you going on vacation?" "Home." That's where I want to go, home.

I'm standing in front of my building at five in the morning with luggage and someone who lives in my building was coming in from the gym, coming in from the gym at 5 a.m. Of course, she's a banker. She goes, "Oh, did you go on vacation?" I said, "No." When you see me standing in front of the building with my luggage, I'm going to make money. When you see me coming in, I'm coming to spend it. I spend it here. It costs so much to live in New York that you have to spend all your time paying rent.

There's so much that's hard about living in New York. I read an interview recently where you said you don't go to museums anymore. You don't go to movies anymore. The reason why you gave was your "fellow man."

I go to museums. I've not gone to the movies in a movie theater for a long time, generally. I might go once in a while. I used to go all the time. Yes. It's because of my fellow man. It's the way people behave in movies. People behave in movies like they're home. In fact, people behave everywhere now as if they were home. They have no sense that, I'm not in my own living room, maybe I should put on long pants. I'm not in my living room, maybe I shouldn't be talking, sharing my opinion of the movie with everyone else here. That's what keeps me out of those places.

I still go to museums because there's no substitute for that. I try to go to museums when they're closed, which is sometimes a possibility. Twice, I've been able to go to the Met recently when it was closed, and that is the perfect way to go to the Met. I mean there's every reason to go to museums, which used to be empty.

You have to go in those early hours. That's the trick.

They used to be empty all the time because really not that many people are interested in museums. There are very few people interested in museums. When I was young, when I first moved to New York, if I was uptown and I had a half an hour till I had to go to the next place uptown, but not time to go home, I would go to the Museum of Modern Art. You could just walk in, pay something, but not a hundred dollars, whatever it costs now, all these lines. Truthfully, I'd like to live in a world where this many people are interested in this, but they're not really.

I read an interview you did with W in 2016 where you said, I don't believe Donald Trump will become president because I don't believe there are that many morons in the United States.

There are, turns out.

Turns out there are.

There's three events in my lifetime that I remember every second of the event from the time it occurred. One is the assassination of John F. Kennedy. One is September 11. And the third is the night Donald Trump was elected. Because first of all, yes, I spent the year prior to the election going around the country telling thousands of people, “Zero. He has zero chance.” I said that because I believed it. It never occurred to me. It was a joke. I was really shocked. 

For at least three or four months after that election, every time I walked out of my apartment, people screamed at me. "You were wrong. You were wrong." I know, I'm sorry. Believe me, I'm sorry. I was sorry I was wrong. I was sorry what that meant that I was wrong. Truthfully, if you've only been wrong one time in your life, that was not the time to be wrong. So, no, I did not believe that there were that many people who would [vote for him]. 

"Truthfully, if you've only been wrong one time in your life, that was not the time to be wrong."

A friend of mine right before the election said he could win. I said, "That is just absurd." She said, "You don't understand this country because you don't watch reality television." I said, "That's ridiculous." I'd heard of the television show, but I never saw it. That's true. But I never saw any reality television. I knew that a lot of people like reality television, but I didn't know they thought it was reality. It's called reality television, not reality. Right?

As you know, New York City voted for Hillary Clinton nine to one. Even the Upper East Side voted for Hillary Clinton, even though they always vote Republican on the Upper East Side in presidential elections because no taxes on capital, but they didn't vote for Donald Trump. 

Of all the horrible things about Donald Trump, one of the things that most bothers me, and perhaps you, is that people outside New York think he's a New Yorker. No one in New York thinks he's a New Yorker. It's the most insulting thing to me. I always say, “No one in New York thinks he's a New Yorker.” And no one in New York even thought he was a real estate developer. The truth is that in New York, the real real estate developers looked down on him. Can you imagine a level of moral squalor so profound that real estate agents look down on you? And they were right. It was a shocking thing. Really shocking.

Are you going to ask me if he's going to win this time?

I am afraid to ask you now, Fran.

I don't think so. I really don't think so. The problem, of course, is the electoral college. If it wasn't for the electoral college, there'd never be a Republican president. Twice in my life — which is long, but it's not a thousand years — twice in my life, the presidency was won by someone who lost a popular vote, both times Republicans, George W. Bush and Donald Trump.

In other democracies, the popular vote is called “the vote.” The electoral college, both times this happened, people that I know who are non-American say, "What does this mean?" When I explain it, they go, "Oh, so it doesn't work." I go, "No, it works perfectly. It does exactly what it was meant to do." It overweights the rural vote, the Southern vote and that far Western vote. Every state has two senators. Fewer than 600,000 people live in Wyoming; they have two senators. That many people live in my building. My building should have a senator.

It is absolutely not representative. These people represent acreage because when you look at these maps, Wyoming is gigantic. You can't believe it, but there's no one there. It's just empty. That's the way they can win, but otherwise they can't. They couldn't win.

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a senior writer for Salon and author of "A Series of Catastrophes & Miracles."

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