When author and social commentarian Fran Lebowitz comes to Seattle Feb. 18, she’ll spend most of her visit taking questions from the audience. Since the election, she said, 90 percent of the questions people ask her are about politics.
You ever thought about making a sex tape?
You can ask this question because it’s Fran Lebowitz on the other end of the phone, and there’s nothing the author — her breakthrough essay collection, “Metropolitan Life,” was published 40 years ago next month — loves more than holding court.
The social commentator has long been described as a modern-day Dorothy Parker whose witticisms are delivered, deadpan, in between puffs of her beloved Marlboro Lights. Lebowitz has done this for decades, from Interview magazine to Bill Maher and everything in between.
The author and social commentator will be interviewed by Paul Constant of The Seattle Review of Books at 7:30 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 18, Benaroya Hall, 200 University St., Seattle; $35-$56 (206-215-4747 or seattlesymphony.org)
On Feb. 18, Lebowitzwill share the stage at Seattle’s Benaroya Hall with Paul Constant, co-founder of The Seattle Review of Books.
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It’s enough to say that Lebowitz is appearing, because she’ll surely take it from there, weighing in on anything from gender, race and gay rights to, well, whether going full Kardashian is the thing to do now.
“I know there’s a million of them,” she said of the ubiquitous fleet of fat-lipped, fawning and fertile sisters. “And I know they have gotten extremely rich doing things I was taught never to do: Bragging about yourself, showing off things you own …”
Or making a sex tape.
“That was certainly not in the instruction I received,” Lebowitz said. “People used to have contempt for these kinds of traits.”
She’s angry she even knows who the Kardashians are — and angrier still that they are so celebrated.
“I blame my fellow Americans,” she said. “There’s no law that says you have to watch this junk. You’re voting, if you’re watching something like this.
“Human nature has never been delightful.”
And yet, Lebowitz is heading straight into it at Benaroya, where Constant will interview her for a half-hour before Lebowitz takes questions from the audience for twice that long.
“This is my favorite thing to do,” she said.
She doesn’t allow questions to be written on index cards in advance, or for people to line up at a microphone. Lebowitz just points at them, they lob their queries at her and she volleys back.
Since the election, she said, 90 percent of the questions people ask her are about politics. (“Everyone is in such a state of fury and panic.”)
Lebowitz still remembers her favorite audience question.
It was in 1979, during the Iran hostage crisis, which was one of the first 24-hour news events that led to cable news, she said. The entire country was focused on it. People knew the names of the hostages and their families.
“So someone asked, ‘Who is your favorite hostage?’ And I said, ‘I don’t have a favorite hostage, but I do have a least favorite hostage wife.’
“And I won’t tell you, even though I remember it,” Lebowitz told me. “This woman was taking this incredible opportunity to constantly be on television.
“You didn’t just win something,” Lebowitz said. “Your husband is a hostage.”
She’s dating herself, she knows. Which is also why Lebowitz is surprised to see so many young faces in her audiences.
“It’s because of the internet,” she said. “They may think I’m 22.”
They only booed her once, when, while speaking to a college crowd during the last presidential campaign, Lebowitz let loose on Bernie Sanders.
“I said I didn’t like him and that he was dangerous in the election in taking votes away from Hillary (Clinton),” she said. “But I didn’t like him anyway. I thought he was a narcisstic old man.
“And when they booed, I said, ‘Of course you like him, he thinks college should be free! If he said, ‘I think co-ops should be free in New York,’ I would cheer, too.’
“I was surprised how gullible these kids are.”
You can’t speak to Lebowitz without asking about her clothes. She cuts a dapper figure, preferring suit jackets and overcoats.
“They are made by English tailors,” she said. “Anderson & Sheppard.”
Of course. The Savile Row institution that Vanity Fair called “perhaps the finest bespoke tailor in Britain.”
“These people, they come to New York twice a year and at this point, they have … I don’t know what it’s called … they have a form of me. I have four or five suits. I choose them by fabric.”
For all her style, Lebowitz doesn’t leave her Chelsea apartment unless she has to.
“I don’t go out superfluously,” she said. “I make a significant effort not to go out on the weekends. From Friday night to Monday morning, I don’t want to leave the house.”
It’s likely Lebowitz won’t be out much in Seattle, either. She has no friends here and her favorite book store — she can’t remember the name — closed.
“A little secondhand bookstore; don’t ask me where it is,” she said. “It was a very meticulously kept little place and even the books were clean.”
But she does love the fact that there has always been coffee here, everywhere, 24 hours a day.
“Even in the street,” Lebowitz said. “For a long time, there was no place in the United States that had coffee like that.
“At the same time, Seattle was one of the first cities to ban smoking,” she said. “So I couldn’t understand: What was this coffee for?”