Julia Gets Wise with Fran Lebowitz
In this edition of Wiser Than Me™, Julia gets schooled by 72-year-old writer and legendary New York City resident Fran Lebowitz. This is an interview for the ages – literally. Fran gives Julia her best advice for plotting revenge, being a bad girlfriend, and avoiding modern technology at all costs. Plus, Fran shares what she learned about forgiveness from her late friend Toni Morrison. And Julia and her mom Judith reminisce about how Julia’s sense of humor got her in trouble in high school.
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Fran Lebowitz, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Judith Bowles
Julia Louis-Dreyfus 00:01
I was born in Manhattan in the middle of a snowstorm at New York Hospital on a Friday, Friday the 13th, January 13 1961. And the doctors kept saying to my mom, oh, don’t worry, don’t worry. She won’t be born on Friday the 13th. And my mom said, oh, yes, she will. She’s coming. And she was right. I was born on Friday the 13th Like at 10:30 at night, which I have always really liked. It’s a lucky 13. My earliest memory as a child, I think I was probably about three was going to Bonwit Teller, the now defunct Bonwit Teller of the department store to go shopping for a pillow. I remember this vividly choosing it you know, it had a pink ribbon design and Oh god, I love that pillow for many years afterwards. The old deco Bonwit Teller building got knocked down and they put up that shitty awful Trump Tower on the site on Fifth Avenue such a shame. It was a gorgeous architectural masterpiece, a real beauty of a building. I have very cozy memories of going on the Crosstown bus with my mother in the rain in the snow and leaning up against her and sitting on her lap and watching buildings go by. We lived at 96 and parks during the big New York blackout of 1965. I’m pretty sure and I remember so clearly that my stepdad because I don’t think they were married yet. Maybe he was my mom’s boyfriend then. I don’t know. But he had to walk up all the stairs of our apartment building because the elevator couldn’t work. And I thought he was like a superhero, you know, coming to save us up the stairs, which he was, this stairs in the building where we lived on 96 and Park had linoleum floors and the stairwells. You know, like the stairs old school in oleum. It has a very specific smell to it. It’s sort of musty. It’s sort of plasticky, but to me, the smell is incredibly evocative, and it really catapults me back to that early time in my life, which was very happy. I have a doctor in Los Angeles, an ear, nose and throat doctor in Beverly Hills. And whenever I go to him, I don’t take the elevator. I take the stairs in his building because it’s an old building. And his stairs have the same floors. And the stairwell smells exactly the same as my home back in New York in 1965. I left New York when I was young, I was 7 or 8. And we traveled because my stepdad was a surgeon for Project Hope, a hospital ship that went all over the world. And when we finally came back to the US, we wound up in Washington, DC, which is a beautiful city. But my actual father was living in New York. And of course, I’d love to see him. And so I spent the rest of my youth going back and forth from DC to Manhattan on the Eastern Airlines shuttle. I will admit that ever since we left New York when I was young, I’ve had a very, very deep yearning to get back to New York. And I’ve had that yearning kind of all my life, even though I live there for periods of time, like back when I was doing Sarah live and so on. I went to college in Chicago, and I’ve happily raised my family in California. But I still have an unsettled sort of geographical self. The truth is, I love Manhattan warts and all. It’s in my bones. So last year, my friends, Carol Halpin and Jerry Seinfeld both sent me a photo of this and I get a little bit choked up when I think about it, to be honest. But there are these kiosks with screens and revolving signs at the bus stops in New York now. And the city put up on my birthday, I guess a couple of years in a row. They put up something like on this day, January 13. Actress Julia Louis Dreyfus was born in Manhattan. A true Manhattanite. God that makes me feel really good. I mean, this is my origin story. The city, this New York and today we are talking to the ultimate New Yorker, Fran Lebowitz.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus 04:31
I’m Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and this is wiser than me a show where each week I get schooled by women who are wiser than me. You know, when I first got into this podcast game, like a month or two ago, at this point, there were a couple of unbelievably smart women that I was dying to get to talk to and top of the list was and is friend Liebowitz. You know, because she’s friendly. anguish. That’s her job. She’s Lebowitz singer. She’s what they used to call a wit. Somebody who is smart as hell super quick, sardonic, and kind of above it all in a very cool way. But having a conversation with Fran Lebowitz famously cranky, brilliant, witty, Fran Lebowitz, that could be a little intimidating, right? So I studied up on my family boots, I rewatched, the Martin Scorsese documentaries about her, both of them. And as I read more and more of her work in the Village Voice Interview magazine, her two fabulous satirical books, Metropolitan Life and social studies, and listened to a ton of her interviews and appearances, I saw that her insight is even more deep, more detailed and more nuanced than I’d imagined. And I just, I’m so excited to talk to her. From the day she got expelled from high school to this very minute. She’s always been much wiser than me welcome, Fran Lebowitz.
Fran Lebowitz 05:54
Thank you very much.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus 05:55
Hey, Fran. How old are you? If I may ask?
Fran Lebowitz 05:59
You may ask. I’m 72.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus 06:00
And how old do you feel?
Fran Lebowitz 06:01
82? some days maybe 92?
Julia Louis-Dreyfus 06:09
And what? Why do you feel 82? Do you like getting old?
Fran Lebowitz 06:14
Old at heart. No, it’s horrible.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus 06:16
Really? Is there anything good about it?
Fran Lebowitz 06:17
Well, there’s nothing good enough about it. The Okay, the good thing about it is that, well, I would say this up until COVID, which I had never thought about, you know, everything by which means nothing has happened that has in some way happened before. So until COVID, every single thing that happened reminded me of something else that happened. But COVID I one thing I never thought about was what if there’s a plague, right? So that taught me that something could happen even to an old person. That never happened before.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus 06:52
Yeah. So I want to start by asking you about something I believe your mom said to you. Which is that boys don’t like funny girls. Is that something she really said to you?
Fran Lebowitz 07:03
She did tell me that. People very often asked me, did your parents want you to be a writer? Did they object to being a writer, they didn’t want me to be a writer, they didn’t object to be being a writer. They didn’t care at all. They never paid attention to it. Okay, I was born in 1950. Right? What girls wanted to do was of no interest to anyone. I made sure that I would say I’m going to be a writer and no one even like, looked up. What did your parents want you to be, a wife, they wanted me to be wife, they expected me to be a wife. You know. So that was their interest. When you start to be like 12 years old, whatever age it was, and my mother and not just my mother, all mothers of all 12 year old girls in 1962 told them the same thing. You know, here’s what you should do. This is what boy’s life this is what boys don’t like. And my mother would always say, Don’t be funny around boys. Boys don’t like funny girls. And first of all, my mother was wrong. And second of all, it turned off, I don’t care. So in my junior high school, the only school ever graduated from was from the ninth grade, they gave awards at the end of the year. And I received this award that was called the class wit award. Now, I have to, you know, emphasize that other people in my ninth grade class, we’re not Oscar Wilde. Show wasn’t really rough afield. But I was afraid to bring this thing home. Because I thought my mother would be angry at me. Because clearly, I had been being funny around boys.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus 08:27
You know, I will say though, I think that your mother was partially right. Because I do think in my experience, there is a kind of strength and a power to being funny. And certain people find that intimidating, particularly men.
Fran Lebowitz 08:43
That’s what I think. I’m sure that is true. Yeah, but there are enough boys who are not like that, that, you know, if I had cared whether boys like me or not, which I already didn’t then, but yeah, I you know, I might have modulated my behavior. But yeah, you’re definitely right. There’s definitely boys like that. And many of them are actually grown men, although they are actually boys as you know.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus 09:07
Yes. And we’ll never be men. You went to an all-girls private school. Is that correct?
Fran Lebowitz 09:13
Briefly, yes, I made I went to Bible school my whole life. And then the public school told my parents, so for someone of my age, when you say a teacher or principal told your parents you mean your mother, because our fathers never gotten here a school or my father would shout didn’t know what grade I was at. So not he was it was a lovely man. But that was all men at the time. So if you expect her to go to college, she could not stay in the squad is failing everything. So at great financial sacrifice, my parents didn’t have any money. They sent me to this. Yes, it was an all-girls Episcopalian school. Deservedly small and unknown. And I lasted there like a little more than a year and then I got expelled, and people will say, and what did you do is if I, you know, this something, you know, like, you know, set fire to the school. As far as I know, I did nothing, you know, the headmaster sent a letter to my parents saying she has a very bad influence on the other girls. And she is usurping my power. And she has to be gone. So, in retrospect, which of course is like 50 years later, more, you know, I think that probably I was expelled for when my mother used to call that look on your face, right. So I found her as being polite. I always think, if I like sometimes she will say, Why are you glaring? And I think I’m smiling. So it must be just emanates from me.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus 10:41
Did you like being at an all-girls school? For the one year you were there?
Fran Lebowitz 10:45
You mean, did I like the fact that it was all girls? I wouldn’t mind if the whole world was all girls.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus 10:51
Be a better world. So after school, you moved to New York and you cleaned houses. You wrote pornography, you drove a cab? You know, by the way, I have a friend who I used to work with on Seinfeld writer and he wrote pornography to make a living. And he had to excuse himself with some frequency to relieve himself.
Fran Lebowitz 11:15
I added myself to laugh. Okay, that is a difference between men or women. Okay, I found this to be actually pretty difficult to do. In fact, I enlisted so many people to help me do it, that I ended up making like $10 , but I did publish this book, under the name of the headmaster who threw me out of high school.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus 11:34
That’s just brilliant. You’ve stated many times you’re suffering from a famous case of writer’s block. What what’s holding you back? It’s your anxiety. It’s your perfectionism. Is that the correct thing to say? What do you think?
Fran Lebowitz 11:47
I mean, I would say that a lot of it is just simple. Sloth. It? I mean, I’m incredibly lazy. Writing is very hard. I mean, I find it very hard. It’s my belief that all writers, almost all writers who find writing very pleasurable and delightful are bad writers. When people say I love to write, I always think you must be a horrible writer. So, you know, a lot of is sad. And probably what it is, is what my editor who when I introduced him to people as my editor, oh, he says, easiest job in town. My editor once described it to me as your excessive reference for the written word. And I think that’s also what you just described as perfectionism.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus 12:31
Yeah, yeah. I get it. What about therapy? Have you ever been in therapy?
Fran Lebowitz 12:36
When I was in high school, I was the school sent me to it. So and then I was briefly when I was in my 20s. And that’s it. And truthfully, I made lots of people say you should go to my therapist, I’ve been going to her for 40 years. I was thinking, when she told me, You should go to my doctor, I have this onus, and he’s been treated for 40 years. If I was to you go to someplace where they’re going to church. So additionally, I know this doesn’t sound even possible. But truthfully, I’m not that interested in myself. You know, I lost that kind of issues myself, probably in my 20s. I really believe unless you’re nuts. There comes a point where you can’t keep thinking about the same person all the time. You know, I I’m sure there’s all kinds of reasons why I do things that are perhaps not, you know, a good idea for me. And perhaps someone could find out why. But I don’t really care. And they sound like I’m committing crimes. It’s not like I’m, you know, holding a […]. You know, so the things that I’m doing that are probably harmful. They’re harmful to […].
Julia Louis-Dreyfus 13:42
What are the things you’re doing that are harmful to you? Smoking, no doubt.
Fran Lebowitz 13:46
Oh, smoking. Yeah. The smoking, people’s ideas about smoking, people, generally, the general idea about smoking is that it is a horrible character flaw, you know, but really what it is, it’s an addiction. That’s what it is. I started smoking when I was 12. And I mean, by the time I was 12, and a half, I smoked a pack a day. So it’s a very deep seated addition. I actually do not feel equal to quitting. I could never do it.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus 14:14
You’ve never tried to quit. I’ve never even tried. Unbelievable.
Fran Lebowitz 14:19
I never tried, you know, to get into the Olympics, either. There’s certain things I know, I could not do. I don’t try them.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus 14:24
But you don’t drink, right?
Fran Lebowitz 14:26
No, I stopped drinking when I was 19. When I was 19, I stopped drinking and taking drugs. Because I was by that point, so sick, I cannot tell you. And because I’ve come to believe that at birth, you know, we’re kind of granted, you know, a lifetime ability to drink and take drugs. And you can do it all between 21 and add or between 15 and 18. I did between 15 and 18. And that’s it. You have to stop and you just got sick from being I felt horrible. I took a lot of speed. I took cocaine and it makes you feel horrible. Show me I I really felt horrible. And the doctor told me, you are never going to live to be 30. Now, at the time since I was 19, I thought, well, who wants to live to be that old? Right? But, you know, I stopped and I never them. And it wasn’t very hard for me. So I’m not, I’m not saying I did this, you know, incredible thing. It just wasn’t very hard, because I right away, I felt better.
Fran Lebowitz 15:19
What about getting older in New York? What’s that experience like?
Fran Lebowitz 15:20
I think it’s better. I mean, I think New York is a better place to be. Yeah, I agree with that. There’s all kinds of things, you know, that you don’t have to do in New York that you have to do in the suburbs, I guess also in rural places where, you know, I don’t know what you do there, even if you’re young, but I think it’s a better place. Because, first of all, there’s tons and tons of services. You know, you can have anything delivered. There’s tons and tons of people. I can’t believe people leave New York to get old in Vermont. It seems ridiculous. Don’t you know that in Vermont, you know, first of all, they are no doorman. You know, door men are very good for all people. They’re good for all people, I think. But you know, they rea doorman in Vermont, they’re no doorman in these world, you know, places, I think is a better place to be old. I think it’s a better place to be young. I really think that’s a big divide in the world. And I travel quite a bit is between people who like cities and people who hate cities.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus 16:16
You know, I was born in New York. And I lived there until I was like, eight, then we moved away. But I went back and forth. And actually finally we bought a place again in New York about which I’m very happy. But I will say the experience of being in the city and the sound of I think I’m the only person who likes the sound of cars honking and traffic because it reminds me of my youth in a really cozy way. You know, and buses, the sounds of buses. I love that sound,
Fran Lebowitz 16:46
The most relaxing thing I think we could do New York, is to take a nap in your living room on your sofa at like six o’clock in the afternoon. And sleep to the sounds of other people trapped in cabs. When you hear the honking and the yelling, and it’s so relaxing to think that’s not me. I’m on this lovely chauffeur.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus 17:08
Yeah. I love that. Yeah, it’s fantastic. There’s more with Fran Lebowitz after this short break. You went sad that your two greatest needs are smoking cigarettes and plotting revenge? And if that’s still the case, who are you currently plotting revenge against?
Fran Lebowitz 17:39
This is like, we don’t have the time.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus 17:43
we have all the time in the world dishes, oh, by the studio, the rest of the day go, go.
Fran Lebowitz 17:48
It’s a very long list. And the truth is that, you know, people who say it’s not satisfying, you know, it’s very satisfying. I made that the times I’ve had the opportunity to actually execute my plans, I spent incredibly satisfying to me, and I will point out to you that you know, the few things that come to my mind right now, which I’m certainly not going to explain. The person didn’t even know it, that it was me, you know, but I always note like, really, you did this, okay. You know, there’s, there’s almost always a way to get back at the person. And people of course, this is something incredibly discouraged in the culture now, because forgiveness is one of the primary things people are supposed to practice now. And I think like this is, there’s nothing more alien to me than this, you know, truthfully, you know, what is forgiveness is actually Christianity. You know, I made everyone was Jewish, then Christ when Christ said, I’ll forgive you. 99% of people said, Oh, you’re our guy. Think of the people who didn’t have those are my antecedents. Okay, they’re the ones who said, oh, no, we don’t want to be for the good. And we’re not going to forgive anyone. So, you know, the Jewish God is a judge and the Christian God, is it forgiving martyr? So that is not me. And I don’t forgive people. And I am like an incredible grudge holder, I have to say, I know, it’s not a delightful trait. But it is truthfully, my trait.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus 19:17
I’m assuming that you don’t allow these graduates to eat away at you. Right? This is the problem of course, with a grudge.
Fran Lebowitz 19:23
This is what people say. People say, you know that that is a painful to you to do that. You know, that it? I actually don’t find it painful at all. And so, you know, I find it, to me, it is the same thing is having standards. I feel that it’s you know, it’s an act of morality.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus 19:44
Wait, you have got to give me an example of somebody who did something wrong, please.
Fran Lebowitz 19:48
That is never gonna happen. All right, fine. So I also hold grudges against people that don’t know at all. All right, and then I’m not gonna have any opportunity. So there are politicians who are dead that I’m still angry at. All right. It’s not that I hadn’t opportunity to do something to the politician is am I talking about violent things at all. But if their name comes up, I’ll think. Yeah, I hate that guy. I still hate that guy.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus 20:09
We’ll see if I can come at it this way. Can you give me a tip on getting revenge? Do you have any tips for getting revenge?
Fran Lebowitz 20:16
Sometimes someone does something. And what I think is, are you have your mind? Do you not realize that I know so and so. And I know you want this thing from this person? And you’re not gonna get it? Okay, so that would be a good example. And I you know, I don’t know you at all, I believe met you. But I am guessing that that would work for you, too.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus 20:39
Yeah, you know what else you might want to guess that I’ve done the same thing. And I too, will not share with you. The circumstances of the show. I say the revenge workaround. Right.
Fran Lebowitz 20:51
Right. Sometimes I like the shampoo that happened like 25 years ago. And I recently saw this guy from a distance. And I thought I had to restrain myself from saying, Did you ever wonder why you didn’t get that fellowship?
Julia Louis-Dreyfus 21:09
Yeah, that’s very good. But what about having friends, you said that you’ve had a lot of friends who are older than you, because you wanted to learn from them. But then the bad news is, is that when you’re in fourth, you’re in, when you were in your 40s they died from old age.
Fran Lebowitz 21:24
It’s true. I mean, there’s, I mean, one reason I had a lot of friends, one of them is because when they came to New York, most people my age that I would know, were in school still. Other people that are around were, you know, older than me. But I always, you know, I would say preferred the company of older people, because they knew more than me, why would I want to be around people who knew less? Right, you know, so they knew more than me, it is true that by the time I was even in my 30s, some of my friends were dying of old age.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus 21:54
What did they know more than you at that point?
Fran Lebowitz 21:56
Everything. Think about it. I mean, I don’t know how old you are. But you know more than someone who’s 20. So, I don’t care if it’s a 22 year old is you may not know more about everything. The 22 year old may be some sort of scientific genius. But in general, you know, yeah. And so it just more interesting to be around people who know more than you.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus 22:15
Yeah, yeah. Yeah. Yeah. God, I wish everybody felt that way. So you have a very well documented friendship with Toni Morrison.
Fran Lebowitz 22:25
[…] more than everybody.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus 22:27
I bet, losing Tony Morrison, what’s that grief like? Has it been gutting?
Fran Lebowitz 22:35
You know, there’s no person like I’ve known tons people who died, obviously. Yeah. And, you know, you miss, like, all the people you care for that died. I’ve never in my life missed anyone like I miss Tony. Ever.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus 22:48
Why is this?
Fran Lebowitz 22:50
Well, I mean, first of all, I, you know, I would say that I talked to her at least, you know, if I didn’t see her, because we weren’t always in the same place. You know, I caught her at least like five or six times a week for like, an hour on the phone. She was such a constant presence in my life. And this is for like, more than 40 years. But also because, you know, I’ve known, you know, tons and tons of smart people, but I’ve only ever known one wise person and that was Tony. So, you know, isn’t just a Tony was very smart. Everyone was funny was very smart. So when COVID happened, my editor who was also Tony’s editor, called me, and we were talking about COVID, like, everyone was talking about it. And I said, don’t you miss Tony, more than ever? And he said, yes. And I said, it’s because Tony would know how to think about this. Because what I didn’t know when COVID happened was how to think about it. Oh, I had no way to think about it. I knew how I felt about it. You know, but you know, unlike most of my fellow Americans, I know the difference between think and feel. People cautiously. I think this I think that and I’m thinking you think nothing. Your feelings are feelings, not thoughts. So I thought, Tony, even though Tony, even Tony wasn’t old enough to have lived through the flood pandemic of 1918. I would have said, Tony, what do you think? How to think about this? And she would have known or she would have said, I don’t know, I’m thinking about it, but she would have had an answer. You know, any person that you love when they die, you know, you miss them. And that person in your emotions is irreplaceable. But Tony was not only replace, she’s just irreplaceable in the world, not just in my emotions, and the world is worse off because she’s not here. Not just Fran is worse off her. Her friends are worse off. When I think people listen to her, I mean, I don’t mean they actually did what she said. But she was recognized as being someone you are to listen to.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus 24:50
And what’s the wisest, if you can say, what’s the wisest thing she told you?
Fran Lebowitz 24:55
Well, for instance, Tony was a very forgiving person. Tony was an extremely forgiving person. To the extent that if you when you read her, you see that even her villainous characters, Fi portrays empathetically and no matter, you know, they could be the world’s worst people, as some of these people are in her book seat characters. But even in actual real life, many of the world’s worst people, you know, she would very often say yes, but, like, not meet me as that guy said, the worst person.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus 25:24
How’d you guys meet?
Fran Lebowitz 25:25
You know, people very often ask me how I meet people I usually don’t know. Like, especially Marty, people ask us neither one of us know how we met, right? Or where we met. I exactly remember when and where I met Tony. And that is because there either used to be or still is something called like the American Academy of poets. And they used to run or maybe they still do a reading series at the library, McDonough library, which I know was not there any longer. They had this reading series, and they sent me a letter, like I always say to people who are young, a letter, a piece of paper in the mail. An actual letter and letter said, we have this reading series. And we would like to invite you to read such and such date. And I remember that it was 1978. All right, that this happened. It was my first book, show that I put his phone number, I called him up on a phone, landline. And I said yes, I’d like to do this. And he said, alright, we always have two people, two writers reading together. Do you know who Toni Morrison is? She had published books. But she was not very well known. She was still working at Random House as an editor, because she wasn’t making enough money from her books. Okay. So she had two kids. So I said, yes, I do. He said, do you like writing? I said, oh, I love her writing. He said, Well, we thought you should read together. I said, that’s ridiculous. He said, why do you say that? I said, we’re too different. Yeah. It’s a bizarre combination. He said, well, we think it’s a good combination to object to it. I should No, not at all. It just seems like just, you know, in Congress. By the way, turned to be a great combination. When it was over, Tony said, this is a great combination. Let’s go on the road together. Which we did not do. But we instantly became friends. I mean, I’ve never had a friendship instant. Like, you know, that’s like a romance you have instantly not a fashion. Yeah. And so I know exactly when it was really […]
Julia Louis-Dreyfus 27:16
Oh, that’s a great story. I love that. What qualifies someone to be your friend? I’m asking this question, because actually, I would really like to hear from.
Fran Lebowitz 27:25
You know, it’s not that hard. Well, to me, you know, a very important thing. First of all, I have to say that, to me, the most important relationships are friendships. I know everyone thinks it’s, you know, your spouse. You know, I don’t agree. And that’s why I don’t have a spouse. It’s certainly an everyone thinks to your family. And when people say this, I think like, I don’t I understand. You know, families to me are like, generally speaking, factories for the manufacture of insanity. Friendships are the only relationships we choose. They’re the only relationships you really choose. We don’t choose our family. Obviously, people think you choose, you know, romantic partners. You don’t. That is, oh, that’s the kind of chemical response to someone. By the time I was 22, I knew that. I would like feel myself a very attracted someone, I would know that person was horrible. And I would think this is gonna be a nightmare. And I don’t care. So that’s how strong that desire is, you know, but it’s not a choice. You know? So to me a choice is, you look at a menu I like I love to look at his because he’s the only time I know I can have whatever I want. And that’s true friends. So, to me, friends is very important. There’s a number of parties. Okay, first of all, they have to have a sense of humor, by which I mean, they don’t have to be funny. Having a great sense of humor doesn’t mean you’re funny. This means you know, things are funny. That’s right. You know, I made even with babies, I can tell this whenever people show me the new baby, like I was a baby because Fran could tell if the baby’s smart, you know, I look at the baby, I look the baby’s eyes. And you can see, is it baby smart? Because you’ll see if the baby has sense number. So a sense of humor means that a sense of humor. The sense that things are funny. Yes. So that’s very important. And loyalty is very important. It’s really important. I have to say that I was an fantastic family member of the disease was not returned. I am a horrible girlfriend, the world’s worst. But I’m fantastic friend, and incredibly loyal, incredibly loyal.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus 29:36
And what does that loyalty look like?
Fran Lebowitz 29:37
It means that I always defend that person. I never don’t defend them. I don’t care who the person is in any way, not just attacking them. But in any way expressing anything but adoration from my direct, though, it means you help them they help you. You know, it means that even if you know they’re wrong, you can tell them they’re wrong, but you don’t tell other people.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus 29:57
And when you tell them they’re wrong, do you do it gingerly and gently?
Fran Lebowitz 30:02
No, sometimes I mean yelling, certainly say no, you’re absolutely wrong, No, I’m not always gingerly and gently,
Julia Louis-Dreyfus 30:07
I guess I knew the answer to that before you gave it. And how are you? But what do you mean, you’re terrible girlfriend?
Fran Lebowitz 30:14
Let me put it this way. I have a car that I bought in 1978. It is the only monogamous relationship of my life. That is because I love the car. And because I’m never bored by the car. And every time I see the car, I think what a beautiful car. And I have a picture of my car on my refrigerator where other people would have a human. And so I absolutely, I always cheat. I always, you know, it’s, it’s out of the question that I want, right? I don’t want to live with anyone. I’ve lived by myself since I was like 19 years old. And that is an incredible achievement for lesbian. Let me assure you, I don’t want to live with anyone. I don’t want to hear any footsteps that I don’t know are coming in. There’s a key to my apartment is my key. I’m not a sharee type, you might be shocked to hear.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus 31:01
But, I mean, like, has there been a circumstance in which you say you cheat? So were there times in your life where you thought I’m not going to cheat this time. You always knew it?
Fran Lebowitz 31:11
Yeah, I also say it. But of course, no one believes it. Yeah. They think well, not me, like I had in my whole life. You know, there have been zillions because I’m old, one girlfriend that everyone loves. Because she was perfect. And someone was said to me, why did you break up with her? And I said, because she was too good for me. And it’s true. She was too good for me.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus 31:35
What does it mean, she was a good hearted person is that what you mean?
Fran Lebowitz 31:38
A good hearted person, but she was just perfect, like, great looking great person, you know, for everything perfect. But it was intolerable to her that I was not faithful. And I couldn’t do it. And she was too good for me. This is just the right way to say it. Believe me. She was a better person.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus 31:54
Is there a certain type that you like that you’re attracted to? Like younger women?
Fran Lebowitz 32:00
Everyone’s younger than me now, come on. Yes, everyone is younger. But not very young. No, and I never did. You know, and that’s a lucky thing. I you know, because otherwise, you know, you have a lot of problems. Yeah, sexual attraction. You know, it’s something in you. I mean, who you’re sexually attracted to, it’s not something you can, you know, build in yourself, or it’s not something you can change in yourself. And so, you know, if you have, you know, kind of erotic tastes that are not criminal, you’re lucky.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus 32:35
As your sexuality morphs as you’ve gotten older
Fran Lebowitz 32:39
I mean, when I was younger, I thought about sex all the time, like 24 hours a day, you know, yeah, it’s the reason I would let me put it this way. Also, New York in the 70s was insane. And when I got here, I was like, I can’t believe this is like a dream. Yeah. I never left my apartment. Like even to buy a pack of cigarettes. You know, without thinking I’m going to see someone and you do. You know, especially if you’re looking all the time, right? No one my age is like that. If they are they’re nuts.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus 33:09
Do you consider yourself a vain person? It’s fine to be a vain person.
Fran Lebowitz 33:14
Yes, I mean, yeah, it’s why I made like, I’m not hurting anyone by being made. I mean, there’s limits to my vanity you to hope. For instance, I did. After I had this eye surgery, which was medical, not cosmetic. I was doing a television show of Barcelona. And the makeup artists there said, Now we’re going to go to the makeup. I said, No, I shouldn’t make up I should I, I didn’t want anyone to get near my eyes. So I said, No makeup. I should I just had eye surgery. And he looked at me where I could see his face had the worst eye surgery I’ve ever seen in my entire life. So I said, I saw his face. And I said, no, no, no. Not that kind of eye surgery. Actual medical eye surgery. I could tell like, he didn’t know what I was talking about. He was like 25. He said, you know, he would look better with makeup. I said, I know that. I know makeup works. I am well aware, I would look better. But I would rather be able to look than to look better, because I did. It was just I don’t want to and we get through my eyes at all. So I’m not vain to the point of having had cosmetic surgery, which I would never do. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it. I don’t think it’s a moral issue. But, you know, I hate any medical procedures. And no one is putting a knife on me unless my other choice is like not seeing or dying. Right. So, you know, I’m one of the few people I know around my age. Who has not had that, you know, I don’t object to it. But I’m not. I haven’t had it. You know, I would rather like someone’s kids had to be the son of a friend of mine said why do people have plastic surgery? So I said because otherwise you look like me? I should you know, this kid is very good looking. I said, you know who you should look just like you, your father? Because she was appalled. When I first met your father, he looked just like you, you look just like your father. I said, that was something that happens to everybody.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus 35:17
You know that your eyes. This the thing with the makeup artist reminds me of when, after I gave birth to one of my kids, and I was walking, it was about like a month later, and I’m walking down the street somewhere. And I run into a woman I haven’t seen in a while. And she goes, Oh my god, Julie. I’m so glad to see. That was so nice. See you too. She goes, When are you do it? It was gutting. I have to say that was a gutting experience. But you color your hair, correct?
Fran Lebowitz 35:43
Of course. I had my first white hair in high school. My mother’s side of the family. And people you know, go gray, and like, you know, by the age of 13, you know, right. So I started coloring my hair in my early 30s. And so yeah, forever. And it isn’t that I think people think that it’s not colored. Obviously it is. But, you know, first of all, I’m very pale. My skin is very white. You know, I just feel like it just like I look like a ghost with it. I don’t want it to just to read. You know, I’m not trying to trick you into thinking no one my age has no gray hair. Okay, right. No one, right. So, you know, it’s the upside of being a woman in my opinion, which of which are not many, as you know, is that women are supposed to look artificial. That and this way, I hate men coloring your hair. I feel it looks ridiculous.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus 36:34
It does. It always looks orange.
Fran Lebowitz 36:35
And also like in the place where I go to get my hair cards that are meant totally unembarrassed. You know, as soon as I look over and I think you have three hairs. What difference does it make? Is all the power and money in the world than a few. You also can have gray hair.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus 36:53
Yeah, you’re right. You’re totally right. We have to take a really quick break my conversation with Fran Lebowitz continues in just a bit. You very famously avoid modern technology, no cell phone, no computer, what is the most modern piece of technology that you have in your apartment?
Fran Lebowitz 37:22
An answering machine? Which is actually an answering machine. The reason it’s modern, it’s the actual machine. The reason it’s modern is because it’s not the one with the tapes. Okay, the original answering machines had like actual tapes in it, you know, I have the cutting edge version, which is probably like 35 years old. And it has a voice, you know, should that if you call me a voice says, you know, it’s I mean, my voice that you record on it, but there’s no tapes in it. So it’s some kind of computer thing. And you know, it says, you know, this is the number you know, leave your name and never call you back. And then the machine itself says, when you play it back, you know, it gives you the date and the time of the call. When I first got this, my mother would refer to this as the man who answers your phone. First, I will say things like it’s not a man. It’s a computer thing. And she was so insistent, and by the way, so hopeful that I finally said, yes. He’s not a man, mom, he’s a doctor.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus 38:34
And you’re living together.
Fran Lebowitz 38:35
Yes, he’s the perfect match. So that my message says, leave your name and number. And no one does, because everyone thinks you can see the number. So especially no one young does. And then it can be days weeks months later. I’ll see someone and they will accusingly say you never called me back. And I always say you didn’t leave your number. And I couldn’t guess there are too many possibilities.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus 39:02
Let me explain to you, tell the man in your machine to rerecord the message to say it doesn’t say what number you’re calling from.
Fran Lebowitz 39:12
I don’t tell people I should instruct people to this extent. I do. Leave your number. If you don’t leave your number. I’m not calling you back. It’s a relief to not have to call everyone.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus 39:21
call everyone all right. Fine. Well, then, then you get away with it. That’s fine. What do you think the benefits are of complaining? It’s honest. It’s honest. That’s right. Exactly. I’d love to complain. And that is why you get to, you get to tell the truth.
Fran Lebowitz 39:35
Yep. shows on it. So it depends. Like there’s different ways you’re complaining, like to me, you know, there’s a certain kind of complaint that is unbearable, and I would call that whining. Okay, and so whining is not acceptable, right? Complaining is fine. Especially if it’s justified. So, I believe with myself is always justified. People, where they complain publicly, it’s one thing to complain to your friend it out. It’s another thing to complain publicly. If you complain publicly about certain treatment that you’re receiving, you better be sure that you’re right. Because otherwise, it causes people like me, the good people to become enraged.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus 40:18
And then you’ll exact revenge.
Fran Lebowitz 40:20
Yes. Well, I don’t think I’m gonna be able to exact revenge on Matt Gates.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus 40:24
Maybe you can find a way. Because we’re counting on you.
Fran Lebowitz 40:28
It would be impossible because I’m certain that we know no people in common, I am proud to say.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus 40:32
Yeah, well, maybe you’ll have an opportunity. At some point, I want to ask you a couple of like, little quick questions, sort of, tell me something that you would go back and tell yourself at the age of 21, if you could?
Fran Lebowitz 40:45
Don’t buy that first apartment you bought, all of the advice I would give my young self is real estate advice. Because I have never, ever made a correct real estate decision. And even as I get older and older, and once I became aware of it, every time I had to make a real estate decision, I would say to myself, Fran, you’re very bad at this. Be careful. And that I would make a new kind of real estate mistake. So I finally the only way that I pacify myself was by saying, well, you didn’t come to New York when you were a kid to go into the real estate business and you haven’t.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus 41:21
Is there anything you’d go back and say yes to?
Fran Lebowitz 41:24
You mean that I said no to? Their apartments. I was gonna be, you’re gonna have a friend who there were two friends one of them died, but they bought an apartment that I looked at in 1978. And I said, Oh, no, I don’t want this. And it’s like, a legend. million square feet. It was like $130,000. But it was in a neighborhood, which at the time, there was nothing around it. You know, I literally said, I’m not gonna live here. If to walk like 22 blocks to buy coffee. You know? so, I would say that’s, that’s something I should have said yes to.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus 42:00
What was the neighborhood?
Fran Lebowitz 42:02
Like East 18th Street.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus 42:06
What do you want me to know about aging? Even though we’re not really that far apart in age?
Fran Lebowitz 42:10
Oh, yeah, we’re really far apart. Would you trade? Here’s what I would like to tell you, please. It gets worse. Oh, it gets worse. Okay, Toni Morrison was the, of course most honest person about aging when she became really old. And she said to me, I forgot what was wrong with her design. And I, you know, said something about it. She said, Fran, I’m decaying. And you know, that’s the bad news.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus 42:35
What’s the good news? Is there no good news?
Fran Lebowitz 42:39
I made the good news is there’s a lots of people in worse condition. You know, and, you know, that’s the good news. There are certain ages that people will fear, especially women that are great. For instance, I was not wrong press when I turned 50. And my 50s were fantastic. You know, the 50s are great for women. They’re not great. Maybe for actresses, you know? You know, 50s are great, because you know, everything you’re ever gonna go, you still look fine. You may think you don’t, but you do. You’re still completely fine. You know, and I thought, like my 50s were really great. You know, and this is one of the reasons not all the reasons why I think the presidents are we only have one law, about the age of the President, which is you have to be over 35. You know, if I was in charge, I would say the President has to be in their 50s. Because they know enough. They know a lot. They’re fine. You know, and they’re too old.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus 43:40
I like my 50s and I got breast cancer in my 50s. And I still like my 50s. That’s how great they are. Well, it sure has been nice talking with you. And you’re very kind to take the time. And I hope our paths cross again.
Fran Lebowitz 43:59
I’m certain they will. Thank you very much.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus 44:01
Thank you, Fran. Be well., Enjoy your cigarette. Oh my god, that was so much fun. I really wish my mom could have been listening in on this conversation. She would have been laughing her ass off. Okay, I have so much to discuss. I’m calling my mom right now.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus 44:28
Hi, how are you?
Judith Bowles 44:29
I’m so good. I was so excited for today. Because I think you interviewed Fran Lebowitz.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus 44:36
I did. My God was just so much fun to talk to her. At the very end. I asked her Do you have any advice for me about aging? And she goes, yes, it gets worse. Which is of course true. It’s so I mean it does. But she also said you know her mother told her that boys don’t like funny girls. And so of course, for Fran that wasn’t a problem. Because she was like, well, first of all, she says that’s not true. And second of all, that’s not a problem for me. Great. But yeah, I was saying to her, you know, I think actually, it is true to a certain extent. And she agreed with me about this. I think there’s a certain kind of boy who doesn’t like a funny girl. I mean, is that your experience as a person with a sense of humor?
Judith Bowles 45:29
Well, I’ll tell you, what comes to my mind is that when dad was at […], and we had a function, and I was gonna say a few words, and I mentioned to one of Dad’s colleagues, that I was going to tell a joke. And he said, oh, don’t do that. And so guess what? I didn’t do it. Oh, mom. I know. It’s sad. Well, that is generational.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus 45:54
That’s generational. Because if somebody had said that to me, I would have told multiple jokes. Out of vengeance.
Judith Bowles 46:02
Yeah. Have you always been free to be funny?
Julia Louis-Dreyfus 46:05
Yeah. I mean, relatively free. You know, sometimes it was inappropriate. And I got in trouble for it. Remember, when the headmaster of my school told you, he was worried about me because I was really being disruptive with making a lot of jokes about the dresses that they had picked for us to wear for our graduation because I went to an all-girls school, and we had a choice of one of three white dresses that we had to buy. And I was making fun of all three choices. And I’m sure that it wasn’t my making fun was possibly not very sensitive to the people who had chosen it. I don’t know. But I got in trouble for it.
Judith Bowles 46:46
You know, and that’s cool. I think that wasn’t an issue.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus 46:53
Oh, and the other I asked her about complaining, and the benefits of complaining because of course, she’s sort of she’s built a career on complaints. And she said, Well, complaining is just telling the truth. And I thought, oh, that is so perfect, because of course it is. And you remember when I had cancer, I started to write down a list of complaints, which were complaints that weren’t necessarily, shall we say, what’s the word generous, they were just truthful. And I made a list of complaints. And another complaint I have about my complaint list is that I can no longer find it in my computer. I have it somewhere in this computer. But I was looking for it in the hopes of finding it because it’s a pretty good complaint list.
Judith Bowles 47:40
It was very good. I remember the list and we had we laughed, but it was also a great relief.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus 47:47
Yeah, it was a great relief to complain so she has a love affair with complaining and I share that with her I’m I like I find a good complainer. I love to hang with them.
Judith Bowles 47:58
Yeah. And I remember that that it’s not complaining. It’s the telling the truth. Certain truth you know, it’s certain truth right to the bone. And that’s worth its weight. I tell her I’m gonna buy that.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus 48:12
Yeah, I think that’s really good.
Judith Bowles 48:15
Well, honey, congratulations on this. This is one day.
Love you mummy and talk to you soon. Okay. Bye. There’s more WISER THAN ME with Lemonada Premium, subscribers get exclusive access to bonus content. Subscribe now in Apple podcasts. WISER THAN ME is a production of Lemonada Media created and hosted by me Julia Louis-Dreyfus. The show is produced by Kryssy Pease , Alex McOwen and Hoja Lopez. Brad Hall as a consulting producer. Our senior editor is Tracy Clayton. Rachel Neil is our senior director of new content and our VP of weekly production is Steve Nelson. Executive Producers are Stephanie Wittels Wachs, Jessica Cordova Kramer, Paula Kaplan and me. The show is mixed by Kat Yore and Johnny Vince Evans and music by Henry Hall. Special thanks to Charlotte Chrisman Cohen, Ivan Kuraev, and Kegan Zema. And, of course, my mother Judith Bowles. Follow wiser than me wherever you get your podcasts and hey, if there’s an old lady in your life, listen up.