Fran Lebowitz

By: David Smay
October 27, 2009


Once there was a mythical land, my dreamlets, called Manhattan-in-the-Seventies where the most glamorous drag queens, the most dangerous jazzbos, and, in a sharp Brooks Brothers ensemble, the world’s laziest curmudgeon dwelled. FRAN LEBOWITZ (born 1950) started out writing for inter/VIEW: A Monthly Film Journal (at the time a black-and-white quarter-fold composed primarily of movie stills). After seven years she became an overnight sensation with Metropolitan Life (1978), the defining humor book of the decade. The three most telling artifacts of an era’s sensibility are its humor, its pornography, and its advertising, each a precariously balanced mobile of desires and fears. What Lebowitz delineated — something anti-utopian and anti-careerist — was not beholden to the Sixties, nor did it anticipate the Eighties. Surprisingly for a woman who foreswore sex as more effort than it was worth, and quit drinking before she was 20, her subject was the same as that of the Rolling Stones: pleasure. She lacerated the enemies of pleasure, the bores and boors and the anti-smoking leagues, until the boorish, careerist Eighties quite sapped her will to write. I see her Bartleby-esque non-writing career since then as a moral stance. Lebowitz is the exemplary idler: a writer who would prefer not to write.


HUMORISTS at HILOBROW: Michael O’Donoghue | Jemaine Clement | Andy Kaufman | Danny Kaye | George Ade | Jimmy Durante | Jack Benny | Aziz Ansari | Don Rickles | Godfrey Cambridge | Eric Idle | David Cross | Stewart Lee | Samuel Beckett | Jerry Lewis | Joanna Lumley | Jerome K. Jerome | Phil Silvers | Edward Lear | Tony Hancock | George Carlin | Stephen Colbert | Tina Fey | Keith Allen | Russell Brand | Michael Cera | Stan Laurel | Ricky Gervais | Gilda Radner | Larry David | Chris Pontius | Dave Chappelle | Jimmy Finlayson | Paul Reubens | Peter Sellers | Buster Keaton | Flann O’Brien | Lenny Bruce | Sacha Baron Cohen | Steve Coogan | PG Wodehouse | A.J. Liebling | Curly Howard | Fran Lebowitz | Charlie Kaufman | Stephen Merchant | Richard Pryor | James Thurber | Bill Hicks | ALSO: Comedy and the Death of God

READ MORE about members of the Blank Generation (1944-53).

What do you think?

  1. Great item, David. Interesting to note that the timing of Metropolitan Life (which I agree is the defining humor book of the Seventies) might seem to confirm my theory that the Seventies ran from 1974-83. Lebowitz’s book was published exactly halfway through that era. Woody Allen’s Without Feathers (1975), which is equally excellent, could be seen as a capstone to the Sixties.

  2. Successfully achieving anonimity, though a living fossil, carrying the Lebowitz genome, (Fran’s grandfather Adolph and my grandfather Max were brothers,) I have gloried in the penumbrous shadows of Fran’s brilliance, waiting, waiting, waiting, (still waiting,) for the promised book, so that I may finally claim my true identity, my birthright, step onto the world stage, into the reflected glory that will be mine as Fran Lebowitz’ second cousin. Fran, you owe me!

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