Fran Lebowitz talks about everything – except herself


“In real life, I assure you, there is no such thing as algebra.”

The first time I read that quote, I didn’t bother to note who said it. I just immediately incorporated it into my email signature rotation. But the line was so “me,” that friends often commented on it, so I tracked it down and discovered a treasure: Fran Lebowitz.

“The opposite of talking isn’t listening. The opposite of talking is waiting.”

Lebowitz is a brilliant gay woman whom I doubtless would’ve admired much sooner had I not spent so many years with my nose in the Bible. She hit the New York literary scene in the early ’70s when Andy Warhol chose her to write a column for Interview. Her wit and irreverence gained her a following among equally witty and irreverent intellectuals — and she is still as enigmatic and provocative as ever. She’s also damn funny.

“Your life story would not make a good book. Don’t even try.”

HBO’s new feature-length documentary on Lebowitz, Public Speaking, is not her life story. Directed by Martin Scorsese, the film captures Lebowitz holding court at her usual table at the Waverly Inn, having an onstage chat with her longtime friend Toni Morrison and strolling through New York City.

Here’s the extended trailer:

In a way, Public Speaking is a collection of Lebowitz quotes. She talks about gender, race and gay rights as well as her favorite pet peeves: celebrity culture, smoking bans, tourists and strollers. But despite her openness about being a lesbian, she doesn’t address her private life.

“I’m not interested in other people so I don’t expect them to be interested in me.”

If you don’t know Lebowitz yet, Public Speaking will be a great introduction. If you do, you’ll gain a new appreciation of her acerbic wit. In any case, you will be thoroughly entertained — and enchanted at how dashing a 60-year-old icon can be in a Brooks Brothers suit.

Public Speaking premieres Nov. 22 at 10 p.m. ET on HBO. Will you be watching? Do you have a favorite Lebowitz quote?

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