Fran Lebowitz probably thought my friend was stupid…A Review of “An Evening with Fran Lebowitz” at the Overture Center.

Alexandra Saffman

Fran Lebowitz. Writer, Comedian, Occasional Actor, Public Speaker…Thinker. A woman who has been praised for her wit and sardonic social commentary. I saw Fran at the Overture Center–the hub of activity for Madisonians who proudly don their free New Yorker tote bags or fit into the demographic of liberal women over 55–and I felt relieved that I laughed a lot. The event was split into two sections, first an interview with Fran, and then, an open-ended questionnaire from the audience. “What are your thoughts on climate change?” one person asked–probably hoping for an inspiring solution to one of the most imposing crises of our modern age. “Is that a real question?” she replied, “I believe in it”. She’s not a scientist, so I don’t know what else we were expecting to be honest. 

Lebowitz answered the questions in a way that felt deeply, for lack of better words, “real” to me. She didn’t blurb out a self-help book, say anything I’ve never really heard before, or inspire me in a truly radical way. She was a person. A funny, well-read, and highly intelligent one, but a person at that. Lebowitz has been friends with Nobel Prize winners (including Toni Morrison), published New York Times best-sellers, starred in a documentary of New York life made by Martin Scorcese, and played the judge in The Wolf of Wallstreet. By all means, she fits the mold of an idolized quasi-genius celebrity. She also failed, repeatedly, first-year-level algebra, and has herself admitted that she’s not fully sure why people admire her so much. The opportunity to answer questions in any which way she wants to is a childhood dream, and so, Lebowitz does it. I’m not too much of a fan of celebrity culture myself, so I appreciated that. I was a little apprehensive going into the evening, fearing that Lebowitz would actually turn out to be a pretentious New York snob who felt that every thought of hers was The thought…so that was relieving. I could laugh if she was funny, knowing she didn’t really care if she was. 

During the ask-Fran-a-question section of the evening, my friend, who was sitting next to me, curled up their hand. They started by saying how they had noticed that Fran was not very good at math, etc., and asked what Fran thought about the sake of “knowledge for knowledge”, i.e. is there any value in simply learning to expand the capabilities of your brain without any clear purpose or goal–is there any value in learning algebra if you’re going to be a writer and never going to use it? Now my friend was sitting quite a distance away from the stage, and subsequently, Lebowitz did not hear the question correctly. Something about knowledge perhaps? My friend tried asking again, the distance between them did not decrease, and the question was left butchered in the air. Lebowitz was probably a little confused, and my friend–a little exasperated. Regardless, Lebowitz’s answer was interesting nonetheless. 

Anybody can be Fran Lebowitz and stand up in front of an audience answering questions. Now, some of us are naturally more inclined to produce coherent sentences one after the other for an extended period of time, but none of us somehow possess all the secrets to the universe and all that. Lebowitz can’t tell me what I should do with my life–she doesn’t know me. She can tell me, however, as she did in her answer to my friend’s question (“Does knowledge matter?”), that knowledge matters. To sum it up, ignorant people who gain power hurt a lot of people, and plain ordinary stupid people oftentimes feel a little lost. Read, think, and learn..the power to change your life is up to you. Or something like that. Fran is just a person, and that’s just her experience. 

My Evening with Fran Lebowitz was wonderful. I laughed a lot; she’s truly very creative in her jokes. Personally, I also agreed, more knowledge is good. You can disagree, but regardless (and this was my overarching takeaway), use your own brain.