The World According to Lebowitz

In advance of her Smith Center appearance, the always-opinionated writer tells it like it is

“In a word, bad. Bad. Bad. Bad,” Fran Lebowitz says, getting more emphatic with every word in her assessment of American politics. “I cannot be the only person to have noticed this.” I imagine the über writer/cultural commentator/contrarian sitting in her New York City apartment as the afternoon light struggles to cut through her halo of smoke. A Democrat (“because I am a fine human being”), Lebowitz is just as cantankerously critical of President Obama’s flaws as she is Mitt Romney’s. She doesn’t care much for people who listen only to those with like opinions. Pay “actual attention” to what’s going on, she admonishes.

Our conversation is fast and furious. Afterward, I wish I wasn’t so entertained by the way she delivers her opinions. I instantly think of dozens of more topics: the Middle East, abortion laws, climate change (I should’ve asked about that right after her diatribe on secondhand smoke). Maybe I’ll get a second chance Oct. 17, when she co-hosts A State of the Union Conversation with political journalist Frank Rich at The Smith Center for the Performing Arts.

• • •

The Oct. 3 presidential debate: “While I was watching it, I did something I’ve always made fun of other people for doing: I was sitting in my apartment by myself yelling at the television set, like some sports fan. I felt like jumping through the TV and telling Obama, “Move over, I’ve got it. I remember I’m a Democrat.” Mitt Romney acted like I imagined he would. Whether you’re interested in politics or not, most adults have seen someone act like Romney did in the debate: like a boss. That’s why he interrupted. But who wants a boss for president who has an exceptionally inhumane idea of the United States?”

Media pundits: “The main difference now in [the media’s coverage of politics] is the constant predictions. There are so many people predicting the future now that you’d think we are a nation of prophets.”

Steve Wynn: “The last time I was in Las Vegas was maybe 15 years ago. I stayed at that hotel with the exploding volcano. I ended up having dinner with Steve Wynn. I spent the night trying to figure out those giant slot machines that are somehow connected to each other and pay millions. I wanted to know exactly when they’d pay. He wouldn’t tell me, of course.”

Gambling: “My interest in gambling isn’t really gambling. I know that you’re just throwing your money away. So I play roulette, because I can play a long time. My real interest is in observing my fellow man in the casino. I have to say the human being is not at his best in the casino.”

Smoking: “I still smoke one or two packs a day. There are many people affronted by the fact that I am still alive. Smoking freely is one of the things I’m looking forward to in Las Vegas. I certainly believe smoking is bad for you; I absolutely do not believe that secondhand smoke is dangerous. Now, I understand that [secondhand smoke] is annoying—I’m annoyed by tons of things myself, like aftershave—but that’s what being in public means. If you want to control your environment, stay home.”

Talent: “I know we’re not supposed to talk about talent anymore. We’re supposed to imagine that everything comes from a dream or hard work. Now, working very hard always helps. [But] to do your job really well, you have to have talent. If getting votes is your measure, then Mitt Romney is not talented. He’s being put forth, but he’s not really getting people to like him. Obama is talented, though not as talented as one would hope. Bill Clinton was talented, though I didn’t love him as president.”

How to stay young: “I have to say I pretty much haven’t changed my mind in my whole life. People say to me, ‘You look the same as you did 10 years ago,’ which of course I don’t. I say, ‘It’s just because I haven’t changed my mind at all.’”