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Look, I am not going to tell you how funny Fran Lebowitz is. I am not going to tell you how smart Fran Lebowitz is. But I am going to tell you that those two things are deeply tied together and there’s no separating them. There is simply no one else like her. Is there a greater compliment, a heartier recommendation? 

Martin Scorsese’s seven-part Netflix series Pretend It’s a City is made up of nothing more than a series of interviews with Lebowitz (mostly new ones by Scorsese, but clips from older brain-pickings by Alec Baldwin, Spike Lee, Toni Morrison, and David Letterman turn up as well). Interspersed is footage of her walking around Manhattan (both the real one and the famous scale model of it at The Queens Museum). It sounds like nothing much, but it covers such a wide swath of territory that it almost serves as a Guide to Life, and you could do worse than having Lebowitz light your way, even if it’s gonna be with only the tip of her lit cigarette.

I think it’s very unusual these days to run across a funny person whose funniness stems from their actual philosophy. In Lebowitz’s case, it goes even further: there is no difference between the two. Humor is her philosophy; her philosophy is humor. She’s not a comedian. Lebowitz doesn’t tell jokes, but she’s funny (and quite serious regarding that funniness) about everything. EVERYTHING. Sports, movies, taxes, Leo DiCaprio, smoking, health (“we didn’t use to have ‘wellness’”), government, the Dalai Lama, bears, books. There’s a moment in the seventh episode where she responds (disdainfully) to the idea of someone not liking a book because they “don’t see themselves in it” with such philosophical clarity that I almost fainted with joy.

I am not going to tell you that Fran Lebowitz might or might not be your thing. I am not going to try and be funny about Fran Lebowitz. I am deeply afraid of her and am sure I would suffer some sort of cosmic consequence if I even tried. She’s not Wilde, but she’s Wildean. She’s not Dorothy Parker, but she’s Parker-ian. We will not see the likes of her again. Do not miss this series.

Note: though it’s an almost perfect series for it, don’t be tempted to just listen; look up now and then if only to see the footage of New York City streets full of people. Such a thing seems so unlikely in the current moment that it’s almost like looking at an antique tintype.

Streaming on Netflix.

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About The Author

DG Strong took up knitting in 2014. He lives in Nashville with his sister, her rat terrier and a hound dog named Opal. He has a blog of drawings and faintly ridiculous rambling called The Psychopedia—there are worse ways to spend your afternoon.


  • This is on my “to watch” list. On a very recent “Fresh Air with Terry Gross,” Terry interviewed Fran & it was a terrific show. I shouldn’t figure you all know that: Terry hosts a phenomenal NPR program that originates at my fave local station, WHYY, & you can podcast her show. Their conversation made me want to watch the Netflix special & your review is extra icing on the cake. Thank you.

    • same here! I listened to the interview yesterday on NPR. Her comments about writing for Andy Warhol’s magazine are priceless.

      • Awesome! It’s a DG Strong + more rec. February can be Fran Lebowitz month. It’s February now, right? I’m so ready for January to be over already.

  • Her Charlie Mingus story!

    • Just finished watching all the episodes. Enjoyed it very much.

    • The subway odor story!
      Having commuted in Manhattan in the summer before the subways were air conditioned, I lost it!

  • I quit Netflix in disgust several years ago. Fran Lebowitz will get me back, at least until I’ve seen all the episodes.

  • First the Barry Gibb Greenfields album and now Liebowitz. Thank you, thank you, thank you! Even though Barry Gibb brings up all sorts of complicated memories and feelings (they were huge when I was in high school), I am enjoying every single song. Allison Kraus left me shattered but she tends to have that effect on me anyway and Dolly makes every day better. I am looking forward to Liebowitz.

  • Loved this, and will definitely watch. Please resume The Psychopedia. I want to read more of you!

  • I am rationing it. Really great. I must say Mr Strong, I am so enjoying your contributions. Keep them coming.

  • We “stumbled” into this while looking for a new good watch. We were wrong, we stumbled into a great watch and listen.

  • I miss the City. My Metrocards have both expired. VKL NY did a (not very well edited) YouTube video of some LYS (not explaining why some were closed – did those stores a big disservice).
    But I saw City streets, buses and the subway … who ever thought they’d miss the subway?

    My uncle used to tell us that if you knew someone w a car and had a nickel you would drive through the wonder of the Holland Tunnel. I used to love the return trip home at night as the bus made its way up the helix from the Lincoln Tunnel and see the City in its lighted glory. I later moved up to the Inferno of Penn – and sadly won’t get to use the glory of the new Moynihan Station.

    Memories of the ‘before time.’

  • This is from the NYT article about it. I know many NYers agree.
    “After the big protests in SoHo, I saw a reporter interviewing a woman who was a manager of one of the fancy stores there. The reporter said to her, “What are you going to do?” And she said, “There’s nothing we can do until the tourists come back.” I yelled at the TV and I said, “Really? You can’t think what to do with SoHo without tourists? I can! Let me give you some ideas.” Because I remember it without tourists. How about, artists could live there? How about, let’s not have rent that’s $190,000 a month? How about that? Let’s try that.”

  • I have always loved Lebowitz and had decided I’d watch today after I got the soup pot simmering. It is, and now I will

  • Thanks so much for the suggestion. Watched all the episodes today. Couldn’t stop watching!

  • A must see! I first enountered Fran Lebowitz back in the 1970s when I read “The Lebowitz Report” in Mademoiselle magazine. Back when I was a sweet young thang. Well, I was never sweet, but I was young.

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