Fran Liebowitz is an acquired taste. When she arrived on the scene in the late ‘70s /early 80’s with her acerbic magazine articles and wildly successful book of comic essays, METROPOLITAN LIFE, she was somewhat of a sensation. Here was a 30 year-old very funny curmudgeon at a time when New York, Woody Allen, and Jews were enjoying the zeitgeist. She was a fresh voice. And I was a fan.
In the mid ‘80s when my partner, David Isaacs and I were creating a show for Mary Tyler Moore we thought, “wouldn’t it be great to have a Fran Liebowitz-type character for dear sweet Mary to play off of?” Hence the character we created for Katy Sagal. She was easily the most fun character to write for in that show. And why not? Cranks are funny. They can say things others thought but were afraid to say. BECKER was another. For the ultimate example — Ignatius J. Reilly in the hilarious novel, CONFEDERACY OF DUNCES.
Fran stopped writing in the ‘80s. That’s a long time for writers block. And yet she has somehow managed to remain a public figure and earn a living through speaking engagements. And freeloading. She truly has become “America’s Guest.” Her calendar is filled with dinner party invitations and Hampton weekend invitations from Manhattan and Hollywood movers and shakers. She’s essentially a court jester, someone to amuse the others at these gatherings. I sure don’t blame her for accepting. How would you like to live the “lifestyles of the rich and famous” just by being witty? I would be pithy at Martin Scorsese’s 4th of the July BBQ, wouldn’t you?
Speaking of Scorsese, he’s the producer/director of a seven-part documentary series on Netflix about Fran Liebowitz called PRETEND IT’S A CITY. Basically it’s seven half-hours of Fran Liebowitz spouting her disgruntled philosophy. Even fans of Ms. Liebowitz (like me) would argue that three half-hours would have been more than plenty. Edit, Marty, edit!
We see clips of Fran on talk shows down through the years, along with panel discussions, speaking engagements, and an intimate conversation in the Players Club.
The series has gotten mixed reviews. Even the New York Times dismissed her act as tired and tedious. I found a lot of it amusing but could not totally disagree.
I see Fran Liebowitz as a stand-up comedian. She has a definite persona, a definite shtick. Comics will often drop the persona when they’re not on stage. Jack Benny wasn’t cheap, Larry David is not an asshole, Joan Rivers wasn’t really “the queen of mean,” Steve Martin is not a “wild and crazy guy,” and I can only hope Andrew Dice Clay was just playing a character. But we are led to believe that Fran Liebowitz actually IS this put upon kvetch in real life. And if so, she feels like a walking anachronism. A writer friend put it perfectly — she was once ahead of the curve and is now way behind the curve.
But if you like the persona, the same way you might like Lewis Black’s angry persona, or Dave Chapelle’s edgy persona — you will get some laughs out of this documentary. And she talks fast so there’s a lot to choose from. I enjoyed a good deal of it. But even if Fran Liebowitz were my all-time favorite comedian/humorist, I sure as hell would not want to sit through a 3 1/2 hour concert. That’s what this was. So if you like Fran Liebowitz, binge-watch this series… but maybe one episode a month.
Source: Ken Levine