On Tuesday, 27 September, the New Museum hosted a discussion between director Martin Scorsese and the writer and wit Fran Lebowitz as part of its Stuart Regen Visionaries series of talks. The two are old school New Yorkers, and old friends—Lebowitz was the subject of a 2010 documentary Scorsese directed—and while it was natural for her, as the honouree, to do most of the talking, this also just happens to be the way things go with Lebowitz, which Scorsese seemed to understand. You don’t interview her so much as give her a topic and get out of the way.
The first US presidential debate having kicked off the night before, the natural opening topic was Donald Trump, whom Scorsese didn’t even have to name. His leading question was simply: “I know we try not to get topical but what the hell is going on? I mean what the hell is happening?”
“You have never been in a subway car where not every other person in the subway car would not be a better president than Donald Trump,” she said. “You’ve never been on a plane. Even to LA. People keep saying, ‘I don’t want to vote for Hillary Clinton, I don’t like her.’ Who cares? You’re not gonna meet her.”
“Maybe she doesn’t like you,’” she added to the audience’s laughter. “Did you ever think of that?”
Scorsese, who happens to have grown up around the corner from the museum on Prince Street, wheeled her around to various topics, like the city’s mayor. “Every year, whoever’s the mayor brags about how many tourists there are. This year, 58 million tourists came to New York. 58 million tourists. Now, I wanted none of them to come here. Who wants these people? First of all, by now it seems to me that everyone must have been here.” He asked if she ever thought of running for mayor herself, as Norman Mailer did. “I’ve never thought of running for mayor,” she said. “I’ve never thought of doing anything Norman Mailer did.”
During the Q&A at the end, someone asked Scorsese, the director of Goodfellas and The Wolf of Wall Street, if he thought that Trump’s sniffling and aggression during the debate might have been attributable to cocaine, as some theorised on Twitter.
“He drank a lot of water,” Scorsese said, “A great deal of water. I was watching all his moves, but I didn’t see the coke… frisson. So to speak.”
“I didn’t think so,” Lebowitz interjected. “He would have been a little sharper. There’s a reason people do coke! And it’s not to sound like Donald Trump.”
“Fran could you talk a little bit about your photography,” the next questioner asked. “Could you talk a little bit about your photographs?”
“Boy are you in the wrong place,” she said onstage. “I am not Annie Leibovitz. I’m Fran Lebowitz. Annie’s the photographer.” Everyone laughed awkwardly. “That’s okay. But—” she paused to look at her watch in awe. “You’ve been here really a long time.”
It was a little surprising for the confusion to come up after an hour-long talk. “Sometimes this happens to me on the street and they say, ‘But you look just like her!’ And I say, ‘Only to anti-Semites.’”
“But hey,” she added, thumbing over to Scorsese, “if you want to ask him about directing The Godfather later…”