Concert Hall, Sydney Opera House, February 13


Fran Lebowitz. Photo: Brigitte Lacombe. Top Photo: Bill Hayes

Fran Lebowitz is a blocked writer who earns a living from talking. Writers’ festivals have made the talking writer a routine phenomenon, but generally you’d be better spending that time reading their books. Lebowitz is different. Her decades-long writer’s block has made speaking her de facto art form. Although a natural raconteur, more crucial is her perspective.

When we escape the awkward phase where Benjamin Law quizzes her from the stage, we remain at the mercy of the quality of  previously submitted audience questions, but she keeps salvaging the situation. Asked, for instance, what true happiness is, she fires back, “I’ll let you know when it happens.”

A committed smoker, Lebowitz says her greatest accomplishment is not killing anyone on long-haul flights. Aiding her cause would be separate aircraft for children, which would be economical for the airlines because there’d be no seats.

Fran is the antidote to a world suffocating in wellness theories, positivity and optimism. No cynic, she’s a heroic sceptic who elevates sarcasm to a higher form of wit. She speaks so rapidly that it’s as if her mouth races to keep pace with her brain, and meanwhile her hands share the job of communication, her long index finger carving the air with lethal intent – this being the woman who says, “It’s very important to remember everything – if you are a vengeful person.”

Photo: Brigitte Lacombe.

She’s the best sort of Luddite: it’s not that she fears smartphones, computers of microwave ovens; she just can’t see how they’d improve her life – especially after she sat next to a man who spent an entire flight playing a game on his phone, which, it seemed to her, “looked like he was murdering fruit”.

Trump, of course, is lacerated into the nothing he is for fellow New Yorkers, the Republicans are “mean and stupid” and the Supreme Court “an insult to Motown”. But she speaks with love and reverence of the late writer Toni Morrison, who had the “most humanity” of anyone she’s known.

She describes having no children as “the best thing you can do for the environment”. “Whatever the problem, it’s humans,” she says. Artificial intelligence? “I’m really not worried about AI. I’m worried about human intelligence.” Her legacy? “People who are worried about their legacy are people who don’t understand what death means.”