Let Fran Lebowitz Prep You for Tonight’s Presidential Debate

Fran Lebowitz’s opinions are often pointed, witty, and even a little incendiary, but her physical presence is often as theatrical as her message: In a blazer and jeans, she convulses with smirks and disbelieving winces, just as she did in the late ’70s when her book of essays Metropolitan Life became a sensation.

From the balcony at the University of Southern California’s Bovard Auditorium, it was clear to me that the 61-year-old commentator’s style of speechifying qualified as seated vaudeville. Of course, this is already apparent to anyone who saw Martin Scorsese‘s 2010 HBO documentary about Lebowitz, the indispensable Public Speaking.

Lebowitz’s onstage chat with New York magazine columnist Frank Rich, open to the public at USC, focused mainly on predictions for tonight’s second presidential debate (or as Lebowitz is calling it, “the first presidential debate,” dismissing Obama’s sluggish performance at the earlier debate). As an amuse bouche before tonight’s event, here are my favorite quotes from Lebowitz on Monday night

On Mitt Romney’s “boss” presence during the first debate:

“He fired Jim Lehrer right at the beginning of the show!”

On Repulican buzzwords:

“It’d be good if there were a Republican glossary. They stole all the good words from us like ‘reform.’ Believe me, Republicans don’t reform things. They end them.”

On Paul Ryan’s literary preferences:

“Your first clue about Paul Ryan should be that his favorite book is Atlas Shrugged. Atlas Shrugged has traditionally been the favorite book of people who’ve never read a novel before.”

On Joe Biden’s performance against Paul Ryan at the VP debate:

“Biden pushed him into admitting things that apparently no one seemed to notice. He basically said, ‘So if you were interested in retaining Roe v. Wade, would you be worried if you got into office?’ And he said, ‘Yes.’ So to me the big mystery, second to why Obama [performed poorly] the other day, is ‘Why are there women Republicans?’ How do these guys find wives?”

On why gay marriage hasn’t been a hot-button issue in the debates yet:

“Usually it’s the Republicans who push that, who try to get that on the ballot at the same time because it brings their voters in. I guess this time they think they didn’t need it or they feared they’d lose them. Because primarily, I believe, the main difference between people who are for or against gay marriage is generational… [Republicans under 40] are not as vociferously opposed to it.”

On being reportedly (albeit sarcastically) “opposed” to gay marriage:

I haven’t been opposed to it. In other words, if we voted on it in New York which we didnt because the lgeislature passed it, if we voted and people wanted it — I was personally a little concerned it would be mandatory, in which case I’d be against it — when I was young, there was a couple of upsides to being gay, one was that you didn’t have to get married, and the other was that you didn’t have to go in the army! It did surprise me from the very beginning that what I consider to be the two most confining institutions in society, the military and marriage, would be so sought after by gay activists. Usually a fight for freedom is a fight for freedom. This struck me as a fight for slavery.”

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