Over this past winter, Lorraine Levine felt so confined in her East Village apartment that she told her neighbor she was dying — of boredom.
"The way she said it, it was funny," TV producer and writer Robert La Force says of the octogenarian he checks on often. With his last production in the can, La Force began recording the salty, swear-studded statements Levine made, showing friends and family the resulting videos. Their laughter inspired him to start posting clips online in March.
Thus "Ask My Neighbor Lorraine," was born, a video series in which Levine tackles questions like "What's the best hangover cure?" and "Is the third marriage a charm?" with her typical comic frankness.
(Answers: "Go out and get a drink, get laid, and call me in the morning" and "The third one doesn't mean s—t.")
In one-minute monologues, the East Village den mother and former antique dealer reveals she's devoted to her dog Molly; she's convinced that all politicians "stink," she's had five husbands and 35 lovers and she thinks single women seeking marital bliss need to "put it out" only after they have a ring on their finger.
The accidental comedienne, who grew up in Brighton Beach in a Russian Jewish family of entertainers, thinks of herself as, above all, a "very cultured, sophisticated lady ... who says f—k often."
Levine is somewhat Internet-famous. Her video about "the first time [she] got laid" has had 11,000 views and one of her clips will air next month on the viral Internet video-ranking British TV show "Rude Tube."
But she doesn't own a computer.
"My life is comedy," Levine says of her source material. "I want everyone to go through life like I did—with a smile on my face, laughing and fooling around."
(She means "fooling around" in all ways possible, we should explain.)
We asked the sassy East Village resident for her take on what it's like to live in New York City in the 21st century.
(The following interview has been condensed.)
DNAinfo: Tell us what it's like to live on your block in the East Village. What do you typically talk to your neighbors about?
Levine: If I'm in the front of my apartment, I'm not there ten minutes alone, because somebody's constantly coming over, and asking, and talking. So it's like family.
I was once going two and half blocks to the chiropracter, and it took 40 minutes to get there, because I met people on the way that I knew. As long as I make them laugh and I make them happy, that's all I care about.
Dogs, dog bones, food, painting my door — we talk about everything. ... I have an opinion about everything: how the garden grows, and how the dogs should be treated, and how the parents should treat their children. When I see couples that carry on with the dog like it's their child, I tell them, "You know, you're pathetic. It's a dog." I mean, I love my dog, she's adorable. But she's a dog!
DNAinfo: What do you like most about New York City?
Levine: I’ll tell you, frankly, I’m not happy with the city the way it is today. The rents are exorbitant. Real people can’t live [here]. The people are rude, ruder than they used to be. It’s just that people have an attitude that well, if you don’t like it, leave. I’ve been in my apartment 37 years.
DNAinfo: Which is better: de Blasio's New York or Bloomberg's?
Levine: De Blasio — I don’t like him. I think he’s a showman. He became mayor so he can go on eventually to become governor; his idea is to become president. I don’t know if I’ll live to see it, but I don’t trust him. When that man built a seven-foot fence around government property so nobody could look at his garden. As far as I’m concerned, he sucks.
Bloomberg — a lot of things he didn’t do I didn’t like; a lot of things he did do I liked. He wasn’t a die hard, he wasn’t a bullsh-- artist. He said, "This is what I think should be," and he made sure the law was passed. True, I was a smoker; if I still smoked I’d tell him to kiss my a—.
DNAinfo: Rents in neighborhoods like Bed-Stuy are rising rapidly, pushing out lower-income, often minority families. What's your perspective on gentrification as an issue impacting the city?
Levine: I had the greatest hairdresser on Clinton and Rivington, and one day I go in, and she says, 'I’m leaving.'
I says ‘why?’
She says, ‘The whites are taking over.’ She was Hispanic.
I have friends who own a beauty salon down the street. He was in SoHo for 23 years, paying $5,000 a month. His lease was up. The rent went to $15,000. And it's OK, they can do that. The fact that it's not fair, that's besides the point. It's never fair, because if you’re gonna step on another little guy to get where you are, it’s not right. I don’t care who you are. I grew up where I saw people with their furniture out in the street in the Depression, when they couldn't pay the rent. I could never, in my brain, figure that out for my life — that these people are thrown away.
You can’t go to Brooklyn, you can’t go anywhere. Brooklyn is as bad as Manhattan. The rents here are ridiculous.
DNAinfo: We've got a home-grown New Yorker running in the Republican primary, Mr. Donald Trump. What did you make of last week's Republican presidential debate?
Levine: I didn’t see anything exciting. [Trump] was nasty as usual about women. And then the fat guy from Jersey, Chris Christie, and Rand Paul got into it about something stupid. They were like kids in the schoolyard. They were ridiculous.