lizpenn_big.jpgThe Basics
Age and occupation. How long have you lived here, where did you come from, and where do you live now?
35. I've lived here for about five years, I grew up in Scarsdale, and I live on the Lower East Side. I’m a freelance writer, and TV critic for Slate under the name Dana Stevens.

Three from Chris Gage
1. Your bio for articles on reads "Dana Stevens, aka Liz Penn, writes on television for Slate and on film and culture for the High Sign." You're not doing a very good job of hiding your pseudonym. Why is your alter ego so transparent like this?
Well, it's a case wherein the alter ego preceded the identity itself. Liz Penn was never meant to hide anything. When my website, the High Sign, got started in 2002, I created a persona to write under because the web format afforded this irresistible opportunity of becoming someone else (which everyone wants, don't they?), and also because I didn't want to be confused with the other Dana Stevens in the film world, the screenwriter who wrote City of Angels and Life Or Something Like It. To this day I wonder if my high school friends will see those movies and think I wrote them. But when, to my complete surprise, I started writing professionally last year, Slate didn’t want me to use a pseudonym -- journalistic integrity and all that-- so I chose to go forward under two separate names: Liz Penn for The High Sign on movies, Dana Stevens for Slate on TV. By that time, Liz was her own persona, with a different biography, a different history, a different voice, and she also had a readership which I felt I couldn't betray by just flatfootedly killing her off and turning her into someone else overnight. So now each of the two continues to do her thing, claiming the other as her pseudonym. Gothamist asked to interview Liz Penn, so the biographical details in this interview are mainly hers. Though she may be lying some of the time.

2. How has your degree in comparative literature aided your film reviewing? I'm sure it must have in come in handy when comparing People magazine's issue declaring Brad Pitt as Sexiest Man Ever to Homer's soaring epic, which thus begat the horror that is "Troy" . . . Or am I just making up nonsense?
I wasn't trying to compare People magazine to Homer in that review ... I was supposed to be Homer! People was more like some ancient legend about the beauty of Pitt that gets referenced in the poem. But yeah, it's all literature. What else are you going to do with a Comp Lit degree? In a way, I just write on film in order to write on something ... to have a thing to write about, instead of everything in the world. It's like that thing Flaubert said about wishing he could write a book about nothing. I admire those writers on the web who really can write about nothing, the bloggers who just chronicle their day and it's fascinating. I don't have that kind of chutzpah. I need a formal structure.

3. For an article on a Web site, you can link to other articles or movie clips or whatnot, which clearly you can't do in print. Does this make a writer's piece better or does it bring on some laziness, since they can often get away with just a link rather than having to explain something?
There are some web-based writers who get all sassy, like, I don't do any research, unh-uh, not me. And I don't feel that way, I'm not proud of being lazy. I can be lazy sometimes, but I'm ashamed of it. But I do think that linking accomplishes something beyond just sparing the writer a trip to the library. When you start reading good writing on the web, you see how the medium truly does open up different possibilities, things that print can't do. It's like going into a labyrinth where every text opens out onto endless others. God, I sound like someone from Wired magazine in 1993.

Proust-Krucoff Questionnaire
Please share a personal (and hopefully interesting) NYC taxi story.
I'm too cheap to take cabs.

Best celebrity sighting in New York, or personal experience with one if you're that type.
Not that type. I like spotting Stephin Merritt around the East Village walking his chihuahua, but I never talk to him. He's supposed to be a really private guy, but I know just what I would say: "Big fan." It's always mortifying to see celebrities, why is that? The other day I was in a sushi bar and there was Liv Tyler being a total ass, singing some stupid song way too loudly -- and I was embarrassed. Why?

Describe that low, low moment when you thought you just might have to leave NYC for good.
Temping at Maxim magazine, fall 1998. It was a brand-new publication at that point and I was sure it would fold soon; I was just hoping they'd keep it together long enough to issue my first paycheck. They'd ask me to fact-check things that weren't facts, like "X Brand Coffee is twice as good as any other brand." I had to call Robbie Knievel, Evel's son, at his father's house while Evel was at death's door, awaiting a liver transplant. I kept telling my editors I couldn't reach Robbie, when in reality, I just felt bad bothering him. Finally, under extreme pressure to fact-check this profile, I called and really tentatively re-interviewed him, and he was fantastic -- when he picked up, he was mixing up a General Foods International Coffee, Mint Mocha, which I found so endearing. He asked me to go on a cross-country motorcycle trip with him.

Just after midnight on a Saturday - what are you doing?
Probably home catching up on stuff I've TiVo'd during the week, thinking about what to write on next. I hate going out on weekends, and -- how many people can say this about their jobs? -- I really need to focus on watching more TV.

What's the most expensive thing in your wardrobe?
That I've bought myself? Probably this lavender corduroy Cynthia Rowley suit that I got at Daffy's for $100 a few years back. Killer outfit, fits perfectly. I wear it to every wedding I go to, which is getting to be like every month now. Luckily there are seldom overlaps in guests from one wedding to the next, but I wonder how much longer I can milk that suit.

Where do you summer?
Oh, please. In an air-conditioned movie theater. Although this summer, I am trying to tag along on every country weekend I hear about. I just read a beautiful little paean (how the hell do you pronounce that word?) to summers in the city on Manhattan Transfer.

Who do you consider to be the greatest New Yorker of all-time? (Name up to three if you must.)
I have to do these "favorites" lists quickly, or I start to get obsessive about it. Let's go with great twentieth-century artists: Edith Wharton, James Baldwin, and John Cassavetes.

What was your best dining experience in NYC?
I've never been a huge food person, and I'm a notorious cheapskate; I'm happy with my Bereket takeout and the occasional steak-frites at Village. But I love the water ices at Rocco's on Bleecker Street, how they're like a seasonal offering: summertime only. It's so Euro. They just brought them back again for the year.

Just how much do you really love New York?
Is that a threat?

What happened the last time you went to L.A.?
Coconut popsicles in a rental car, champagne in a hotel pool flanked by huge plaster elephants. The time before that, I made oatmeal poultices for my then-boyfriend's hives and we came across Spielberg's Duel on late-night TV. Good stuff.

Of all the movies made about (or highly associated with) New York, what role would you have liked to be cast in?
Maybe Jean Arthur in Easy Living, the down-and-out typist whose life turns around when a fur coat falls on her head. Or Wallace Shawn in My Dinner with Andre. Oh no, wait, I've got it; Jason Robards in A Thousand Clowns. This is a bad question to ask me. I'll be up all night coming up with more.

If you could change one thing about New York, what would it be?
Everyone would own their own apartment, with a reasonable maintenance fee. With the time we saved working for rent money, we could actually visit each other's apartments and hang out, play parlor games. Isn't it sad, all the friends you have whose places you've never even seen?

The End of The World is finally happening. What are you going to do with your last 24 hours in NYC?
Realistically, I'd probably hole up and freak out, or call people and say goodbye. But I assume this question is supposed to be about a nice New York day, not the stark horror of mass impending death. So let's say: a cup of perfect coffee at home, a walk uptown to look at the Rembrandt self-portrait at the Frick, a drink at the Grand Central Oyster Bar, and dinner and a movie downtown, at Anthology or someplace. All with the right people, of course -- you know who you are. And it has to be mid-October.