he New York Times has called Dave Barry the funniest man in America. Dave Barry, on the other hand, has this to say about the New York Times: "Motto: Our Motto Alone Is Longer Than an Entire Edition of USA Today."
It's not that Barry is ungrateful to the Times for being enthusiastic about him. It's just that, given the chance, it's hard for him not to notice how silly everything is.He's the kind of grownup who, were he still actually a kid, would put two fingers up behind the teacher in a class photo. Probably he would still do it as an adult.
Deseret News readers chuckle over Barry's humor column every Sunday. Now they have a chance to see him in person and hear him talk about something, although at this point Barry says he isn't sure what.
"I'm pretty much of a random talker," he explained in a phone interview from his home in Miami. He was at home because that's where he spends most of his time, writing in his underwear, he says.
He will speak at Utah State University on Thursday, April 2, at 12:30 p.m. as part of the school's Convocations Lecture Series. The random talk will be in the Chase Fine Arts Center's Kent Concert Hall and is free to the public.
"We try to pick somebody more recognizable and entertainment-oriented at least once a year," says Brent White, student coordinator of the lecture series, explaining why the university chose the humorist.
Barry would probably be the first to point out, however, that even though he won the Pulitzer Prize for commentary in 1988 and even though he's running for president this year, there are a lot of people who wouldn't know him from an exploding vegetable.
A poll taken last spring in Florida, where he lives, revealed that four out of five respondents had no idea who he was. Among 15 then-potential Democratic candidates, he came in last.
He says his campaign is going very well, though. The reason we may not know this is that there has been a media blackout about his success, he says. His major strategy now is to not drop out of the race.
(Dave is the candidate who promises, if elected, to eliminate all giant federal departments and replace them with a single entity, the Department of Louise, "a regular taxpaying individual with children and occasional car trouble." Dave would handle all foreign affairs via the Department of a Couple of Guys Named Victor, who would deal with pesky world despots by offing them in theshower, thus saving the U.S. billions of dollars and untold lives.)
Barry likes to make fun of the government, especially "our elected life forms." If you call him at his office at the Miami Herald this week, you'll get him on the answering machine saying, in a game-show host voice: "Hi, you've reached the U.S. House of Representatives' phone bank. At the sound of the tone, please leave a message. Then feel free to take any number of messages you want. We won't tell anybody."
Barry's column runs in 400 papers now. He estimates he gets about 400 letters a week from alert readers (since the numbers are suspiciously similar, he could be making this up). He has also written 13 books ("Dave Barry Slept Here: A Sort of History of the United States," "How to Claw Your Way to the Top," etc.), three of which were best sellers.
Other writers have tried to explain the phenemenon of Dave Barry's appeal. Newsweek decided his writing is "unabashedly sophomoric, perfectly attuned to the boomers who never grew up, either, and who comprise his biggest fans."
Barry himself chalks it up to the fact that people are reassured to know that someone as immature as himself (a man who frequently uses words like bazootyhead, boogers and "hillion jillion bazillion dollars") can actually get paid to write.
Asked why he thinks he is being rewarded for being immature, Barry responded with a question of his own. "Why is Orrin Hatch, just to pick a name at random, rewarded for being a sanctimonious human being?"
Dave was elected the Class Clown of Pleasantville High School in 1965. "We all thought we were funny in the Barry family," he told the Deseret News. This probably would have been the time to ask him about his mother, who suffered from chronic depression and eventually committed suicide, and his sister, who has been institutionalized for schizophrenia, and his father and brother, who were alcoholics.
But Barry likes to keep his private life private, usually by deflecting a serious question with a goofy answer. In an interview with him you find yourself asking, instead, whether he really does write in his underwear.
Barry started his career by being a responsible journalist, first for the Daily Local News in West Chester, Pa., then the Associated Press, where he learned to abbreviate correctly but didn't exactly grow as a writer. "If you wrote `historic Liberty Bell' instead of just `Liberty Bell,' " he says, "you'd send paroxyms of joy through the AP literary establishment."
He then spent eight years teaching "effective writing" seminars for executives. But the class clown needed an audience, so he began writing humor columns at $22.50 a week for the Daily Local News. Nine years ago the Miami Herald discovered him and gave him a job being funny full time.
Writing a humor column is harder than it looks, he tells all the high school students who write to him wanting to follow in his footsteps. The main problem with the job, he told the Deseret News, is that when you are a humor writer, "there's no real reason to wake up" every morning.
It takes him two days to write each column. The other three days, he said, he plays Stealth Fighter.
Then, very politely, Barry said he had to hang up. He had another interview to do. Or maybe Nintendo.
What about all the questions left unanswered?
"Just make it up," said Dave.
The Hubble Orbiting Space Telescope (also known as the Hubble Orbiting Space Paperweight): "The only orbiting telescope in the universe equipped with dark glasses and a cane."
Canada: "Motto: Technically, a nation."
The number and intensity of beans served in Mexico: "It is not by mere chance that most of Mexico is located outdoors."
Why men don't call women back after a good date: They've disappeared into the Guy Bermuda Triangle.
Modern supermarket tomatoes: "The same juicy tenderness as croquet balls."
The meaning of the word "perspective": "Derived from two ancient Greek words: `persp,' meaning `something bad that happens to somebody else,' and `ective,' meaning `ideally somebody like Donald Trump.' "