Barry prefers to let the columns come to him

By MARK McGUIRE, Staff writer
First published: Friday, April 30, 2004


For more than two decades, Pulitzer Prize-winning humorist Dave Barry has been poking fun at the absurdities of everyday life. The 56-year-old author of more than 25 books, Barry is best known for his weekly column syndicated from the The Miami Herald.

Barry will read from his work at 8 p.m. Tuesday in Page Hall on the University at Albany's downtown campus. The event caps off the spring season for the New York State Writers Institute, and is free and open to the public. (For information, contact the Writers Institute at 442-5620 or on line at http://www.albany.edu/writersinst.)

Earlier this week, Barry spoke to the Times Union (which runs his column on Sundays, by the way):

Q: How different is it to be funny in a live speaking appearance as opposed to a column?

A: I discovered over the years that reading written humor doesn't usually work. ... I really don't know why. You can be a lot sort of subtler in writing and play on the reader's imagination a little more. Whereas when you talk, you kind of have to tell jokes.

Q: You also rarely get heckled when you're writing ...

A: No, I actually do. Every now and then, my computer will go, "Boy, that sucks. You're going to send that in?" They're getting too smart, these computers.

Q: Specifically as you can, what do you look for from everyday life to lampoon?

A: I don't really look. I found that if I try to "discover" column material, I get too self-conscious about it and it's not there. If I just sort of live everyday life, every now and then something will happen. ... In everyday life, in domestic humor, it's just better to let it happen.

Q: Is it harder to be relentlessly funny in the age of terrorism?

A: I don't think so. I think you have to be a little bit careful about what you write about, but that's always been true. ... The public really deals with it much better than the media deal with it. The media are much more skittery. Americans see humor in their own fear, and are not afraid to laugh at that.

Q: After years of chronicling life's absurdities and foibles, how do you stave off becoming a cynical crank?

A: I think I was always a little bit cynical. I think that's how I became a humor columnist. ... I still have fun doing what I do; I still laugh at stuff. I hope I don't turn into a crank. It's something I will have have to watch for as I slowly descend into senility.

Q: Tony Kornheiser of ESPN and The Washington Post will see his life transformed into a CBS sitcom next fall. Having gone that route ("Dave's World," a sitcom starring Harry Anderson as Barry, ran on CBS from 1993-97), any advice for him on what to expect?

A: Whoever plays you on TV becomes the source of endless jokes that will never, ever go away. To this day ... people will still come up to me and say, "Hey, are you Harry Anderson?" or "Aren't you that guy from 'Night Court'?"

Q: Jason Alexander (George Costanza from "Seinfeld") is playing him ...

A: He's doomed. Tony's doomed.

Q: Your next project is a kid's book. ("Peter and the Starcatchers," co-written with Ridley Pearson, is a 400-plus-page young readers' prequel to "Peter Pan" slated for release in the fall.) Why?

A: It really was an idea of (Pearson's) daughter, who I think was 6. He read "Peter Pan" to her one night and at the end of the story she said, "Daddy, how did Peter Pan meet Captain Hook?"

Q: As someone who at times made stuff up for a living -- despite the title of one of your books ("Dave Barry Is Not Making This Up," 1994) -- what's your take on the recent spate of journalism scandals?

A: It kind of ticks me off, these people. I invented making things up a long time ago. ... Come up with something new, Jayson.

Q: Multiple polls reveal that more younger people get their news from "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart" than the network or traditional cable news outlets. Is this a good or bad thing for our nation?

A: I wrestle with that all the time. It's a wonderful show, a really smart show. You can actually can get an amazing amount of news just watching that show. But in the end they are only going to tackle the issues in a way that's funny; obviously, they're not stupid. What's nice is I suspect the same kids who are watching that show and getting their news will slowly turn to other, more serious media.

Q: You're running for president again. Do you find it terrifying or amusing there is a likely prospect someone will actually vote for you?

A: I think I look better every election. I get older and the other candidates seem to get stupider. I'm confident that in another couple of decades I could win. I'll be dead, but so what?

All Times Union materials copyright 1996-2003, Capital Newspapers Division of The Hearst Corporation, Albany, N.Y.

Dave Barry
Times Union Article by Michael Eck