Barry keeps the crowd laughing

Columnist lets comedy do the talking as Writer's Institute last act

By MICHAEL ECK, Special to the Times Union
First published: Wednesday, May 5, 2004

Humor columnist Dave Barry declared his candidacy Tuesday night at Page Hall.
Barry was the final speaker in the New York State Writer's Institute spring season.

He said that given the dearth of satisfactory choices in the upcoming election, "I've decided I'll run for president; you can all be in my Cabinet."

But Barry only lightly touched on politics during his 80-minute talk.

In truth, his appearance was more like a stand-up comedy show than a reading -- although he did finish with a story from one of his books, about the communication differences between men and women.

As any comic would, Barry stuck closer to bankable topics like the dumbness of dogs, the human male aversion to asking for directions and, yes, airline jokes.

He was better with material that riffed on his adopted hometown of Miami (where the new tourist slogan is "Come back to Miami, we weren't shooting at you"), his real hometown of Armonk ("It's an Indian word, but it wasn't zoned for Indians when I was there") and the state of North Dakota (where a sewage-lifting station has been named for him in honor of a particularly snippy column).

Barry's polite, receptive fans packed the small hall and laughed at nearly all of his funny lines. He has a comic's timing onstage, but a writer's sense for where to take his stories. He did address the nuts and bolts of his job to some degree, but as noted, it was more of a gig than a lecture.

Author William Kennedy introduced Barry with a speech largely built on the guest's own words, which garnered some good natured ribbing from Barry.

"Thank you, Bill," Barry quipped, "for that incredibly long introduction, you used up all of my material."

After an hour of comedy Barry took questions from the crowd.

He gave simple advice to a pair of young would-be humorists: "Read a lot and write a lot," he said.

He also spoke about the experience of seeing his own life portrayed on television, in the sitcom "Dave's World." Barry said that the show quickly deviated from reality because, "in real life I sit at my computer all day long."

He added, with the usual comic twist, "They did give me complete creative control over the checks they sent me."

Barry finished with more about his band (the Rock Bottom Remainders, which is made up of fellow authors including Amy Tan and Stephen King) and his beloved -- but stupid -- dogs Ernest and Zippy (well known to readers from their appearances in past columns).

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

Dave Barry
Times Union Article by Mark McGuire