10 Questions for Dave Barry
By JEFF CHU
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Posted Sunday, Jan. 08, 2006
Pulitzer-prizewinning humorist Dave Barry, 58, may have stopped writing his weekly column a year ago, but he managed to scrounge together some thoughts for his 27th book, out next week, Dave Barry’s Money Secrets: Like: Why Is There a Giant Eyeball on the Dollar? He spoke with TIME’s Jeff Chu on Neil Diamond, the state of newspapers and his own endless run for the presidency.
WHY FOCUS ON MONEY? There seem to be thousands of books out there about money, and I am basically trying to viciously mock them. They don’t seem to do a lot of good. Look at how many have been sold. Theoretically, every living human being should be at least a millionaire if these books were even halfway effective.
YOUR FANS MAY NOTE THE ABSENCE OF BOOGER, ONE OF YOUR TRADEMARK WORDS. In fact, I mainly used it to describe the kind of humor I do—”Oh, I write booger jokes.” If you actually were to look through my oeuvre, there’s probably only once … a day that I used it. Only a few thousand times did I go to that well.
YOU PICK ON FAMOUS PEOPLE—ALAN GREENSPAN IN THIS BOOK, NEIL DIAMOND IN THE PAST. I’ve had surprisingly nice reactions. I wrote a column making fun of Neil Diamond’s lyrics “‘I am,’ I said/To no one there/ And no one heard at all/Not even the chair.” I said it was one of the worst lyrics ever written. The column became The Book of Bad Songs, which I dedicated to him. A few years ago, he was playing South Florida and invited me to his concert. Which I didn’t go to because a) I couldn’t, and b) he might have had people kill me.
LAST JANUARY YOU SAID YOU WERE TAKING A BREAK FROM YOUR WEEKLY COLUMN. LAST MONTH YOU MADE THE HIATUS PERMANENT. I don’t think I’m ever going back to writing weekly columns. It was clear early on—like, with my second column—that I had nothing to say. Thirty years was a long time to write with nothing to say.
YOU HAVE ENOUGH TO SAY TO BLOG (WWW.DAVEBARRY.COM). I like blogging because it’s flexible. Some days you do a lot. Some days you don’t do any. I also like the interaction. If you write an entry and let people comment on it, it’s amazing how funny it can get. The Internet is a good thing for people who write.
NEWSPAPERS HAVE CHANGED SINCE YOU STARTED. They’re less edgy. I got my start in the late ’70s, sending clips to editors and saying, “You should publish this.” A surprising number did. I don’t know that that would work now. When we had more space, more money and less obsession with losing readers, editors were quicker to print what they thought was funny just because they thought it was funny. Now they’re more likely to wonder, Is it really funny? Will it annoy people? Maybe we should show a focus group.
WHO WERE YOUR BIG COMIC INFLUENCES? My biggest by far—besides my mother, who had an incredibly dark sense of humor—was Robert Benchley, a humor essayist. I always wanted to write like him. He was silly, and that appealed to me, that a grownup could be that silly and get away with it.
YOU HAVE WRITTEN ON SERIOUS TOPICS. I wrote about my dad’s death. My mom committed suicide. My son had a very bad accident. In each case, I wrote about them more just to get it out of me. I got a lot of letters that said, You should write more serious stuff. My reaction was, I don’t want to. I wrote serious things because really bad things happened that forced me to confront them. I don’t want to write about really bad things. I want to write about funny things.
BY SERIOUS I MEANT POLITICS, THE GOVERNMENT. The Federal Government? I don’t think anyone outside Washington thinks of it as serious. The humor in government—especially the way we elect Presidents—is the mother lode. When you’re watching a man flip pancakes in New Hampshire while answering questions about Social Security reform, you’re watching a funny way to choose the leader of the free world.
YOU’VE RUN FOR PRESIDENT AS A WRITE-IN CANDIDATE SINCE THE ’80s. Only for the money. I’m not one of those weenies who will drop out of the race just because they held an election and the Electoral College declared somebody else the winner. I just stay in the race and keep accepting cash contributions. That’s the kind of candidate I am. Also, I have bumper stickers left over.