Magazine article Book

Dave Barry: Killer Wit: The Syndicated Columnist, Two-Time Novelist and American Class Clown Masters the Art of Mayhem

Magazine article Book

Dave Barry: Killer Wit: The Syndicated Columnist, Two-Time Novelist and American Class Clown Masters the Art of Mayhem

Article excerpt

DAVE BARRY, WHATEVER ELSE HE MAY BE KNOWN FOR, IS clear about what matters most to him: "The column always comes first," says the writer, who is, at heart, a newspaperman. Mike's--a restaurant and bar a stone's throw from Barry's office at the Miami Herald--is, at heart, a quintessential newspaperman's retreat: dark, cheap and off the beaten path. When the writer the New York Times called "the funniest man in America" walks in, he's greeted by a table of Herald staffers shouting "Dave!" Cheers style.

A waitress appears. "I read your column about the bad food in the Herald cafeteria," she says. "I was wondering when you were going to come back over here."

Barry, decked out in a trademark Hawaiian shirt and looking considerably younger than his fifty-five years, flashes his class-clown grin. "The food here," he says, "is always consistent. It's consistent in its mediocrity."

It's that wit--a brew of insight and old-fashioned silliness with a healthy dose of indignation--that has earned Barry legions of devotees from coast to coast. Barry is America's Smart Aleck, its anthropologist of the absurd. Whether holding forth on the mysteries of canine intelligence, musing about the ups and downs of toilet ownership or excoriating the latest recipient of government largesse, Barry has, for twenty years, remained widely accessible without seeming sanitized. It's a feat managed by only a handful of writers--Mark Twain, James Thurber and Erma Bombeck, for example.

"The difficulty of what Dave does day in and day out--and is so consistently good at--is something I'm not sure is appreciated enough," says novelist Carl Hiaasen, Barry's friend and fellow Herald columnist. "He has a gift, but it's still brutally hard work. And because he's very funny, people don't always realize how tough he can be. It's a very sharp scalpel you use when they don't feel the pain."

Barry's skillful use of that scalpel culminated in the 1988 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, awarded for what the Pulitzer committee called his "effective use of humor as a device for presenting fresh insights into serious concerns." Barry offers a more prosaic view: "I think one reason people relate to me is I'm not a complicated writer," he says. "I hope I never appear to be lecturing people, and I hope I never appear to be saying I'm an expert and you're not. Readers deserve to see someone in the newspaper who freely admits to being incompetent and dishonest and wrong and petty and trivial--which is me. …

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