Barry, Dave (1947—)

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Barry, Dave (1947—)

Dave Barry, a bestselling author and a syndicated humor columnist based in Miami, is a significant player in the great American tradition of humor writing. Like Finley Peter Dunne, social satire is a mainstay of Barry's work—e.g., on the limitations of free speech: "[Y]ou can't shout 'FIRE!' in a crowded theater. Even if there is a fire, you can't shout it. A union worker has to shout it." Like Mark Twain, Barry explores the pomposities of life in the mid-to late twentieth century: describing the "grim" looks of a group of rich people in an ad, Barry remarks: "[It is] as if they have just received the tragic news that one of their key polo ponies had injured itself trampling a servant to death and would be unavailable for an important match." And like Will Rogers, Barry provides commentary on the issues of the day—Barry's description of Will Rogers in his book Dave Barry Slept Here reads: Rogers "used to do an act where he'd twirl a lasso and absolutely slay his audiences with such wry observations as 'The only thing I know is what I read in the papers.' Ha-ha! Get it? Neither do we. Must have been something he did with the lasso."

Barry grew up in Armonk, New York. He is self-consciously a member of the Baby Boom generation. In Dave Barry Turns 40, the author has this to say about his generation's musical tastes: "[W]e actually like to think we're still With It. Whereas in fact we are nowhere near It. The light leaving from It right now will not reach us for several years." Barry's father, David W. Barry, was a Presbyterian minister who worked in New York's inner city. In a serious column written after his father's death, Barry later wrote that "[t]hey were always asking [Barry's father] to be on those shows to talk about Harlem and the South Bronx, because back then he was the only white man they could find who seemed to know anything about it."

Barry graduated from New York's Pleasantville High School in 1965. In his yearbook photograph, according to Barry many years later, he looked like a "solemn little Junior Certified Public Accountant wearing glasses styled by Mister Bob's House of Soviet Eyewear." He then went on to Haverford College, where he earned a degree in English in 1969. Having been declared a conscientious war objector, Barry performed alternative service by working for the Episcopal Church in New York. Barry has remained fairly consistent in his antiwar views. In 1992, he declared himself a candidate for President on a platform which included an interesting method of conducting foreign policy without war. Foreign affairs "would be handled via [an] entity called The Department of A Couple of Guys Names Victor." Instead of invading Panama and causing "a whole lot of innocent people [to] get hurt," Barry would say to his foreign-affairs team, "'Victors, I have this feeling that something unfortunate might happen to Manuel Noriega, you know what I mean?' And, mysteriously, something would."

Barry got a job in 1971 writing for the Daily Local News in West Chester, Pennsylvania. After a stint with the Associated Press in Pennsylvania, in 1975 he went to work for the consulting firm Burger Associates teaching effective business writing ("This could be why we got so far behind Japan," he later speculated). During this time, he started a humor column in the Daily Local News. After his work became popular, he was hired by the Miami Herald, although he did not move to Miami until 1986. He also produced some spoofs on self-help books, such as Homes and Other Black Holes. These books were to be followed by collections of Barry's columns, as well as original works with titles like Dave Barry Slept Here: A Sort of History of the United States, and Dave Barry's Guide to Guys.

Barry was also honored with a television series, called Dave's World and based on two of his books, which ran from 1993 to 1997 on CBS before being canceled. The Barry character in the series was played by Harry Anderson, the judge on Night Court. "Lest you think I have 'sold out' as an artist," Barry reassured his readers while Dave's World was still on the air, "let me stress that I have retained total creative control over the show, in the sense that, when they send me a check, I can legally spend it however I want." The show's cancellation did not effect Barry's writing, and he continued to amuse his readers, offering refreshing views on American life.

—Eric Longley

Further Reading:

Achenbach, Joel. Why Things Are: Answers to Every Essential Question in Life. New York, Ballantine, 1991.

Barry, Dave. Dave Barry Slept Here: A Sort of History of the United States. New York, Random House, 1989.

——. Dave Barry Turns 40. New York, Fawcett Columbine, 1990.

——. Dave Barry's Complete Guide to Guys. New York, Random House, 1995.

——. Homes and Other Black Holes. New York, Fawcett Columbine, 1988.

Chepesiuk, Ron. "Class Clown: Dave Barry Laughs His Way to Fame, Fortune." Quill. January/February 1995, 18.

Garvin, Glenn. "All I Think Is That It's Stupid." Reason. December,1994, 25-31.

Hiassen, Carl, et al. Naked Came the Manatee. New York, Putnam, 1997.

Marsh, Dave, editor. Mid-life Confidential: The Rock Bottom Remainders Tour America with Three Chords and an Attitude. New York, Viking, 1994.

Richmond, Peter. "Loon Over Miami: The On-Target Humor of Dave Barry." The New York Times Magazine. September 23, 1990, 44, 64-67, 95.

Winokur, Jon, editor. The Portable Curmudgeon Redux. New York, Penguin Books, 1992.

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Barry, Dave (1947—)

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