I had the great pleasure of hearing humorist Dave Barry speak at the National Press Club yesterday. His new book is the very funny You Can Date Boys When You’re Forty: Dave Barry on Parenting and Other Topics He Knows Very Little About. He joked about running for President, saying that his education proposal would be to gather all the parents together and tell them that if they don’t provide enough money for the schools, the teachers will retaliate by holding a science fair. And if our kids keep under-performing students in other countries, the solution is clear: bring in those foreign kids to take the tests here and get the job done! His health care solution: if you have to wait more than 30 minutes to see a doctor, you get to give the doctor a shot.
But there was one issue so daunting he had no answer: “We need to find a cure for puberty.” Having raised a son, he did not know how traumatic his daughter’s adolescence would be — for him. When boys go through puberty, he explained, they just become bigger and hairier but are not essentially changed. But girls are transformed. His daughter is 14 now, and he misses the days when she thought he knew everything and wanted to tell him what was going on in her life. Now their most extended conversation comes when she can’t find the cinammon toast crunch cereal. His description of the Justin Bieber concert (“17,000 screaming girls and 14 fathers”) was hilarious. (She’s moved past Beiber into One Direction now.) One of my favorite Barry books is Dave Barry’s Book of Bad Songs. So I asked him how Bieber and One Direction compare to the songs he lists as the worst: readers picked “MacArthur Park,” “You’re Having My Baby,” and “Yummy, Yummy, Yummy,” but his own choice, which he recited for us, was “Honey” (“She wrecked the car and she was sad/And so afraid that I’d be mad/But what the heck/Though I pretended hard to be/Guess you could say she saw through me/And hugged my neck”). He said those were “Beethoven’s 9th Symphony compared to the two songs played over and over on the six stations” his daughter and her friends listen to. “And one of them is ‘Timber.’” Although his own rock band, the legendary Rock Bottom Remainders (made up of best-selling authors including Amy Tan and Stephen King) is supposed to have disbanded, they got together to play again at a book conference. He says it’s “hard listening music — a rumor goes around that there’s been a chord change.”
He talked about how much he loves being a writer. When questioners asked him if he would want to do something else, like more television, he said he doesn’t want to do anything else. As a writer, his greatest influence and inspiration was Robert Benchley. But the world of humor has changed since he was writing a syndicated column. Technology has “radically affected humor writing. The main form now is tweeting. There’s less longer form humor.” That makes us appreciate him all the more.