The Hidden Reason You Laugh at Dave Barry
And how he's cleverly using humor to prevent our demise
There are two things that are really sad.
Sad thing number one:
The only way you can successfully tell stupid people they’re stupid is to make them laugh while you’re doing it.
Sad thing number two:
We’re all partly stupid.
Ok, wait . . .
There’s a sad thing number three:
We’ve pretty much left the entire job of exposing stupidity to Dave Barry.
Dave is an outspoken comedian and brilliant writer who over the last 50 years has used the role of humorist to comment on the breadth of American ignorance, which, like the hole in the ozone layer, has been rapidly expanding for a while now.
Dave Barry is a legend to his fans for shouldering the responsibility of finding a way to make us laugh about the flawed, and yet repeatedly occurring phenomena of:
“Not all chemicals are bad. Without chemicals such as hydrogen and oxygen, for example, there would be no way to make water, a vital ingredient in beer.”
“It is a well-documented fact that guys will not ask for directions. This is a biological thing. This is why it takes several million sperm cells... to locate a female egg, despite the fact that the egg is, relative to them, the size of Wisconsin.”
“We'll try to cooperate fully with the IRS, because, as citizens, we feel a strong patriotic duty not to go to jail.”
Recreational Sports -
“Skiing combines outdoor fun with knocking down trees with your face.”
& Camping -
“It always rains on tents. Rainstorms will travel thousands of miles, against prevailing winds for the opportunity to rain on a tent.”
Okay, to be accurate, Dave talks about a lot of other topics, presumably restricted to anything he can make fun of using low-brow humor on any given day.
But don’t be fooled.
Being a humor writer actually requires a high level of intelligence, a deep understanding of people, and a profound aversion to doing research.
Dave exhibits all of these in his writing.
To be an exceptional humorist like Dave requires a unique combination of traits.
You must be:
Deeply alarmed by the waking-sleep that humans call their day-to-day lives.
Really mad that people permit themselves to act this way.
Really scared by the prospect of waking them up.
In Dave’s words,
“The problem with writing about religion is that you run the risk of offending sincerely religious people, and then they come after you with machetes.”
Humor is a method of jarring human beings out of their sleep that the brain perceives as being pleasant rather than just rude, insensitive, or life threatening—sort of the equivalent of a public stoning if you were to use scoops of ice cream instead of rocks. “Hey, that’s not nice . . . wait a second . . . does anyone have a spoon?”
In short, the humorist gets your attention and motivates change without killing you, which has a tendency to slow down the learning process.
So you see, Dave Barry, along with many other comedians before him, is skillfully participating in the time-honored tradition of calling humans morons without being crucified for it.
The skill of this is not to be underrated. We all should be extremely grateful that people like Dave devote their waking hours and brain cells to finding humorous ways to remind us that we are tragically flawed creatures who could use laughter to slow the demise of our species.
For an introduction to the sobering wit of Dave Barry, I recommend his annual reviews in the Washington Post that he has written since 1989, which you can find by typing “Dave Barry annual review Washington Post” into your computer. Alternatively the words, “This is tragic, why am I laughing at this,” may be equally effective as a search term.
Dave is a legend to his fans. In fact, the mere mention of Dave Barry’s name to a writer friend prompted the immediate reflection that her family was “spared death by familicide on road trips in our poo-brown Ford Taurus wagon, all because the backseat was littered with Dave Barry books which we laughed our asses-off reading.”
But what if you’ve never heard of this guy?
There are three reasons you may not know who Dave Barry is:
You’re less than 12 years old.
Your sense of humor was accidentally removed in a previously botched surgery.
You tend to steer clear of people who equate the level of your intelligence with jumbo shrimp.
But never fear.
Here are a few facts to introduce you to this important, silly, and prolific Miami based writer whose essays inevitably contain some mention of squirrels.
Barry’s writing career began in the 1970’s amidst the rising popularity of polyester, pet rocks, and lava lamps, all of which likely contributed to Dave’s journalistic instincts to ask intelligent probing questions, such as, “Have I landed on an alien planet?”
By the time he unofficially retired from his column work in the early 2000’s, Dave had created the equivalent of his own Library of Humor Congress—dozens upon dozens of fiction and nonfiction books, hundreds if not thousands of hilariously satirical articles, and the prospect of employment for some out-of-work bodyguard.
As a professional comedian who was working as a street juggler at the time, I took a particular delight and satisfaction in a well-wielded humor sword. In Barry’s words, humor is "a measurement of the extent to which we realize that we are trapped in a world almost totally devoid of reason. Laughter is how we express the anxiety we feel at this knowledge."
These may well have been the last serious words Dave ever spoke—which is not to say his derisive wit ever since has been less effective. If anything, even more so.
“Once again, we come to the Holiday Season, a deeply religious time that each of us observes, in his own way, by going to the mall of his choice.”
There are not many people I admire enough that I’d want to swap places and be them instead of myself. Dave Barry is as close as it gets for me.
As a tribute to Mr. Barry, who made me snort milk and Cheerios through my nose on numerous occasions as a teenager, I’m lifting facts from his Wikipedia page, determined to tell you about him in Dave Barry fashion.
Here are 5 reasons I’ve always wanted to be Dave Barry
Reason # 1
Mr. Barry unapologetically exaggerated facts so we’d have access to the truth of our silliness. Despite his inaccuracies, Dave won the Pulitzer Prize for Commentary as a writer in 1988. I was 26 at the time, making people laugh in public by throwing juggling balls in the air and then suggesting they should pay me for that. Dave and I were both supporting ourselves with humor, but Dave was making people laugh without having to get dressed (which I discovered as a street performer has the opposite effect of attracting an audience) and that was the first reason I wanted to be Dave Barry.
Reason # 2
Dave began his writing career in 1971 as a reporter, covering local government and civic events before getting promoted to City Editor. I wanted to be Dave Barry because City Editor sounded like the funnest job in the world. Who wouldn’t want to wander around town deleting dumb things people say, correcting poorly worded traffic signs, and simplifying restaurant menus? Admittedly, I may be misconstruing what a City Editor is.
Reason # 3
Dave was born on July 3rd, 1947. I was born on July 2nd, 1961. Dave’s day is clearly the better day, being 24 hours closer to Independence Day, thereby granting him the exaggerated opportunity to write whatever the hell he wanted and to drink directly out of the orange juice bottle while working from home. Dave’s father was a Presbyterian minister, and in true independent fashion, Dave decided to be an atheist so he could make equal fun of all religions.
Reason # 4
When Barry’s first novel Big Trouble was published in 1999 it was picked up for release as a major motion picture and Barry earned the pleasure of making Stanley Tucci, Tim Allen, and Rene Russo say very silly things and apply their prodigious acting skills to making an absolutely absurd plot believable. Who wouldn’t want that kind of power?
Reason # 5
After presumably visiting the cities of Grand Forks, North Dakota, and East Grand Forks, Minnesota, Barry made fun of the destinations for calling themselves “Grand Cities.” In response, Grand Forks named a sewage pumping station after him in 2022. Barry traveled to attend the dedication ceremony and may or may not have christened the station with a bottle of Yellowtail Shiraz, known for its distinctive “strawberry jam combined with paint thinner” aroma.
Most of the above is true and actually shows up in Dave Barry’s listing in Wikipedia. Should you feel the need to fact check what parts of the above are true, you’re probably not a good candidate for enjoying Dave Barry.
In my opinion, to have caused any version of the above to appear and be reported in Wikipedia would, in and of itself, qualify as a life that was worth living.
Yes, Dave Barry is funny, but more than that, he’s offering us one last chance to take a good look at ourselves as a species and get a sense of humor about it.
Despite the fact that remaining oblivious to our foolishness is good business for Dave Barry, I bet he’d be okay with losing his job in exchange for a planet that will be livable for his grandchildren.
Both Dave’s grandkids and our own are undoubtedly going to ask us if we knew about the many preventable problems that are currently looming over mankind and why we didn’t do anything.
It would be nice if, like Dave, we could all honestly say, “I tried.”
Dave Barry’s newest book is called Swamp Story is out now and you can order it here. (Not an affiliate link.)
And if you know Dave Barry, or know anyone who knows Dave Barry, or know anyone who knows anyone who knows Dave Barry, or know . . . um . . . you get the idea — please show Dave this essay so he can then decide to write me a long private letter telling me how happy and appreciated I made him feel and that he wants to invite me on a tour of his own personal swamp.
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One of your funniest essays Rick! Man, Dave Barry sounds like such a cool dude. I kind of wish I knew Dave Barry because:
- He's awesome and
- I can see how much you resonate with his work. That CTA at the end where you ask any potential contact to put you in touch is toooooooo cute!
I hope you get to meet him soon!