“I say it’s time our ‘leaders’ in Washington stopped blathering about sex and started paying attention to the issues that really MATTER to this nation, such as whether we should declare war on Canada.”
And so begins another essay by Dave Barry, a comedian who has to be one of the funniest writers working on this side of the 80s. Well, okay, not actually working anymore—he retired from his post at the Miami Times as a humor columnist in 2005, and has had a few new books popping up every now and again keeping him a household name. But still, in recent months, I’ve found his books to be a perfect retreat from the rage-inducing news cycle. His writing makes me positively giggle, and there are a number of reasons why.
First of all, Dave Barry writes on a diversity of topics. They can range up/down/southwest from grammar to colonoscopies to the experience of a midlife crisis. And it’s all fueled by his incredible curiosity. Dave is the kind of person who will find the weirdest of the weird and keep poking at it until the whole thing is revealed in all of its absurd glory. (“I’m not making this up!” he constantly insists.) Under his pen, the headline “Breaking News: Shark Found in Miami Subway” becomes a delicious dive into the culture of his beloved city. The topic of taxes becomes a thought-provoking article about possibly going to prison for not reading the fine print (approximately 13,985 billion pages of it), and airplane food earns a visceral comparison to wood chips.
When late-night shows and opinion writers seem to build up their punchlines from the latest scandal on capitol hill, there seems to be no limit to the topics that interest Barry. And to be honest, it’s been a relief to read something different. Dave’s writing whips you along like a kid through a toy store—only Dave’s toy store is the entire world.
For instance, his essay “Dance Recital” begins this way.
Place [a gun to a man’s] head and tell him he must do one of two things:
1. Have his prostate examined by a scorpion.
2. Attend a Dance Recital.
He’s going scorpion.”
Another favorite—and this is a fantastic read aloud for new dog owners—Dave writes his very sincere and informative article Dog Ownership For Beginners. His list of useful commands to teach your big dog (“the only real kind of dog”) include: “’stay,’ ‘heel,’ ‘remove your snout from that person’s groin,’ ‘stop humping the Barcalounger,’ ‘do not bark violently for two straight hours at inanimate objects such as a flowerpot,’ ‘do not eat poop,’ and ‘if you must eat poop, then at least refrain from licking my face afterward.’”
Of course, Dave Barry has more than stark contrast up his sleeve. Exaggeration with Dave is more rich and extravagant than folktale storytellers. And his unapologetic use of exaggeration only serves to further make his humorous points. He writes in If You Will Just Shut Up I Will Explain:
[When] men say they don’t want anything for Father’s Day, women choose not to believe them. Women love Father’s Day, because it involves cards and gifts and family get-togethers and various other fuss-tivities that men generally dislike and women generally love. This is the real reason we celebrate Father’s Day, not to mention birthdays and anniversaries, which men would not even pretend to care about if women did not make them. (I realize I am making some very broad generalizations here. Deal with it.)
Though his most best example of such exaggeration has to be Dave’s “mature reaction to a routine colonoscopy: HE’S GOING TO STICK A TUBE SEVENTEEN THOUSAND FEET UP YOUR BUTT.”
Humor writing is a way of indirectly revealing the truth of things. We readers are much more able to comprehend the absurdity of our world when we are laughing at it. Dave Barry himself has defined his style as “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.” So when Barry is hilariously exaggerating the procedure of a routine colonoscopy, he is also describing what many scared colonoscopy patients feel and rarely articulate.
In fact, Barry makes us laugh because of how real he is. It is absolutely crazy that they found a live shark in the Miami train station, airplane food really is terrible, and colonoscopies are scary. No wonder, sprinkled throughout all of Dave Barry’s articles, you’ll find him reaffirming for his readers that “I am not making this up.”