The Funniest Man in America
By Hope Katz Gibbs
Be Inkandescent Magazine
The moniker was given to Barry by the New York Times, and who is to argue? The comic genius masquerading as a journalist has written more than two dozen nonfiction books, several screenplays that have become films, and 10 works of fiction — including seven Peter Pan prequels with his friend and fellow Rock Bottom Remainders band member, Ridley Pearson. Their latest from the Starcatchers series is “Peter and the Sword of Mercy.” In May, “Peter and the Starcatchers” became an off-Broadway show.
What led Barry down this illustrious path?
Early indications suggested the native of Armonk, NY, was destined for a life as a comic when he was elected “Class Clown” in 1965. He then headed to suburban Philadelphia to get his BA in English from Haverford College, and landed his first job in 1971 as a general assignment reporter for the Daily Local News in West Chester, PA. In addition to covering the community, he wrote a weekly humor column. By the time he took a job as a copy editor at The Associated Press’ Philadelphia Bureau, Barry had developed the foundation for what would become his unique comic writing style.
Corporate America captured the comedian for much of the 1970s. Barry worked at the Philadelphia consulting firm Burger Associates, where in his 1999 biography he is quoted as saying he spent eight years attempting to teach effective writing to business people. “I tried to get various businesspersons to … stop writing things like ‘Enclosed please find the enclosed enclosures,’ but … but eventually realized that it was hopeless.”
Gene Weingarten came to the rescue in 1983.
A well-known writer and editor at The Miami Herald (who is now a writer and editor at The Washington Post), Weingarten had read one of Barry’s humorous guest columns in the Philadelphia Inquirer. He lured the young Barry to work alongside him at Tropic, the Herald’s award-winning Sunday magazine. By 1988, Barry had won a Pulitzer Prize for Commentary “for his consistently effective use of humor as a device for presenting fresh insights into serious concerns.”
CBS brought Barry to prime time in the situation comedy, “Dave’s World” in the early 1990s. Based on his book, “Dave Barry Turns 40,” and “Dave Barry’s Greatest Hits,” the show lasted for four seasons and starred Harry Anderson as Barry, and DeLane Matthews as his wife, Beth. In an early episode, Barry made a cameo appearance.
Barry gave up his insanely successful long-time column on October 31, 2004, when he announced that he would be taking an indefinite leave of absence from his weekly humor column to spend more time with his family. He said that he would continue writing humor and books, and has stayed true to his word.
In April 2011, his latest paperback hit bookstores.
What celebs are saying about “I’ll Mature When I’m Dead: Dave Barry’s Amazing Tales of Adulthood.”
Actor Steve Martin said: “I’m so pleased to have received an advance copy of Dave’s book and use most of the material myself. He is truly the funniest man living in the three-mile ‘safe’ zone off the shores of America.”
Author Carl Hiaasen noted: “Despite years of medication, Dave Barry is still the funniest damn writer in the whole country. Let’s hope he never grows up.”
Writer P.J. O’Rourke added: Dave Barry’s best book so far, which is saying a lot. We in the print media are seeing our world collapse around us. There aren’t enough newspapers left to line the bottom of a canary cage. Magazines are thinner than hair. And ‘writing’ is done only on Wii. But here’s Dave Barry, flourishing like never before, with a book that’s funnier than ever, greeted with clamorous demand by eager hordes of fans. Let’s kill him.”
Makes you want to pick it up, yes?
That’s the point. And indeed, the 17 essays addressed in the book share his insights from the mileposts of his life. Here’s a taste.
From, “Father of the Groom” “I have no complaints about the wedding. I must say, however, that the planning of the wedding was a tad stressful, in the same sense that the universe is a tad spacious. And for good reason. Planning a modern wedding is comparable to constructing a nuclear power plant, although the wedding is more complex because a nuclear power plant does not require floral installations.”
From, “Judaism for Christians” “My wife is Jewish, and I am not. Most of the time this is not a problem, because neither of us is what I would call strongly religious. Especially not me. If I had a religion it would be called Jokeatarianism. We Jokeatarians believe it’s possible that an all-powerful, all-knowing God created the Earth and all its creatures, but if He did, He was obviously kidding.”
From, “A Practical, Workable Plan for Saving the Newspaper Business” “The American newspaper industry is in serious trouble. How serious? Consider: In 1971, when I was hired for my first newspaper job, there were 62 million newspaper subscribers in the United States; today, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulation, there are 12, an estimated five of whom are dead and therefore unlikely to renew. What the heck happened?”
Other chapters include thoughts on other life topics including, “If You Will Just Shut Up, I Can Explain: A Man Answers Questions from Women;” and “Tips for Visiting Miami — No. 1: Are You Insane?”
Perhaps best of all is his now famous essay, which first ran in The Miami Herald in 2008, “Colonoscopy.”
Barry says his hope for the book is simple.
“If these essays help you in some way — by teaching you something useful about relationships, or parenting, or just getting through the crazy thing we call adulthood — then I for one will be surprised.”
Sam Barry says: Write That Book Already!
“You want to write that book. You know you do,” says Sam Barry, who along with his wife Kathi Kamen Goldmark last year published Write That Book Already! (Adams Media; May 18, 2010; $14.95).
But how do you go from dream to reality?
“Maybe you are the world’s authority on the art of making butter sculptures of dead presidents’ heads, but if you want to sell a book on the subject you’ll have to do more than know your stuff,” the authors explain. “You’ll need to make the idea sound sexy, or cool, or hot, or timely, or cute, or something that instantly makes it clear to people why the world needs your book.”
This husband-and-wife team goes on to provide aspiring authors insight into the book publishing industry—from transforming an idea into a manuscript, to finding an agent, to working with an editor, to marketing the finished product.
“What’s most amazing is that we actually stayed married during the process of writing this book,” says Kathi with a slightly amazed, amused grin. “Our mission was to provide an informative yet entertaining mix of insider advice with plenty of personality, and get backup from literary personalities such as Stephen King, Amy Tan, Dave Barry, Roy Blount, Jr., and many more.”
There’s Nothing like Writing a Book
Like many dynamic women, Kathi has had many careers. She is a former teacher with a Master of Arts degree in Drama and Education, who has worked as a family planning educator (producing The Rock Project, a national radio campaign in which music stars recorded public service announcements urging teenagers to “think about having a child before you make a baby”).
One of the greatest joys of her life, she proudly admits, was becoming an author. “For someone who loves books, and after 17 years as a media escort, it’s such a thrill to be a published author myself,” notes the co-author of Mid-Life Confidential (Viking/Signet, 1994), which is by and about the Rock Bottom Remainders; The Great Rock & Roll Joke Book (St. Martin’s Press, 1997) with Dave Marsh; and the novel And My Shoes Keep Walking Back to You (Chronicle Books, 2002).
Sam, too, has worked in a variety of industries — including being a Presbyterian minister (“albeit a funny one,” Kathi says). He’s also the marketing and promotions manager at HarperOne, the author of “How to Play the Harmonica: and Other Life Lessons,” and a musician in the Rock Bottom Remainders and Kathi’s San Francisco band, Los Train Wreck.
Secrets to Writing That Book Already!
So when it came time for Sam and Kathi to pen a book about the industry that is near and dear to their hearts, they came up with an outline that answered all the tough questions.
Chapter One: Why We Write (and Why You Write, Too)
Chapter Two: You Have a Great Idea. So What?
Chapter Three: How to Get Started with the Write Stuff
Chapter Four: Your Manuscript: The Basic Rules of Attraction
Chapter Five: Finding an Agent
Chapter Six: Behind Closed Doors: Will They Buy Your Book?
Chapter Seven: You and Your Editor
Chapter Eight: Marketing and Publicity: Getting the Word Out
Chapter Nine: The Pros and Cons of Self-Publishing
Chapter Ten: For Sale: Bookstores, Bookselling, and Book Groups
Chapter Eleven: Long Life: Paperback and Backlist
Conclusion: What’s Next?
And there’s more:
Appendix I: Beloved Books of Famous Authors
Appendix II: The Life Cycle of a Book
Appendix III: Glossary of Publishing Terminology
“We wanted to provide writers with everything they would ever want — and need —to know about the industry from the inside out, including an overview of your book’s life cycle, from inspiration to publication and beyond,” says Sam. “We also wanted to give them some Tough Love advice to help keep their writing goals on track.”
Kathi says that she also felt compelled to provide step-by-step guidelines for writing book proposals and pitch letters. “We also wanted to give some tactical advice, such as counsel regarding when self-publishing is a good idea—and when it isn’t, and ideas for conquering writer’s block. So we included a special recipe for matzo ball soup. I mean, when you are really blocked nothing loosens you up like a steaming bowl of chicken broth with a giant matzo ball in the middle. Talk about comfort food.”
Sam and Kathi also felt it was essential to provide personal stories of writers who faced rejection and went on to publishing success. “Few people are hits right out of the chute, so you have to be smart about the process, tenacious — and good to yourself,” Sam adds, referring to the chapter on page 35 entitled, “Author Care 101.”
“There are various strategies when it comes to living the life of a writer,” they explain in the chapter “How to Get Started with the Write Stuff”. “One is to drink yourself silly, ruin your body, and destroy all your most important relationships, as many great writers have done. Or you can take care of yourself. We suggest the latter course.”
If you are ready to Write That Book Already!, click here to buy your copy.