Humor Him
Everything’s a joke to side-splitting author, wannabe rock star and Haverford alum Dave Barry
by Bill Donahue


Dave Barry is a renaissance man of the most exclusive sort: Pulitzer Prize winner, bestselling author, and, yes, lead guitar player in a long-suffering rock band known as the Rock Bottom Remainders, alongside other A-list writers such as Mitch Albom, Amy Tan, Scott Turow and Stephen King.


Originally from Armonk, N.Y., Barry migrated to southeast Pennsylvania in the 1960s to earn an English degree from Haverford College on the Main Line. He stayed in the Philadelphia area upon graduating and started his journalism career here, working as a reporter for the Daily Local News in West Chester. Eventually, however, he went south to Miami—“a crazy, weird place,” he says, “but I wouldn’t live anywhere else”—where his career blossomed. While writing for the Miami Herald, he wrote a nationally syndicated humor column that ran till 2005, for which he won the Pulitzer in 1988. He has also authored (or co-authored) dozens of works of widely consumed fiction and nonfiction; the 1999 novel “Big Trouble,” for example, became a 2001 film starring Tim Allen and Rene Russo.


Suburban Life caught up with Barry while in San Francisco as part of a book tour to promote his latest project, “Lunatics: A Novel,” which he co-wrote with former “Saturday Night Live” writer Alan Zweibel.


Suburban Life: You’ve been an incredibly prolific writer. How long does it take to churn through a book these days?

Dave Barry: Generally, if you’re not doing anything else, it takes six months to a year. The problem is that you’re always doing something else so it varies depending on the project. Lately I tend to write more fiction; I co-wrote some books with Ridley Pearson for Disney, and I like writing for kids because it’s purely plot. I’m also writing more adult novels, like “Lunatics,” that would be funny more than anything else.


SL: Tell me about “Lunatics.” What should readers expect?

DB: It’s a very crazy novel, so if you’re looking for serious plots and character development, you’re not going to like it. Alan Zweibel is one of the original “Saturday Night Live” writers, and he’s written for movies and knows everybody. When we talked about doing the book, we had the idea that he would be one character and I would be another. The book alternates in character, beginning with a soccer game for girls under 12. Alan’s character is the referee, who’s a nice guy out enjoying a beautiful day until he calls one of the girls off-sides on what would have been the game-winning goal. Then the story goes to me, and I’m this complete jerk who happens to be the father of the girl who was called off-sides, and our characters don’t like each other at all. Through a series of coincidences, things keep happening to them and bringing them together, and before long they are international terrorists wanted for hijacking a clothing-optional cruise ship. That’s all very early into it. It gets weirder from there.


SL: How’s the book tour going?

DB: Alan and I are doing the tour together. We’re almost done, then I’m back to Miami, and he goes back to New Jersey. They keep you pretty busy on these things; you talk on the phone like we are now, then you go on radio shows and TV shows, and in the evening you do some kind of event. Both Alan and I have both done a lot of semi-standup, so that’s been part of the fun. When you’re in front of an audience, it’s great. It’s the travel that gets to you after a while.


SL: Do you prefer collaborating compared with solo projects?

DB: I’ve co-written with Ridley and Alan, and it can really be fun because it eases a bit of the loneliness you have as a writer. It sort of solves those problems, and you have someone to share the highs and lows with. But you really have to get along with the other person for it to work.


SL: Speaking of collaborations, you’re in a rock band with some other well-known writers—Stephen King and Mitch Albom, among them. Unlike a lot of bands, you’ve really stood the test of time.

DB: It’s 20 years now this year, so we’ll be doing a 20-year concert in Los Angeles at some point. It’s amazing how we’ve all hung together considering how bad we are.


SL: Philadelphia figures rather prominently in your career, at least its beginnings. What do you remember most about your time here?

DB: I had no real connection to Philadelphia before I went to go to school at Haverford College. My best friend in high school’s brother went there, and it seemed like a fun place. Back in the ’60s, there wasn’t nearly the pressure about where you went to college as there is now. To be honest, I didn’t give it a lot of thought; it was the only place I applied to. It was the ’60s, and they crashed like a giant wave while I was at Haverford. It was still Beach Boy America when I got there, and from then on it was full-on Grateful Dead.


After I graduated, I had friends who knew the editor from the Daily Local News, and I started working there in 1971. In those days they hired people who had no real reason to be in journalism. I still have friends in the area, but I’m more likely to be there on a book tour than anything else.


SL: What can we expect from you next?

DB: I’m finishing another novel, which should come out next year. Unlike “Lunatics,” this one is just me, and it’s a comic novel for grownups. Then in March, another book—“Peter and the Starcatchers”—will become a Broadway play; it had been off-Broadway. Also, “Lunatics” has been optioned for a movie with Steve Carell [as the star]. If it ever gets made or not I don’t know, but it’s kind of exciting.