What should I ask Dave Barry?

by on April 10, 2017 at 9:53 am in Books, Medicine, Philosophy | Permalink

Soon I will be doing a conversation with Dave Barry, podcast only, no public event (alas).  In case you somehow do not know, that is Dave Barry the humorist.  So what should I ask him?

1 Salim April 10, 2017 at 10:14 am

Ask him what sort of jokes audiences used to find funny but no longer do – especially outside the realms of political correctness. Also, are people losing their patience with longer stories?

2 Thiago Ribeiro April 10, 2017 at 11:13 am

I have read the first line and give reading the rest up. Go to the point already!!

3 chris purnell April 10, 2017 at 12:52 pm

An economics joke?

4 Thor April 10, 2017 at 2:43 pm

Brazilian humor.

5 Thiago Ribeiro April 10, 2017 at 3:48 pm


6 DanC April 10, 2017 at 10:21 am

Political jokes are frequently funny. But lately they seem more nasty, more like bullying, then humor. I’m not a fan of Trump but is my perception wrong? Are the jokes less funny, more nasty. Even the jokes directed at Nixon and LBJ seemed funnier in comparison. Is it a function of our divided times, are today’s comedians less gifted, or something else. I don’t want to censor comics, I just want them to be funny.

7 JWatts April 10, 2017 at 12:01 pm

This isn’t just a recent occurrence with Trump. Most of the political humor directed towards Barack Obama was pretty soft. Even compared to the previous jokes about Bill Clinton, before the Monica Lewinsky period.

Political humor has become subject to political correctness.

8 Thor April 10, 2017 at 12:23 pm

There WAS no political humor directed at Obama! The late night talk shows made fun of the bumbling Bush all the time but when Obama was inaugurated, mocking or ridiculing the President stopped. For 8 years. Can anyone think of a major politician, figure or President who was treated as gently as Obama?

I did not even hear of Obama’s policies being made fun of in the usually savage arena of Stand up.

9 Amigo April 10, 2017 at 1:39 pm

Obama was criticized mercilessly. Just not by the people you wish were criticizing him…. I consider Fox conservative’s version of comedy myself.

10 The Centrist April 10, 2017 at 2:47 pm

Of course Obama was criticized by Fox. My point was that he was never lampooned or ridiculed or mocked on Late Night TV, by the likes of Jon Stewart etc. Never.

If you are an Obama supporter that’s great, you would have been happy. But I believe in criticizing (and mocking etc.) all politicians more or less equally. Because some day the shoe is on the other foot.

11 Amigo April 11, 2017 at 2:44 am

My point is that folks like Limbaugh and Hannity should be giving Trump a harder time for his bafoonery, but that’s not how any of this works. I don’t expect them to be as hard on Trump as they were on Obama, and I shouldn’t.

12 Benny Lava April 10, 2017 at 1:39 pm

George H W Bush. See it isn’t that hard. Just don’t speak like a retard and the media is nice. Republicans for some reason insist on setting the bar low.

13 JWatts April 10, 2017 at 1:57 pm

“George H W Bush.”

LOL, George H W Bush was continuously the butt of jokes about his CIA experience, broccoli and the very nasty late night line: “George H W Bush, apparently married his mother.”

14 The Centrist April 10, 2017 at 2:49 pm

BS. “Read my lips, no new taxes” was mercilessly mocked all the time. So was Bush’s comment about that “vision thing” and his failure to comprehend a supermarket scanner. The only thing that stopped Bush Sr from being pilloried all the time was the presence of Dan Quayle, who was the butt of the jokes.

15 carlospln April 11, 2017 at 1:55 am

What ‘CIA experience’? 😉

16 JWatts April 11, 2017 at 11:43 am

George H W Bush was Director of the CIA from 1976-1977.

17 j mct April 10, 2017 at 11:38 pm

Jay Leno told Obama jokes all the time when he was still on and he got plenty of laughs, though supposedly, per the other comedians, Obama just was so awesome he couldn’t be laughed at. I do think that the only mainstream comedian who would tell a joke was Leno. Maybe that’s why his ratings were best when he was on the air.

18 Jay Bob Harrington April 10, 2017 at 10:27 am

My eyeballs suddenly got way smaller. Should I stop taking Varvacron?

19 kb April 10, 2017 at 1:22 pm


20 Bill April 10, 2017 at 10:32 am

Which is better: A two handed economist or a one handed one. And, if one handed, whether left or right.

21 Todd K April 10, 2017 at 10:53 am

A one handed economist, left handed. Then again, I’m biased.

22 vlad April 10, 2017 at 10:34 am

Does it appear to him that mainstream comedy has become nastier and meaner than during his days in the 80s and 90s? Why?

23 Art April 10, 2017 at 10:36 am

Why are most comedians who focus on policy and politics, left of center? Other than PJ O’Rourke and Drew Carey (and Dave Barry), there are very few conservative or libertarian humor writers or comedians. I’m thinking especially of the Comedy Central and late night TV variety.

24 Will April 10, 2017 at 12:29 pm

Bill Burr
Nick Dipaolo
Joe Rogan
Doug Stanhope
Adam Carolla

I could go on. This place suffers from a lot of “I can’t think of any, so they must be rare” type garbage thinking.

25 Add one more April 10, 2017 at 2:21 pm

Dennis Miller

26 DanC April 10, 2017 at 7:24 pm

Who are these guys?

27 DanC April 10, 2017 at 7:53 pm

Listened to pod casts of these guys. Not funny. Vulgar and boring. Carolla mildly funny. Miller on occasion. So it would appear that both the right and the left are more nasty and vulgar then funny theses days. Is the anger level so high in this country that this is what passes for funny? I think David Chappelle can be very funny. Ali Wong. Rachel Bloom. I hate Amy Schumer (If I want a mindless lecture from a drunk trollop in a seedy bar – sorry I’ve never been that desperate.)

28 Ricardo April 10, 2017 at 1:48 pm

As Will pointed out, there are plenty of comedians with libertarian or heterodox views who are perfectly happy to tease PC culture.

29 Amigo April 10, 2017 at 1:51 pm

This is a good question. Bill Burr and Joe Rogan both have pretty funny shows. Are they considered a conservative comics though? Having seen their shows they don’t strike me as coming from very far right even though they might express that perspective. (I think Rogan tells a lot of drug jokes for instance). Much comedy that works is a little bit offensive if taken literally, so it’s a little difficult to take many jokes seriously if you’re trying to laugh.

30 Ricardo April 10, 2017 at 2:17 pm

The comment mentioned conservative or libertarian comedians. Comedy is about shattering taboos so it is naturally going to be tough for a genuine “conservative” to prosper. Another problem with these comments about the lack of conservative comedians is that I think some people don’t appreciate how much of comedy outside of Bill Maher, Jon Stewart and his proteges is pretty apolitical. Rogan and Burr focus more on Caitlyn Jenner, doing drugs, and raising families than on, say, the make-up of the Supreme Court. Is Chris Rock’s “How to Not Get Your Ass Kicked by the Police” conservative, liberal, or just a non-of-the-above skit designed make everyone laugh and feel a bit uneasy at the same time?

31 Amigo April 11, 2017 at 3:00 am

It seems many (most?) of the comedians try to take on a human tone with their comedy – not an ideological tone. Louis CK started his recent show talking about abortion, but it’s such a different tone that while it’s a political topic, it’s done in a way that reflective rather than ideological. Dave Chappelle talks about racism, feminism, and sexuality (recent bit on transgender), but usually tries to parse it a bit to a more subtle point than is usually seen in political discourse. Anthony Jeselnik (sp?) goes the other route and tells some pretty abrasive stuff with outrageous edge, but that’s what makes it so funny. I don’t really see much of it as political though as I’ laughing though – even though the topics in other settings would be dry and political.

32 msgkings April 10, 2017 at 2:27 pm

Aren’t the South Park guys pretty solidly libertarian? They are certainly very anti-PC

33 Bill April 10, 2017 at 2:45 pm

The reason that there are few conservative humorists is obvious:

A comedian needs an audience receptive to laughter, and conservatives do not laugh.

Ergo, no conservative humorists.

34 rabidwombat April 10, 2017 at 10:39 am

I occasionally read Alexandra Petri (from the WaPo), and her take on things reminds me sometimes of Dave Barry. Does he find other writers emulating his style, does he emulate others, or do I just need to read more humor to recognize how different they are?

35 prior_test2 April 10, 2017 at 11:38 am

Or as a question for Prof. Cowen to ask – would Dave Barry appreciate one of his satirical columns being favorably mentioned by its target or not? – ‘The White House has learned a valuable lesson: read past the headline before sharing a link.

The official White House newsletter on Friday included a link encouraging readers to check out an article titled ‘Trump’s budget makes perfect sense and will fix America, and I will tell you why,’ apparently not realizing it was a piece of satire.

‘This budget will make America a lean, mean fighting machine with bulging, rippling muscles and not an ounce of fat,’ Washington Post opinion writer Alexandra Petri penned in her Thursday column.

‘All schoolchildren will be taught by an F-35 wearing a Make America Great Again hat,’ she continued.’ http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-4329618/Alexandra-Petri-humor-column-fools-Trump-White-House.html

36 Just Another Screw-off April 10, 2017 at 10:12 pm

That’s hilarious. What is this “Washington Post” thing?

37 rayward April 10, 2017 at 10:40 am

Is Dave Barry the alter ego of Carl Hiassen? On Barry’s website (or is it Hiassen’s?), there’s this quote by Hiassen: “Dave Barry remains one of the funniest writers alive.” What does that mean, Barry “remains” one of the funniest writers alive? Is the reference to Barry’s remains? Is he dead?

38 Tom Jackson April 10, 2017 at 10:45 am

Ask how he enjoyed having his work made into a TV show and if he’d like to do it again.

39 Ray Lopez April 10, 2017 at 10:57 am

I find him funny, I enjoyed reading his bigoted, Ugly American books on travel overseas. His line about Syrian soldiers looking like their camouflage was “fushcia” and designed to be color coordinated with interior decorations still sticks in my mind. Another line I remember is that overseas everybody is so short, in a foreign airport he would bounce a basketball and tell people he was on the American basketball team and people would believe him. True, more so in the old days. Nowadays the kids are eating more protein and catching up in height.

1. Ask him if living in Florida, or the South, gives him real-life inspiration for his jokes.

2. Ask him if he still has fanatical fans. One of the few times I got banned, on Usenet, was back in the 1990s in a forum devoted to DB, from his rabid fans when I was trolling.

40 Ray Lopez April 10, 2017 at 11:01 am

I notice he had a kid at age 53, good for him, ask him if it was challenging to raise a kid at that age (just for my personal curiosity). I like old geezers having kids with younger women, as he did. His wife just made the cutoff (age 36) when it’s hard to have kids, good for her.

41 Thiago Ribeiro April 10, 2017 at 11:53 am

Actually President Temer fatehred his toungest son when he was about 70. His wife is younger than half his age. He divides his time between ruling one of the biggest economies mankind has ever seen, a cou try bigger than the Roman Empire at its height, and taking care of his family who lives at the vicepresidential palace in Brasília (not in New York City wasting the country’s resources as some complacent leaders do).

42 Thor April 10, 2017 at 12:26 pm

Tim Dorsey. Check him out. Very funny Florida crime writer.

43 carlospln April 11, 2017 at 2:03 am

“eating more protein & catching up in height”


44 J. Ott April 11, 2017 at 6:54 pm

Came here to suggest a “What’s the deal with Florida?” question.

45 Hoosier April 10, 2017 at 11:02 am

Wow, this is a curveball. Was very disappointed in his last book on florida. Felt like he mailed it in.

Having said that, please try and have a good portion of the conversation be about Florida and if he’s been able to figure out what the local culture is here if it even exists. Is this just a state of transplants with nothing indigenous of value?

Did he see the movie spring breakers, and is that the closest approximation we have to what Florida means culturally to the rest of the country?

I feel Florida is what the future of the US will look like, taking over the position that California used to occupy. For good and for bad.

46 Mark Thorson April 10, 2017 at 12:47 pm

If the Ross Ice Shelf slides into the ocean, the southern half of Florida will be inundated. What plans has he made for coping with sudden catastrophic sea-level rise?

47 Chip April 10, 2017 at 2:56 pm

It’s already in the ocean. The Ross shelf is floating and wouldn’t add to sea level if it melted.

The Antarctic in general is bigger today than when satellite measurements began in 1979.

48 Hoosier April 10, 2017 at 4:26 pm

I get the feeling that question is above Dave Barry’s interest level. Although I’d be happy to get proven wrong.

49 Mark Thorson April 10, 2017 at 4:59 pm

It’s just a question from out of left field that Dave Barry is probably unprepared to answer, so the answer might be more interesting. If you state it with an appropriate amount of seriousness, he’ll assume the basic facts in the question are true. It’s like asking “The asteroid NASA10795A is going to hit Miami in 3 days. Where are you planning to be on that day?”

50 JWatts April 10, 2017 at 5:40 pm

““The asteroid NASA10795A is going to hit Miami in 3 days. Where are you planning to be on that day?”

Hollywood … so you can enjoy the excellent view, of course.

51 Floccina April 10, 2017 at 11:05 am

How can an individual get more funny?
Any tips on writing good humor?

52 prior_test2 April 10, 2017 at 11:40 am

Please – Prof. Cowen is a font of hilarity just as he is.

53 Thor April 10, 2017 at 12:27 pm

Like Times New Roman, or Helvetica?

54 prior_test2 April 10, 2017 at 1:52 pm

Comic sans, for the literal minded. For the slightly more literate, one assumes they would recognize most of the meanings of ‘font’ –

‘1. a receptacle, usually of stone, as in a baptistery or church, containing the water used in baptism.

2.a receptacle for holy water; stoup.

3. a productive source: The book is a font of useful tips for travelers.

4. the reservoir for oil in a lamp.

5. Archaic. a fountain.’ http://www.dictionary.com/browse/font

Of course, number 3 was intended, but the opportunity to educate the less informed is the sort of thing that is regular occurrence in this comment section.

55 Thor April 10, 2017 at 2:58 pm

Educating the less informed… I was wondering what purpose you served here. Now I know: schoolmarm.

FWIW, I also know that the dispute concerning which one of font and fount, when used with “knowledge” or “humor”, should be preferred has not been settled.

56 Benny Lava April 10, 2017 at 11:07 am

Dave Barry’s humor seems like it is meant for 10 year olds. Has it been harder to tap into the 10 year old market when there is YouTube?

57 Hua Wei April 10, 2017 at 11:12 am

Is he Chuck Berry”s cousin?

58 Eric Johnson April 10, 2017 at 11:18 am

That’s Marvin. Marvin Berry

59 JWatts April 10, 2017 at 12:05 pm

+30 years

60 JWatts April 10, 2017 at 12:05 pm

-30 years

61 Eric Johnson April 10, 2017 at 11:33 am

Ask him if he’s going to step up and be the libertarian answer to Jon Oliver?

62 Thiago Ribeiro April 10, 2017 at 12:38 pm

Actually, as of today, there is no popular interest in a “libertarian answer to Jon Oliver”. It is a market failure. Government must act, investing in non-mainstream comedy acts to assure a healthy and diverse humor situation and a more efficiemtl allocation of money. I suggest nominaring a United States Secretary of Humor, a comedy czar if you will.

63 Ricardo April 10, 2017 at 12:46 pm

John Oliver has covered topics such as marijuana legalization, civil forfeiture, onerous state regulation of abortion clinics, police brutality and government surveillance. There is a lot for serious libertarians to appreciate.

64 choncan April 10, 2017 at 12:00 pm
65 Mike Preston April 10, 2017 at 12:04 pm

Ask him if Marginal Revolution would be a good name for a band.

66 Yancey Ward April 10, 2017 at 12:06 pm

How does he practice his craft when The Onion has become the most serious news publication by default?

67 Don Boudreaux April 10, 2017 at 12:20 pm

Tyler: Ask Dave Barry if he remembers Sheldon Richman. The two were cub reporters in Philadelphia many years ago. I’ve heard it said (and not just by Sheldon) that Barry’s sympathies for free markets come largely from his exposure to Sheldon.

68 Thor April 10, 2017 at 12:38 pm

Great question.

And ask him if he’s heard of — or read — Tim Dorsey, a former reporter in Florida who has written a series of very funny crime novels starring a psychopath named Serge Storms.

69 rayward April 10, 2017 at 12:45 pm

The left is often accused by those on the right of having no sense of humor, as when those on the right make what might be interpreted as racist, sexist, or similar offensive comments. Of course, those making the comments expect, or hope, those on the left do take offense. Does anybody think it funny to suggest that a woman in need of an abortion should go to the zoo? “I was only kidding” has become the well-worn excuse for saying offensive things, the other being that saying offensive things is just part of the war on political correctness. Sure. Don Rickles, the insult comic, died last week. Insult comic seems a contradiction. Insults and sarcasm aren’t funny, yet much of “humor” is insults and sarcasm. Dave Barry has defined a sense of humor 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.” Totally devoid of reason. Economists must be a laugh a minute.

70 George Mason April 10, 2017 at 1:42 pm

That’s not funny!

71 Jeff R April 10, 2017 at 2:48 pm

Does anybody think it funny to suggest that a woman in need of an abortion should go to the zoo?

I dunno. What was the whole joke. Standing by itself, that’s a punchline that has potential.

72 Michael April 10, 2017 at 1:05 pm

Ask him why he’s always chosen to get such terrible haircuts. Is it the result of a gypsy curse? Did he trade his right to a good haircut in order to acquire demonic humor abilities?

73 James April 10, 2017 at 1:22 pm

Ask him when he stopped being funny. Was it when Harry Anderson made him palatable for middle America?

74 J Storrs Hall April 10, 2017 at 1:26 pm

Ask him whether the president of the Little Old People with Enormous Cars Slow Driving Club stopping for hills and mailboxes was an early sign of American complacency.

75 P Burgos April 10, 2017 at 1:26 pm

Ask him why he has become so complacent. Also ask him to recommend one book or essay as an introduction to his writing (self-recommending).

76 P Burgos April 10, 2017 at 11:43 pm

Ask him the last place he traveled to. And ask also his recommendations for a good spot to grab lunch. Ask him how a humorist gets lunch.

77 Judd April 10, 2017 at 1:42 pm

Ask Dave how Elon Musk’s hyperloop would affect South Florida (aka The Garden of Eden)

78 Amigo April 10, 2017 at 1:55 pm

Ask how humor in written form is different than humor in verbal form. Why does he think some people who are funny on paper are not so funny in person.

79 Dan Richards April 10, 2017 at 2:00 pm

Please ask: “Is all American humor derived from Mark Twain? Anyone else in Twain’s class (leaving aside Mr. Barry, of course)?”

80 liberalarts April 10, 2017 at 2:31 pm

Ask him who he considers to be the 2 or 3 most funny currently active comedians. Follow-up: do any of them have a chance at making the top 5 or 10 of all time?

81 Thor April 10, 2017 at 3:01 pm

Who does he read? Does he seek out humorists to read ? (Wodehouse)

What genre, if any, does he favour?

Does he read for inspiration for his own material, or to take a break from penning (typing) his own material?

82 Thomas Sewell April 11, 2017 at 3:07 pm

Along the same lines, What does he recommend in terms of books for learning humorous writing?

83 Nick_L April 10, 2017 at 3:02 pm

His opinion on humor and Artificial Intelligence. How is humor holding out against AI, and are comedians threatened by AI? When an AI steals his jokes, does he feel any better about it?

84 Patrick April 10, 2017 at 3:10 pm

Ask him if he feels that the internet encourages him to target a narrower or wider audience as opposed to a syndicated column out of Miami.

What is the platonic ideal rock band name?

If someone says I write like Dave Barry, should I take that as a compliment or an insult?

85 celestus April 10, 2017 at 3:16 pm

Are there any common humor targets that he thinks are unfairly maligned?

In 20 years will there be more professional humorists or fewer?

86 PeterG April 10, 2017 at 3:34 pm

How long did it take for “talking like a pirate” to get old? Did it get old for him first, or did people around him get tired of it first? How does one give up on such a thing officially?

87 ben April 10, 2017 at 3:42 pm

What is his framework for funniness?

88 Xmas April 10, 2017 at 4:45 pm

I can’t think of a good question, but I always wondered if his potential in Hollywood was ruined because the September 11th attacks tanked the movie “Big Trouble”.

89 Edgar April 10, 2017 at 4:50 pm

In addition to being a humorist, Barry is also a remarkable and prolific children’s author. You might ask him about that side of his career. To what would he ascribe his great success as a children’s author? In which language have translations of the children’s books sold the best? How do he and Ridley Pearson collaborate? In person? How do they split the work? The profits? How did they meet? What roles do Disney/Hyperion have in the creative process? Does he like writing in collaboration better than writing solo? Do a lot of adults tell him they enjoy Peter and the Star Catchers? (I thoroughly enjoyed a couple of them.) Does he do anything special to make sure the children’s books stay fresh and interesting to changing audiences? Is that difficult given many readers probably age out of the audience and are replaced with readers with different cultural references? Were Aidan and Sarah Cooper in The Bridge to Neverland composites or did he have a specific person in mind while writing each?

90 T. Lord April 10, 2017 at 5:02 pm

Can he present a picture of himself in the same room as P.J. O’Rourke, and several living eyewitnesses?

91 Tyler Fan April 10, 2017 at 6:16 pm

I haven’t read any Barry in 20+ years since I was in high school. But what I recall is that there was a circular structure to most of his columns wherein he would return at the end of the column (for comic payoff) to some random tidbit from the beginning of the essay. Of course this is a structural trope from straight/noncomedic essays too. It’s been so long that I can’t recall his other quirks but his columns (despite being funny to a high schooler) were also transparently formulaic to me. I felt like he could churn out a (funny) column in five minutes using some template. Curious as to how formulaic he feels his writing is and how important he thinks those structures/formulas are to comedic writing generally (such as sitcoms).

92 Ken April 10, 2017 at 7:32 pm

Ask him why he thinks (if he does) that there is much less humor and general “lightness” in our public culture than in the past. Our common intellectual culture is very serious, polarized and unforgiving. A prophetic problem, I think.

93 Joe Calhoun April 10, 2017 at 8:52 pm

Ask him if he’s found a Mold-A-Matic that works yet.

94 Reed April 10, 2017 at 9:03 pm

Have attention spans diminished even for comedy writing?

He got started doing essays. Can those compete with tweets now?

95 a.k.a. borgnine April 10, 2017 at 9:43 pm

Erma Bombeck – underrated or overrated? (When I was younger I used to think that Erma and dear Abby and Ann Landers all hung out together in some weird completely Mid-Western set of restaurants and houses and back yards and I always thought Erma seemed like she was a fun young wife and then a nice not-so-young wife and mother. Was I wrong? Doubt it. ) The Dave Barry connection is this: one day I bought “Parade Magazine” with the local liberal rag and I read Dave Barry’s column and then I called a friend and read a few sentences over the phone to her and my friend said that sounds like Erma Bombeck! And I said, over the phone all those years ago, next time I run into Dave I will tell him you said that. Well I never get to Florida these days.

96 Dan April 10, 2017 at 10:17 pm

What is the state of booger journalism?

97 R Richard Schweitzer April 10, 2017 at 11:01 pm

In what is there never humor?

98 Les Cargill April 10, 2017 at 11:09 pm

Ask him if it is creepy that he is one of the last who will have a career that parallels that of Mark Twain, H.L Mencken and the like.

99 Gooz April 12, 2017 at 7:25 am

Ask him of the emotional toll of being expected to be funny/on all the time. Is it like the emotional labor of service industry workers?

100 Ben April 13, 2017 at 5:25 pm

When will the Rock Bottom Remainders be playing in a town near me?

101 Vera April 16, 2017 at 12:26 am

What are some things he was actually not making up?

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