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If Dave Barry Ran the World

An interview with the author of 30 books and an unquantifiable number of booger jokes.

Dave Barry's newest (book, that is) is entitled I’ll Mature When I’m Dead: Dave Barry’s Amazing Tales of Adulthood. In it he tackles many urgent issues, from the large-scale—mortality, religion (his is “joketarianism”), health-care reform—to the picayune, including waiting-room TVs and where all those body toxins truly go when you take a mud bath.

Q: How much truth is there to the rumor, started by you, that the recession was caused by your having given up your weekly newspaper column in 2005?

A: (Laughs) Well, I’m not saying that was the entire cause of the decline of the economy and the newspaper industry, but you do have to notice the coincidence, you know? I stop writing my regular column, the economy goes to hell, the newspaper industry goes into a steep decline…

Q: It is suspicious.

A: I’ll say!

Q: There’s a chapter in your book entitled “A Practical, Workable Plan for Saving the Newspaper Business.” It’s subtitled “I Sure Don’t Have One.”

A: No, I really don’t. That’s one of the sadder chapters in the book, in a way, although I tried to make it funny. But the truth is, I don’t think anybody has a clue what to do to save the newspaper industry. And every passing day, it gets smaller and weaker and less able to do what it’s supposed to be doing.

Q: What do you think it’s going to look like five years from now? And what will that mean for humor columnists?

A: The answer to A is that I think it’s going to be almost entirely online unless somebody figures out a way to pay reporters—especially investigative reporters. The answer to B is that the humor writers of the world left newspapers a while ago anyway. They’re online much more. They’re in television, in film—mostly, though, the Internet. There’s a lot of very funny people there.

Q: Do you read those other “funny people,” or do you simply feel too threatened by them?

A: (Laughs) There’s this guy Bill Simmons. He writes for ESPN. He’s very, very funny. But that’s a guy you see almost entirely online.

There’s lots of my cohorts I still read for humor. Roy Blount, Jr., and Carl Hiaasen, folks like that. 

Q: Your professed faith is joketarianism—that’s not a real religion, is it?

A: Well, it’s real to me. (Laughs) Hey, it’s as real as Scientology. 

Q: What official role would you serve in such a church?

A: If there were a joketarian church, it wouldn’t have any hierarchy. It’d be more like whoever came up with the best line at that particular moment could be the Pope for now. But then very quickly somebody else would come up with a better line. 

Q: Like Pope for a Day?

A: Pope for a Minute.

Q: Pope for a Tweet.

A: For a Beat.

Q: You have a lot to say about the American health care system. You don’t sound all that convinced, for example, that the government should run it.

A: No—and who on earth would? As I say in the book, there are intelligent, educated, and well-meaning people out there who seriously believe that we should let Washington redesign our health-care system. It goes without saying that these people live and work in Washington; where else could you find intelligent, educated, well-meaning people who are that stupid?

I’m setting aside, for now, the whole issue of what’s right and what’s wrong. The question is whether the federal government has ever shown any competence to do anything on a big scale other than get bigger. I don’t think it has! I basically don’t want the federal government to have anything to do with my own personal body. (Laughs)


Q: Why, in your opinion, have hospital waiting rooms installed TVs that play, as you write, “at the volume of the Daytona 500”?

A: Well, they know they’re going to have you in there for a week to 10 days, and they’ve determined that Americans will settle down and watch whatever’s on as long as they remind you it’s on by playing it really loud. That way you can’t complain to anybody about the wait, because they can’t hear you.

Sometimes I wonder if it’s part of the therapy: If they make it that unpleasant to be in the waiting room, you’ll heal faster. Your body will say, “Hey, this isn’t good for me—I need to get out of this environment!”

Q: Maybe—

A: “I have to get away from Judge Judy somehow.”

Q: Yeah. Maybe it’s a small-scale version of health-care reform?

A: Yeah. Or maybe her voice can kill cancer cells. “Judge Judy—she’s tougher than cancer.”

Q: She should put that on her business card.

A: There you go. Cancer shows up in front of her, she’s going to say, “Do you have a receipt?”

Q: How’s the spinning going?

A: Well, right after this interview, I’m going to go spin with Erica the Nazi spin-class leader. You just cycle, cycle, cycle, but you never go anywhere. You stay right there in that room, smelling the groin sweat of the previous spinners, listening to music you don’t recognize. I haven’t missed a class.

Q: They wipe down the bikes, though, right?

A: I do that. And they do have wipes there. You don’t want to think about that too much, though. Have you ever gone to the wine country, like Sonoma?

Q: Yes.

A: That area. Have you ever had a mud bath?

Q: No, I can’t say I have.

A: Don’t. Don’t ever! They put you in what feels like basically hot cow poop. I don’t really know where they get it. There could be cows on the premises somewhere. Anyway, they push you into it. Deep into it. And it’s very hot. And then they tell you that all these toxins are going to come out of you.

So you get in there and suddenly it occurs to you, Where do the toxins go? Well, they go into the cow poop. Do they change the cow poop between mud baths? No, they do not! So you’re bathing in somebody else’s hot toxins. It’s pretty awful. Disgusting, in fact.

The spinning thing is not quite as bad as that. But you are getting onto a thing that somebody else has been sweating on. That thousands of groins have sweated on.

Q: And your wife got you into it?

A: Yeah, yeah.

Q: Not the groin-sweat thing, I don’t mean.

A: She did that too, but that’s another story. She’s been spinning for a while. She’s fit, my wife—don’t you hate that?—and so is her friend Erica and her other friends. When she comes home from any given spinning session, she knows more about these women than I know about all the friends I’ve ever had in my life. They spin and talk the whole time.

And I never understand the conversations. I guess that’s part of being 62—you just don’t hear everything as well, or whatever. Especially when there’s music playing. But they can all talk and spin and have music playing, all at the same time. And I’m more like, “Oh God, I’m going to die, I’m going to die. Oh, my God. If this song doesn’t end, I’m going to die.”

Q: I love that whole multitasking thing they do.

A: Yeah. They do it, I don’t. I just spin—and hope not to die.