My Lunch With Dave Barry

Filed in Gather Writing Essential by on February 6, 2012 0 Comments

“I just had lunch with Dave Barry.” That’s what I said to a few of my friends last week.

Unfortunately, journalism has kowtowed to the full-disclosure mania sweeping the country, requiring I add here that I paid $45 for the privilege and that 75 other people also had lunch with Dave Barry at the same time. The distinction seems picky to me.

Actually, there were two people at the lunch: Dave Barry and Alan Zweibel. They were promoting their new novel “Lunatics.” It was unclear to me just how much of the $45 price tag was allocated to each co-author.

I’ll assume everyone knows Dave Barry, the only humorist besides Art Buchwald to ever win a Pulitzer Prize and the author of so many books that the Smithsonian has classified him as a library. He autographed his book for me as: “John, you’re a lunatic.” I think he may still be festering from the time I proved with humor logic that California was a stupider state than Florida (This was around the time we recalled Governor Davis). I should never have sent him a copy of that column.

Regardless of any lingering grudges I’m making up, Dave Barry remains my humorist hero. He was a columnist for 20 years at the Miami Herald. If you’ve never read his columns, I suggest you visit that newspaper’s website and treat yourself.

Unlike Dave, Alan Zweibel is not a household name, at least not in my household. That doesn’t make him any less impressive. He joined “Saturday Night Live” at the beginning and, among other accomplishments wrote many of the Samurai sketches for John Belushi. He won the Thurber Prize for his novel “The Other Shulman” and collaborated with Billy Crystal in the Tony Award winning play “700 Sundays.”

Dave and Alan spent 40 minutes failing to explain their book. Among other things, the story involves hijacking a clothing-optional cruise ship, a terrorist dressed as Chuck E. Cheese and a kidnapped lemur. You can see their problem. This underlines my recommendation that a Dave Barry book be read only under close medical supervision.

After the authors gave up getting us on board with their story, they opened the floor for questions. I had a bunch in mind, such as how much do you get paid per column? Have you ever been sued for libel? Is being a humorist a chick magnet? Stuff like that.

There were two reasons why I didn’t ask any questions. First, I was too far back from the dais. That meant when I was called on, everyone would turn and look at me, which takes the pressure off Dave and drops it in my lap. People pressure gives me a rash.

Second, if my mother taught me one thing it was always be appropriate and don’t embarrass anyone. OK, two things. In my mind, the questions I wanted to ask were appropriate to me, but would also be embarrassing for me because I’ve seen Dave Barry deal with tough questions before. Asking him one of my intrusive (let’s call a spade a spade) questions would be like lobbing a soft ball to Barry Bonds. I’d have scars the next day.

Besides, in the four times I have seen Dave answer audience questions, I have never seen him embarrassed. The man is pathologically incapable of embarrassment. He’s either missing a gene or it’s a side effect from the high quality pharma they gave him during his colonoscopy — which led to one of the funniest columns he’s ever written.

This “pay for lunch with the author” approach is gaining traction in the bookstore world as one way to counter the double onslaught of Amazon and the recession. The tricky issue is the pricing. What do you charge for each author and how do you deal with bruised egos when you announce the prices?

Instead of lunch, I should have invited Dave to dinner at the Brick & Bottle next door where we could have shared an intimate booth. I’d gladly pay $45 for that — providing we can squeeze the other 75 clowns into a different booth.

This Week’s Ponder: Which is the stupidest state and why?

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