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DC at Night

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Insane City

Dave Barry has long been called the funniest man in America. And while that title could be debated, there's no doubt that Barry was the funniest man in Washington D.C. last night as he appeared at Politics and Prose to promote his new novel, Insane City, the story of a Miami destination wedding gone horribly and hilariously wrong.

Whether he was talking about the Miami that serves as his fictional book setting and also his real-life home or answering questions from the audience, Barry kept his fans in fits of convulsive laughter.

"I have a theory about book tours and why publishers want you to go on them," Barry said. "Your book will be worth more if you are dead." But despite his tongue-in-cheek claim to the contrary, Barry appeared to be enjoying his night with his fans, many of whom have been reading his books and humor column for decades.

Speaking of Miami, Barry said he "moved there in 1986 from the United States." He said polls such as one that revealed that 67% of Americans view Miami as a dangerous place bother local residents. "It hurts," he says. "We want to track those people down and kill them."

One of his favorite Miami pastimes is watching local drivers. "They appear to be observing the driving rules of their individual country of origin," Barry noted. He said he is particularly fascinated by the legions of New York City residents who now make Miami their home. "They come from New York where they never drove a car. Then they retire to Miami and after they have lost most of their sight, hearing, and the rest of their senses, they decide to start driving. Of course, it's pretty easy to get a driver's license in Miami; it comes with a Happy Meal."

He said every week there is a story about an elderly driver crashing into a building or a swimming pool. And the reason is always the same - the driver confused the gas pedal with the break. "Now, we've all had that happen to us, but how long does it take you to figure it out," Barry said.

He said his favorite real-life driving adventure involved a 78-year-old man in a Chevy Cobalt who was ...... wait for it ... discovered driving on the runways of the Miami International Airport. "That's not something you want to find at an airport," Barry said. "I can't get near a plane with a bottle of shampoo and this guy is driving between 747s."

Barry just started his book tour and already 2 only-in-Miami stories have hit the headlines. The 1st focuses on the 10-year-old daughter of a narcotics officer who submitted a science project determining which of 3 dogs was the best at sniffing out cocaine. "The school officials were upset, but apparently there was no prohibition against using cocaine in a science project," Barry said. "I don't think that would happen in Cleveland."

And then there is the ongoing story of the Python Challenge. It seems that some people (and by these people "I mean idiots," Barry says) believe that pythons make great pets. When they realize the error of their ways, they dump the snakes in the Everglades, which, since there are no predators for them, has become "Disney World  for pythons. I mean, they eat alligators. There are probably 100,000 pythons out there now."

The situation became so dire that authorities came up with the idea of the Python Challenge - a contest where people could be licensed to hunt pythons after they took (and here Barry is not making this up) an online course in how to kill pythons humanely. More than 1,000 hardy hunters signed up. To date, a whopping 37 pythons have been killed. "Basically, the pythons are winning the Python Challenge," he said.

Barry says the wild times in Miami made it relatively easy to come up with the situations in Insane City. "There really isn't much of a stretch anywhere in the book," he claimed. Barry cited his friend and fellow humor writer Carl Hiassen who claims "you don't need an imagination to write a novel about Miami. You just need a subscription to The Miami Herald."

The author says he never knows how much to reveal about a new book at a book talk because "I am here to sell the things." However, after reading a short passage from the novel, Barry said an orangutan is intricately involved in the plot. "When they make the movie, I think the orangutan should be played by somebody important like Brad Pitt," he said.

During the extended question-and-answer period, Barry was almost upstaged by 10-year-old Neil, who had 2 questions for the author, who after hearing both questions, said he was sure Neil's parents would be putting him up for adoption soon.

"You said you are proud of Miami and yet you called your book Insane City. So which one is it?," Neil asked.

"Well, it's called sarcasm which is something you will learn about right after sex," Barry, who couldn't contain his own laughter, said. "In fact, those 2 things are close."

But Neil wasn't finished. "My parents told me you used to be a comedian (howls of laughter from the crowd). Do you have any advice for a young comedian?," he asked

"You're doing pretty well right now," Barry responded. "I wouldn't change a thing."

One woman asked how he continued to be funny. "The key to humor writing," Barry deadpanned, "Is - if you can't think of another joke, then you might have to get a job"

Another woman asked him if he had always been funny. "I know this is going to come as surprise to you, but I've always been something of a wise-ass. If I could say something that would make kids laugh, I would say it. Some teachers liked it; some didn't. I had 2 different teachers who told me the same thing in pretty much the same words - 'that's funny, David, but you can't joke your way through life."

Tales, Tidbits, and Tips
Two Daves together.
I think Dave Barry is uproariously funny. In fact, my wife has banned me from reading Barry in bed because I laugh too loudly. Obviously, I was excited to see him at Politics and Prose. But in addition to being a wildly popular writer, Barry was also a founding member of The Rock Bottom Remainders, the greatest (and indeed the only) rock band every made up of best-selling authors. In addition to Barry, the group also included such writers as Stephen King, Mitch Album, Ridley Pearson, and Amy Tan. A few years ago, Judy and I saw the Remainders at the Electric Factory just before they decided to retire. After his book presentation, I got a chance to talk to Barry about his 2nd career as a 3-chord rock and roll guitarist. I asked him if there was any truth to the story that jealousy between Album and him over Tan had led to the break-up. "No, really it was just a lack of talent," he said. "Amy put it best - 'some bands sing to save the whales; our singing would kill the whales.' We were a different kind of band. Some bands rehearse a lot before they play. We didn't. We would get together at the bar after and talk about how we should have played. We used the rumor method. There were rumors that some of the songs contained chord changes. And sometimes we would change chords. But we didn't usually change to the same chords at the same time." For a long period of time, Warren Zevon played with the Remainders. Zevon, who died in 2003, is one of my favorite song writers. So I was interested to know about Zevon's time with Barry. "Warren was, how shall I put this, crazy," Barry said. "The thing I remember most is that Warren could never find anything. He would be driving and he would be lost and he would call us and I would put my wife on the phone and she would ask 'Warren, where are you?' and Warren would tell her the street and she would say 'you're going the wrong way; turn around and then call us.' And, in a few minutes, he would call back and my wife would ask "what street are you on now?' and he would tell her and she would say "Warren, you're still going the wrong way." I told Barry I knew his musical career began with a band - Federal Duck -that he was in when he attended Haverford College on Philadelphia's Main Line. "There were people in Federal Duck who could really play. I wasn't one of them." I told him I attended Villanova University, which is located just down the road from Haverford. "We played at Villanova a lot," Barry said. "Those Villanova frat boys could vomit better than anyone else." I asked him if there was any chance the Rock Bottom Remainders would reunite. "We're waiting for a groundswell or even one request," Barry said. I said, if the reuniting was a question of money, I would contribute a quarter to the effort. "That might do it," Barry said. "That's about what we got for every job."

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