It was 20 years ago this month when the 28-year-old me saw my picture in a real newspaper next to words I had written. I knew then that it would be mere weeks before I took my place next to the literary comedy giants of the world.
Step aside, Twain. Move over, Perleman. Suck it, Thurber.
Finally! Finally I’ll get to track down Doug and tell him that he was wrong.
(Flashback sequence ):
Way back in 1987, I was sitting in my college newspaper office, and we were doing our usual staff critique of our latest issue. I was actually on staff as the opinion editor. This position required nothing more from me than writing something that I thought was funny.
When our adviser/teacher, Doug, turned to the opinion page — the one with my column next to a picture of me draped in chard leaves — he said some words that could very well have changed my life.
He said, “Barry, you’re a pretty good writer, but I just don’t see you ever having the discipline to do anything with it.”
Of course, this is where I hop up on the desk and declare him wrong, wrong, wrong. Then we see a montage of me working tirelessly every day for the rest of my life until I prove my worth to him and the world. Right?
Well, not only did I not do that, I didn’t even think about doing it. Instead I thought, “Yeah, that’s actually a pretty good point.” There was nary a hint of “I’ll show you” to be found. I had some real challenges in the ambition department. I sort of still do.
So, back to the future. After I’d written my weekly column for about a year and a half, The Aspen Times offered me a slot in the paper. As I sat in the office of then-editor/publisher Andy Stone, (who was also writing a weekly humorous column) discussing my terms of employment (“You’re gonna pay me? Cool!”), our talk turned to the TV show “Dave’s World,” a show about humor columnist Dave Barry that had just debuted.
“I think we both know,” Andy said, “that we’ll never be famous enough to have a TV show made about us.”
“Au contraire,” I thought. Because by that point even my thoughts had become pretentious.
For even though I’d hit a few roadblocks on my path to superstardom, I was still convinced that I was on my way. Surely my awesomeness will be discovered in due time and my face will grace the cover of Humor Columnist magazine and I’ll be the subject of a biopic and D.A. Pennebaker will follow me around for a year with a camera crew and, and, and …
Whew. How did I not drown in my own ego? Possibly because I was using my cluelessness as a flotation device.
And now here we are.
Getting to write this column for you — and for me — for 20 years has been one of the most important gifts of my life. Whatever I’ve learned about writing, which I’ll be the first to admit is very limited, I’ve learned through expressing myself in this little several-hundred-word space every week. Thanks to anyone and everyone who has ever taken the time to read it.
And now, to conclude my month of retrospection, here’s the comprehensive list of everything I have written in the past 20 years. If anyone knows Doug, could you clip this out and send it to him?
A whole bunch of poems. Some of them rhyme. Most of them are about coffee.
A few songs. Some of them are blues parodies. OK, all of them are blues parodies.
A screenplay. Yes, back in 1996 (pre-Austin Powers) I wrote a James Bond-like spy spoof. I worked on it for three straight weeks until I got to the last page, typed “The End,” closed the file and haven’t opened it since. Good decision.
Some audio sketch-comedy pieces. My friends and I actually recorded and released the best of these on a CD called “The Astounding World of Dirt.” I still have a few — cough, hundred, cough — CDs left. Let me know if you want one.
Some comedy video scripts that also were produced by me and my friends. In one of them we’re all wearing paper bags on our heads. Because I know how funny works.
Four hour-long live comedy shows about things like living in Jesus’ basement and having had lots of jobs and saving stuff that most people throw away.
The first 100 pages of a book about living in Jesus’ basement. I wrote this when I had an agent and she was going to get this book published. I sent her these 100 pages, and she said she’d read them and get back to me on Monday. That was eight years ago. Haven’t heard a word from her since. No kidding.
Various magazine humor pieces.
Anything and everything Stewart Oksenhorn ever asked or told me to write.
A tremendous amount of personal journaling. Some of it handwritten on homemade paper. Sorry you have to know this about me.
Seventeen or 18 tweets.
Three hundred thirty-nine Facebook posts (not counting comments on others’ posts).
Over 1,000 weekly humor columns just like the one you’re reading now — only funnier.
Barry’s column appears Mondays.
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