There has been a disturbance in the Force.
The inky galaxy of newsprint’s reading inhabitants stagger in bewilderment. Dave Barry, the Beige Overlord of Comic Columnists has retired, swept into the black hole of— there’s no gentle way to say this— fatherhood.
Mr. Barry’s departure leaves my Saturday Op-Ed page bereft of purpose; leaves it a stony slate of piety, pillory and humorless poop. So that Dave can change diapers. So that Dave can play with his daughter and make her laugh and utterly neglect the rest of us.
Okay, Dave’s daughter is now 6, she’s old enough to be out of diapers, but he’s— 59!— old enough to know better, even accounting for the delayed puberty of professional humorists. Siring cuddly protein lumps at his age is unconscionable and stupid and if you need proof, picture Dave rolling around his carpet at home, tickling Sophie and getting drool on his rayon print short-sleeved shirt or whatever they wear down in Florida, while undead hordes of laffless readers mill about outside in his flowerbed. His pal Steven King could make a movie of the week about it and I wish he would if it guaranteed they’d both quit their rock careers.
The world is divided between those that think there’s enough to go around and those that don’t and if you ask enough of what, it’s obviously laughter in his particular case. Dave had an over-abundance and shared it, and now he’s just hoarding it. His excuse is 30 years of unbroken weekly columns, 30 lousy years in the timeless wilderness of guffawlessness into which we’re again cast.
You bet I’m bitter. I come to bury Barry, not to honor him. Father to unlimited grins, hiccupping yuks and galloping giggles, he’s spurned us, his adoring print progeny, in shameless deference to this upstart issue.
He says he’s taking an indefinite leave. “Ha,” sez I, for now his funny furnace exclusively runs on parental observations, which is as seriously unfunny as hydrogen fuel, while helium’s a guaranteed thing if inhaled. That’s the Dave we’ll miss, but he’s gone now, gone to the recklessly unfunny circle of hell that Dolly and Billy and Jeffy are drawn in. The oval-headed universe of glandless blandness.
How do we reconcile political sleaze, insufferable stupidity and carnal excess without his cunning callowness; how do we puncture the dense drone of daily drudgery, how can I end this sentence with more alliteration? Dave never troubled himself tripping over words, they tumbled out like goofy clown-car adolescents grinning at you since you were about to be blindsided in his next phrase with a metaphorical meringue, a hyperbolic inanity, a paroxysm of glee. But Dave’s grown up now. Now Dave’s car trips involve strollers, animal crackers, coloring books, string cheese, wetnaps and fistfuls of ibuprofren; he has put away childish things, only to pick them up again from where his darling dumpling’s happily hurled them. Again, and again and again. “Again,” says Sophie and daddy obliges with the same expression or bedtime story or pratfall he’s repeated eleventy-seben times. It’s actually hysterically funny— brace yourself— when she puts daddy’s shoes on— the wrong feet!! Gag me.
He knows this of course. He knows but doesn’t care. Paternity is a delusional wellspring of hope, promise and joy right alongside night terrors that your 6-year-old’s gotten a Harley tattoo and joined the panel of the Beltway Gang. Father’s former funny fodder of potty gags and adolescent pranks redound darkly; repentant, he writes anonymous chiding letters to himself, care of his editor. Gone is the endless summer of 14-year-old merriment.