September 24, 2002

Barry Gives Lesson on Higher Education

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Renowned humor columnist Dave Barry spoke to a full crowd of students, faculty and alumni yesterday evening in Bailey Auditorium.

His intended lecture topic was self-declared to be of his, “thoughts on higher education, ” but what resulted was a seemingly series of random anecdotal digressions that made the audience explode into laughter every few minutes.

Dave Barry writes humor columns for the Miami Herald. His column is published in approximately 500 newspapers, of which include the Sun, in the United States and abroad and he has written 21, “short but harmful books,” as described by Barry.

He opened by noting that he attended Haverford College with Cornell President Hunter R. Rawlings III.

“He was a wonderful, wonderful, big man,” Barry said, and in response to the recent increase in Cornellian parties, he jokingly said, “[Rawlings] didn’t party much. He was too busy with the heroine. No, no, it was cocaine.”

Subsequent diatribes included commentaries on Miami traffic and the driving skills of its inhabitants. In addition, he touched on the 2000 Presidential election in Florida and said, “Florida. You can’t spell it without a ‘duh’. [The state has] a new system … we’re going to print photographs of the candidates on a piece of paper and people can vote for who they want by poking out their eyeballs … unless they poke out their own eyeballs.”

In a description of his literary endeavors, he said, “basically I just sit around in my underwear and make stuff up … kind of like college students.”

An anecdote regarding his earlier journalistic years told of his encounter with former First Lady Barbara Bush. “The essence of journalism is asking questions, encountering hostile people. I was never good at that. I lurked in the back, trying to blend in.” So while standing next to her in a photo shoot, he absent-mindedly said, “I shop at the same supermarket as your son Jet. He’s very tall.”

Barry pointed out that despite criticisms on the lack of research in his writing, he does actually engage in such endeavors. The example he gave involved experimenting with the ability of the sparks emitted from Rollerblade Barbie dolls to set fire on underwear covered in hairspray after witnessing such an incident caused by his children.

Additionally, he spoke about relationships between men and women, saying, “the problem is women .. because they are simply better than us. Women are more complex and deeper so they tend to think [men] are complicated as well.”

He then addressed the female portion of the audience and said, “to the women here, lower your standards.”

Barry then offered the, “ultimate paradigm for solving a problem” when discussing the Oregon State Highway Division’s (OSHD) response to a dead and rotting whale corpse stranded on the beach. It was a typical, “textbook whale disposal”, Barry commented.

The OSHD blew up the whale. Describing the whale innards strewn about the vicinity, on the spectators and on the local cameraman, Barry explained that if ever presented with a problem, “do not ask the Oregon State Highway Division to help you solve it.”

After that story, Barry opened the floor up to questions from the audience. He responded to these student-posed questions with witty comebacks and many times did not answer the intended question. When asked about recommendations for the next Cornell president, Barry said, “I’d do it. As long as I don’t have to live here, I’d be glad to be president of Cornell.”

“We couldn’t imagine how [Barry] was going to structure this lecture. But he couldn’t have done a more terrific job of bridging the gap between being a standup comedian and a journalist in his lecture style, ” said Prof. Kevin Clermont, law.

“I thought his column writing style translated very well to a stage presentation,” added Becky Heinig ’03.

For those who were long-time fans of Barry’s work concluded that his performance met their expectations. “Many of his anecdotes were from his published works so some of the stories weren’t all that new. But regardless, he was still very entertaining. I came here for funnies stories and that’s what I got, ” said Monica Stump, ’03.

Some of those works include the best-selling author of 23 books, of which include Babies and other Hazards of Sex, Dave Barry Slept Here: A Sort of History of the United States, Dave Barry is from Mars and Venus, and his latest that is scheduled to be published in a few days, Tricky Business.

In 1988, he won the Pulitzer Price in Commentary. Besides his literary preoccupations, he plays lead guitar in a literary rock band called the ‘Rock Bottom Remainders’, whose other members include Stephen King, Amy Tan, Ridley Pearson and Mitch Albom.

The now canceled CBS TV sitcom “Dave’s World, ” of which actor Harry Anderson played Barry, was based on two of his books.

According to Prof. Alison Lurie, english, Barry, “knows how to find serious craziness in the real world.”

His appearance also sparked further interest in those new to his work.

“Truthfully, I had never even heard of Dave Barry but I came because my friend had tickets. I really enjoyed myself and laughed my tail off the entire time. This was my first exposure to him and now I’ll definitely go check out some of his work, ” said Molly Dahlgren, ’03.

“I was disappointed that it ended at 9:30 P.M. because it was scheduled to end at 10:00 P.M. I wished it could’ve lasted longer since there was ample amount of time and only a few of the students were able to ask questions while the rest were denied, ” said Andrew Alexander, a senior at Ithaca High School.

However, the overall sentiment of the event was praise-worthy, apparently evident by the standing ovation that Barry received at its closing.

Some of Barry’s parting words to the Cornell audience were, “stay in college. There is only one thing that is better in the real world. There’s parking.”

Sun Contributor Liz Goulding contributed to this story.

Archived article by Jennifer Chen