By: Dave Astor
Dave Barry was prepared for Art Buchwald’s death — but not really.
“I thought I would be OK with it,” he said during an E&P interview this afternoon. “Obviously we’ve all been expecting it. But I started getting really sad. It may sound selfish, but I realized I’m never going to hear from him again.”
Barry — who formerly wrote a weekly humor column for The Miami Herald and more than 500 other newspapers via Tribune Media Services (TMS) — first heard from Buchwald soon after joining the Herald in the 1980s. Buchwald praised Barry’s work, and Barry was very appreciative that an established competitor in the syndicated humorist realm would contact a young guy like him.
“He invited me to join the American Academy of Humor Columnists, which turned out to be fictitious,” Barry recalled with a laugh. Buchwald even had stationery for the bogus organization.
The two kept in frequent touch over the years, and Barry (along with his sometimes co-author Ridley Pearson) visited Buchwald in Martha’s Vineyard soon after Buchwald left a hospice last year.
“We spent a couple of hours in his sunroom and, when we left, we commented on how we hadn’t laughed that much in so long,” said Barry, adding that he couldn’t imagine himself trying to be that upbeat if he had been as ill as Buchwald.
Barry, who considered himself somewhere between a colleague and friend of Buchwald’s, said the last call he received from Buchwald was about two months ago. “I’m not dead,” he announced. Barry replied: “I knew that.”
Was Buchwald a writing influence on Barry? Yes, he replied. “Art was the first newspaper humor columnist I read,” said Barry, noting that his parents (especially his mother) were big fans.
Buchwald, who was syndicated by TMS in his later years, won a Pulitzer Prize for commentary in 1982. (Barry won the same prize in 1988.) How would Buchwald fare if he was trying to start a political humor column today rather than several decades ago?
Not too well, replied Barry. He said newspapers have less room than they used to, don’t run as many humor columns, and might not desire Buchwald’s brand of gentler political satire. Barry noted that political humor today is often more “vicious and partisan. You have to take a side, and that’s not necessarily a good thing. Art was obviously a liberal Democrat, but he never took a cheap shot.”
Barry emphasized that it’s hard for ANY kind of humor columnist to break into newspapers today. He said the era when Buchwald and Erma Bombeck had “63 million readers between them” is gone.
Does Barry plan to write a farewell piece about Buchwald? Probably not, he said, noting that there are many people who knew the late columnist better than he did.