Will the Real Dave Please Speak Up?

Joe Rhodes is a frequent contributor to TV Times and Calendar

I am not making this up. Humor columnist-lovable moptop Dave Barry appears to be humiliating himself in the presence of several well-known national TV personalities, not to mention a studio audience. And this is not just because he is wearing shorts, flip-flops and the kind of hideously red Hawaiian shirt usually seen on late-night car-wax infomercials.

What's really awful is the way Dave is standing there in stunned silence, his mouth open but no words coming out. There are cameras pointed at him and actors waiting for him to speak. But Dave is just standing there, looking very much like a badly dressed tourist who has lost the will to live. He will later refer to this as "the longest seven seconds of my life."

Years from now, historians will certainly conclude that something like this was bound to happen, that journalists, (a category that could be loosely interpreted to include Pulitzer Prize-winning humor columnists) have no business doing walk-on parts in network comedy series, even if that series happens to be based on their own work.

"Dave's World," the show on which Dave Barry made this tragic error, stars Harry Anderson as a Miami humor columnist whose name happens to be . . . Dave Barry.

The real Dave Barry was approached last summer by producers Jonathan Axelrod and James Widdoes about buying the rights to a couple of his books, a deal to which he quickly agreed after establishing that "they'd pay me money and I wouldn't have to do anything for it. I signed the contract, but I can't honestly say that I read it."

Caught up in the tremendous pressures of his actual life--mostly consisting of sitting around all day in his underwear, staring at his computer screen, playing his guitar, and occasionally writing insightful columns about exploding livestock, dimwitted dogs, and of course, booger jokes; real-life Dave didn't realize TV Dave had made it onto the CBS lineup until he heard it from the television critic at the Miami Herald, where real-life Dave draws his real-life paychecks.

Real-life Dave was quickly invited out to Hollywood to meet his cathode-ray counterparts and make a cameo appearance on the show. The cast, besides Anderson, includes Meshach Taylor, Shadoe Stevens and Delane Matthews as Barry's wife, Beth.

He's surrounded from the moment he appears on the set. Cast and crew ask him to autograph books. Widdoes takes him on a tour of the TV version of his house. "In my real home," Barry says, moving from the kitchen to the living room set, "you can't actually walk through any walls. That's a minor inconsistency you might want to correct."

Dave meets his TV wife and his two TV kids (one more than in real life). Asked to compare TV Beth to the real one, Barry says: "Well, the Beth on the show is really very attractive. And the real Beth is . . . much more attractive. What, do I look like a stupid idiot ?"

Dave, it turns out, has been cast in the critical and much sought-after role of Man. His character is supposed to burst into an appliance store, desperately trying to outbid Anderson and Matthews (remember them, the TV Barrys?) for an air conditioner. The part consists of 17 words. They are: "I need an air conditioner. I'll take it. Here's my credit card. I'll take the service agreement."

The Thursday rehearsals go off without a hitch. Dave not only says his 17 words but he exits, he enters, he ad-libs a roll of his eyes. He is so believable as a man in need of an air conditioner that it's difficult to accept that Barry's only previous acting experience was the role of Columbus in a fourth-grade class play.

Dave is finding out a lot about show business. Because you can't use real credit cards on TV, the prop man has taken Dave's wallet and given him a prop wallet with prop money and prop cards. Now that rehearsal is over, Dave can't find the prop man.

"I gave this guy all my money and now he's gone," Dave says.

"Well," says Taylor Negron, who's playing the air conditioner salesman, "now you know what it feels like to be an actor."

It turns out that Barry will be making $485 (union scale) for his appearance. He quickly calculates this to be $28.50 per word. "I may be making more per word than you are," he says to Anderson.

"No, you're not," Anderson says smiling. "And I don't even have to do the math."

By the time the audience files in to watch the Friday-night filming, Barry has rehearsed his scene a half-dozen times. He has even added another word (muttering "yuppies" as he leaves the store in disgust), although he realizes this lowers his pay rate to $27 per word.

People keep asking if he's nervous. He keeps saying he's not.

And now, Friday 9:30 p.m., it's time for the shot. Dave walks into the store and slams the door. "I need an air conditioner," he says, sounding as if he means it. The scene is going well. People are laughing. And then, it happens.

Or rather, it doesn't happen. There's Dave wondering why everyone is staring at him. Something has gone horribly wrong. Did he forget a line? Did he forget his pants? Did he say, "The Earth is not flat," without realizing it?

No, wait. It's not his fault. They changed one of Harry's lines--Dave's cue--but no one told Dave. "This is one of those old actor tricks isn't it?" Barry says, relieved. He does the scene again. It's perfect.

There is applause, laughter, congratulatory slaps on the back. By the next morning Dave Barry will be gone, back to his real life in Florida. But he has left them something to remember him by, his signature on the makeup room wall.

"Dave 'Man' Barry," it reads, "18 words. $27 per."

"Dave's World" airs Mondays at 8:30 p.m. on CBS.

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