The humor community of the kinder and gentler 90's is being swept by waves of touchy-feely caution and cloying cuteness. I have been to both WASP and non-WASP weddings, and your WASP couple can get married, go on their honeymoon, come home, pursue careers, have children and get divorced in less time than it takes for a non-WASP couple to get to the part of their reception where everyone drinks champagne from the maid of honor's brassiere.'' By now, it should be eminently clear that the Barry sword of equal-opportunity insult is wielded with a clear absence of malice, in the spirit of unadulterated - and distinctly un-adult - buffoonery.
Bob Martinez of Florida ''exudes the warm personal charm of a millipede,'' the air-fare wars have produced a new generation of ''Frequent fliers with bare feet and live carry-on chickens,'' and Manuel Noriega is assured a fair trial only if the courts can summon ''12 unbiased jurors with the mental alertness of moist towelettes.'' In Dave Barry's column, we learn that Senator John Glenn ''couldn't electrify a fish tank if he threw a toaster in it,'' that Canada's motto is ''Technically a Nation'' and that the average big-league baseball team consists mostly of ''two dozen guys named Julio from friendly spider-infested nations to the south.'' Happily, some of Barry's sharpest thrusts are reserved for his own ethnicity: ''Wealthy WASP's have less fun in their entire lifetimes,'' he wrote a few months ago, ''than members of other ethnic groups have at a single wedding reception.
''If you're going to be really, truly funny, you have to use the language of sophomore year.'' Barry's former editor at The Herald, Gene Weingarten, says, ''He has total recall of the experience of being 12 - it's locked in his head.'' Weingarten's dog Clementine makes regular appearances in the column. Barry, was devoting his life to the poor, the civil-rights movement and the founding of alcohol-abuse progams in New York State prisons - all of which provide some insight into the genesis of Barry's semicomic take on the weighty issues.
''Clementine once ate aquarium gravel,'' Barry has written, ''without even heating it up.'' When Barry was enjoying his real adolescence, the nation was at the height of its revolutionary convulsions, and his father, the Rev. He was old enough to enjoy the delirium of the national upheaval, and too young to let the more serious dogma get in the way of the fun - hence his penchant for leading Dada-esque sit-down strikes at his suburban high school, protesting such injustices as the existence of fruit.
It is Barry's special talent now that he can take that back-of-the-classroom irreverence and layer it onto the mundane ingredients of his generation's everyday experience, which now encompasses everything from visits to the doctor (''Deep down, I have a large inflamed cyst of respect for the medical community'') to the men's movement: ''Today's man is making radical lifestyle changes such as sometimes remembering to remove the used tissue wads from his pockets before depositing his pants on the floor to be picked up by the Laundry Fairy.'' But if there are those among us who think we have found a spokesman, don't tell it to Barry. Despite the personal misfortunes of recent years, there are no edges to his face, which seems designed for nothing but to leap into smiles of all kinds.
There he met an editor named Beth Lenox, now his wife.
In 1988, Barry won the Pulitzer Prize for commentary.
In 1989, ''Dave Barry Slept Here,'' a lunatic-revisionist history of the United States (the Wright brothers first flight was canceled because of equipment problems at O'Hare) achieved legitimacy with 11 weeks on the Times best-seller list.
He has never used cocaine - an aversion, he says, to putting things up his nose.
This is not surprising; nasal passages have been good to him. His father and brother were both alcoholics, though, and Barry will admit to concern over his excess consumption of beer, a theme that runs faithfully through many of his columns.
At the Miami Book Fair International last fall, the auditorium was too small to hold the crowd for a Barry reading - a room that had been plenty big enough for readings by such literary stars as Russell Banks and Tracy Kidder.