I was not looking forward to the Barney interview. As a matter of fact, I tried to get out of it, but my editor insisted. "It'll be funny," she promised. "Everybody loves Barney."
Not everybody. I've never liked the purple dinosaur. Frankly, I've never even met a kid who likes him. "Do you like Barney?" I asked my 12-year-old son.
"No," he said without hesitation.
"But you wore a Barney costume on Halloween when you were two," I reminded him.
"You're not going to say that in your story," he said, the fear showing on his face. Nothing could ruin his reputation faster than if word got out that he likes Barney.
This all became an issue because Barney, or at least his costume, was in town over the weekend for Winterfest, so I begrudgingly set up a phone interview with the voice of Barney.
"The character voice is always the same," says Barney's publicist, explaining why interviews are done over the phone. "It's just the man in the costume who keeps changing."
Barney's people provide journalists with sample questions to ask during the telephone conversation: "What is your favourite colour?" "What kind of dino are you, Barney?" A paragraph in the instructions states: "Barney will not discuss current affairs such as politics or social issues." Like I wanted Barney's views about a possible war with Iraq. Gimme a break.
When I'm making arrangements with the publicist, I tell him, "Actually, I heard that somewhere in the States a Barney was caught looking up some little girls' dresses -- just hearsay, a rumour the kids heard."
"What kind of stories do you write anyway?" he asks me, understandably appalled.
But despite my best effort to frighten him off, the interview goes ahead as planned.
At the appointed time, the phone rings and the voice of that sickeningly friendly purple dinosaur is on the line.
"How are you?" he says in his singsong manner.
"I'm reasonable," I reply, dripping sarcasm.
"Well, I'm going to make you great," he says. I tell him that's the best offer I've had all year. And how will he accomplish this, I ask.
"We can sing and dance," he says.
"What about the Thinking Bench?" he says (an apparent reference to some prop on Barney & Friends). "We'll spin you around until you come up with a good idea."
Then he adds: "Or I could just come up and we could hang out."
Now he's starting to scare me.
I tell him I've done my research and know he's not the most popular guy on the block. When he responds with shock and dismay, I remind him of Nine Months, in which Tom Arnold and Hugh Grant beat up an annoying purple dinosaur named Arnie.
"Why would they do that?" he says, miffed. "I'm just here to love everyone. Isn't that what the world needs now more than ever?"
Since Barney seems to be getting a little political, I break the rule. "So what do you think about a possible war with Iraq?"
"I don't know much about that," Barney tells me, unfazed, "but I do know a lot about brushing your teeth."
God, this guy is smooth.
"Do you brush your teeth after every meal," he asks.
"Actually, no," I admit. He's right, this is more interesting than talking about the war.
"Well, you must," he advises. "And make sure you floss and drink lots of milk."
"Milk gives me gas," I tell him.
"I'll make a note of that," says Barney, a bit of sarcasm slipping into his voice.
About his popularity, Barney says, "I think everyone likes me, they just don't want to admit it."
I confess I've heard about "closet Barneys," people who can't own up to liking this guy. Then I admit I didn't want to do the interview.
"Do I scare you?" he asks.
"Yes, you do," I tell him.
"Why is that? I'm lovable and huggable. Maybe I should just come over there," he says again.
"Now you're really scaring me."
"Maybe you're afraid of love."
Barney gives me advice on overcoming my "fear or love" for a few minutes and I realize I'm enjoying our conversation.
"What you need to do every day when you wake up," he tells me, "is, first of all, you need to know that you're loved by me. And the first person you see you need to give them a hug."
"The first person I see would be myself in the mirror."
"Than you have to hug yourself," he says. "Call me back and tell me how it works."
I hang up laughing, amused that now I actually like Barney.
My phone rings again. It's Barney's PR guy. "Barney wants to meet you," he tells me.
"You're kidding," I say.
"No, really, he wants to meet you. Can you come to the show?" he asks. Then he confers with Barney in the background. "He just wants to meet you. He says he wants to give you a hug."
I pass on the invite, but can you believe it? Of all the famous guys I've interviewed, the only one to call back to make a date is Barney. I have to say I'm getting to like this guy. But that's the only time I'll admit it.