Unless you were wise beyond your years as a kid, you probably didn’t watch Barney & Friends and think, Gee, I wonder who they’re paying to dance around in that big purple suit. But revisit Barney as a grown-up, and it becomes a plaguing question. Who was behind the dinosaur that loved you and me? How did he or she end up in the suit? Was that really someone’s job?!
For a long time, the job belonged to David Joyner — the man who operated the Barney suit and embodied the purple dinosaur from 1992-2000. (Barney’s voice was performed by another actor.) And as David will tell you, being Barney is kind of a big deal. Not everyone can handle it (it’s actually really intense), and being a cultural icon (one who’s both hated and loved) for kids around the world is a crazy thing to experience.
David spoke with BuzzFeed, and here’s what we learned about the man who was integral to so many of our childhoods…
1. David was basically perfect for the role because from a young age, he had an obsession with miming and mimicking people.
“Even when I was a kid I always knew I was going to get into entertainment. As a matter of fact, I used to stand in front of the television and lip sync the things that were on television…If there was a news reel or television show going on, I would literally stand there in front of the TV and I’d actually become that person. I know it sounds bizarre.”
2. Before becoming Barney, David’s career was totally different.
“I was working at Texas Instruments in Dallas, and this was in 1990 when I was deciding to give that up to pursue entertainment full-time…I was working as a software analyst.”
3. In trying to break into the entertainment industry, however, one of David’s odder jobs was as a department store mannequin.
“Years ago, I used to be a mannequin. I would stand in store windows and I would stand there as a mannequin, just frozen. And I would go out and study different mannequins, different poses, so I wanted to look as real as possible…That started at like five, six bucks an hour and after about a year, I was able to charge 100 bucks an hour. What I’d do is I’d stand there for four hours and each hour I would change clothes. So it was a little fashion show also.”
4. David had a metaphysical connection to Barney prior to his audition for the role.
“I kept watching these [early Barney videos] and I would fall asleep. I couldn’t understand why. I have these very clairvoyant dreams at times when I’m really trying to figure something out or solve a problem…So I have this dream. And in the dream that night, Barney passes out. And I run over to Barney and give him mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. Of course, I wake up the next morning, realizing the dream, going, What was that all about? So as I’m driving to the audition, I stop and see this billboard…Southwest Airlines. Breathe life into your vacation. Not really thinking about anything. Drive on, get to the audition. I park my car in the parking lot, I look up, same type of billboard…as I’m walking into the building it dawns on me—breathe life—I had to breathe life into Barney! That’s why I couldn’t finish watching the video, because to me, Barney was really boring and didn’t have a lot of life.”
5. Being Barney is intense. The role of Barney at first went to another actor — a young woman — who just couldn’t handle it.
“The young lady didn’t work out. They did a live appearance and she needed to take a break or something — I’m not sure what the whole story was. But apparently, she was bombarded by kids, couldn’t take her break at the time, just really needed to get out of the costume, and couldn’t do it. So after that first event, they never heard from her again.”
6. So clearly, the Barney suit requires tons of physical stamina to operate.
“The costume is really heavy. It’s about 70 pounds. It can get over 120 degrees inside. You have to be very comfortable with yourself and your sweat because you’re going to be sweating profusely. You cannot be claustrophobic at all. The only [place] you can see is through the mouth, and when the mouth is closed, you see nothing. Your peripheral vision is basically where the mouth opens. So you’ve got this huge costume that’s 6’7”, you’re looking out of the mouth, you’ve only got these short arms to deal with, and you’ve got a long tail behind you and these big feet that you’re wearing.”
7. Women just looooove Barney. Here’s what it’s like to be a single, attractive man who plays Barney:
“Back then, when I was single and I was dating, yeah, I was pretty well known in the Dallas area…If I ever mentioned that I played Barney, [women would be] like, ‘Ooh wow! Ohhhh OK.”…You’d be surprised how well that works….not that I would use it as a pick up line. I don’t know. I think it’s something that has to do with women and that nurturing instinct that [they] have. That when you date a guy or you’re with a guy that has this love for children, and not only that but now you’re with a guy who has a love for millions of children, that is traveling around and that’s only expressing ‘I love you, you love me’…”
8. David has been partly responsible for a widespread cultural impact, and this is what it’s like:
“A lot of the fan base that grew up with Barney are in their twenties now. I still get compliments on Facebook and different places…They talk about how Barney was a huge influence in their life…and just the fact that ‘I love you, you love me’…I mean, that itself is a testimonial song when it comes to people just expressing themselves. So I’m very excited for the fact that it has had a huge impact on a lot of people, not just in America but all over the world.”
9. David can deal with Barney haters.
“When the kids got to that 6-, 7-year-old age range, and were all, ‘Oh, I hate Barney, I can’t stand Barney,’ it never really affected me. Because I knew what we were doing. And the message that we were spreading was just so powerful.”
10. More recently, David has played another kids’ costume character called Hip Hop Harry.
“He’s a hip-hop rapping, breakdancing teddy bear.”
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