Dave Barry on Writing Humor During the Pandemic

From a post on poynter.org by Roy Peter Clark headlined “Columnist Dave Barry on writing humor during the pandemic”:

If I drew up a list of the most popular and productive newspaper writers of the last four decades, high on that list would be Dave Barry.

He built an international reputation as a humorist, writing for the Miami Herald. His syndicated columns, collected in many popular books, spread his name and reputation for cheerful irreverence. . . .

One of Dave’s virtues — more important than ever in the digital age — is his versatility. He writes short and long. He has written nonfiction and fiction; he has written for films, television, and audio recordings. Though known for his wit, he often directs it to issues that are deadly serious. His work has earned him many accolades including a Pulitzer Prize. . . .

Roy Peter Clark: How has the pandemic and house arrest influenced your own writing? And what have you been working on?

Dave Barry: My son and his family came down from New York and moved in with us, which meant that for four months we had a very full household, including two boys, ages 6 and 1. This had a major influence on my writing in the sense that I was doing a LOT less of it, because I was busy with important grandparent duties such as watching “Moana” 2,317 times.

The kids have gone back to New York, but I’m still having trouble focusing on writing. You’d think it would be easier to focus during the quarantine, since there are so few other things to do, but I’ve become very skilled at finding distractions. . . .

I’ve been trying to get started on a novel. I have sort of a half-assed idea for one. All it needs now is a plot. And maybe characters. Also I wrote a few pandemic-related columns, and have started the Year in Review I do every year. It’s always a chore to write, but this year it’s going to be a monster. I have already started drinking.

Clark: I remember conversations after 9/11 about whether irony and cynicism were dead, at least for a while. It appears that the culture will allow you to be funny about anything given the passage of time. . . .After a horrible event, how long should a moratorium on humor last?

Barry: I don’t really think there has been a humor moratorium with the pandemic. People have been making jokes about it from the start, because there have been so many surreal elements — the toilet paper shortage, for example — and because we’re all affected by it. I think humor has been keeping us sane. . . .

At the heart of almost all humor there is some serious truth. The reason we have a sense of humor is that life is scary, and we need some way to deal with our fears, so we turn them into jokes. . . .

Clark: I am trying to understand what readers get out of humor and satire, especially in a news context. I find that I can’t end my day with a news report. I need a rerun of “Seinfeld” or “Married with Children.” Something to sweep away the radioactive waste of bad news. When readers reach out to you, what need do they say you fulfill for them?

Barry: I think readers reach out to me because they know that, when they are finished reading something I wrote, they can be absolutely certain that they will have learned nothing remotely useful. This is reassuring. . . .

Roy Peter Clark teaches writing at Poynter. He can be reached via email at [email protected] or on Twitter at @RoyPeterClark.

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