3 Questions for Dave Barry

The Pulitzer Prize-winning humorist talks about his new novel, Swamp Story, and the thrill and challenge of writing funny.


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Dave Barry’s millions of fans miss the laughs they got from the wild and wacky syndicated Miami Herald column he wrote for more than 20 years. Now he’s unleashing a new novel that’s as smart and nutty as you’d hope. Swamp Story is a Florida caper full of weirdos and bizarre surprises, alligator attacks and buried treasure, and some incredibly inept and hilarious bad guys.

Barry’s talent to tickle our funny bones prompted The New York Times to call him “the funniest man in America.” His response: “I guess they were having a slow news day.”

Jeanne Wolf: When you write a wild tale like Swamp Story, how does it come together?

Dave Barry: My Florida books start with a series of things that are real. In Swamp Story, there’s “The Python Challenge,” where the state invites anyone to kill these gigantic snakes that are overrunning the Everglades. Of course, the nasty snakes are winning because every year they kill a couple hundred and every year there’s a couple thousand more. And there’s the Skunk Ape, Florida’s version of the Abominable Snowman, who I guess goes south for the winter. There’s a “headquarters” in the swamp where they sell Skunk Ape T-shirts and beer. Is the creature real? I can tell you there’s a lot of people still looking for it. So, I start stringing these things together.

JW: Are you at all like stand-up comedians, wanting to hear the laughs that mean people find it funny?

DB: I love getting laughs, but I’ve never been as desperate as a stand-up comedian. They need that approval, and they’re willing to get up in front of complete strangers, which is something I don’t do. I can do my comedy without taking that risk.

More than ever, people want to laugh, and it’s become harder and harder because everything about our culture has become so politicized. You’re afraid to laugh at the wrong thing. You’re not supposed to make jokes about the wrong thing. People are nervous. But when they are allowed to laugh, that’s a relief that people just love.

JW: Is writing funny hard work for you?

DB: For me, writing humor is the process of rewriting. I have a very vague idea of what’s funny, but it almost never just comes out of my brain in the form of a complete joke. So, I’ll write it again, always again, until finally it comes out the right way. I’m a very, very slow writer. Someone said, “He types like a chicken on Vicodin.”

The big, scary part about writing goofy stuff is that you’re waiting to find out, “Does anybody think this is funny besides me?” I don’t test stuff. I never have. I just go for yuks, what I think are funny situations.

I learned early, whenever I wrote a column, that it didn’t matter what the article was about, somebody was going to be mad at me. I saved a lot of letters, and sometimes I would use them as the basis of a new column. I enjoyed a lot of my hate mail, and I’d end up making a joke out of it.

—Jeanne Wolf is the Post’s West Coast editor

This article is featured in the May/June 2023 issue of The Saturday Evening Post. Subscribe to the magazine for more art, inspiring stories, fiction, humor, and features from our archives.

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  1. Loved the three questions article with Dave Barry in this issue. Found it interesting that Barry does several rewrites of his written humor material for his books. I was thinking an editor more or less took on this task before publication.


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