How to Write Like Dave Barry

davebarryAdmit it: You think that Dave Barry‘s writing is funny, even when it’s silly. And you can’t help but be jealous of a guy who gets paid to write goofy stuff he just makes up every week (or which is prompted by something a reader sent him), and then gets paid again to compile this silliness into a book consisting of reworked columns on a common theme, such as boogers.

Well now you, too, can write just like Dave Barry and become rich and famous, thanks to How to Save the World‘s amazing Dave-O-Matic humour-writing program.

This works just like those old Chinese Food menus where you get to pick one item from each column to make your menu. Except that in this case, you choose one item from each menu to make your column.

Menu 1: Aw Shucks Jocular Introductory Set-Up Sentence
This sentence is to portray yourself as a regular guy/girl and put the reader off guard before you dazzle them with your brilliant witticisms. Of course, it also has to grab your attention, so you keep reading instead of turning to the comics page instead. Examples:

  • I swear I am not making this up.
  • So I got this letter from alert reader Barbara Zlobotnik with alarming news about imploding heads:
  • My policy with wine is the same as my policy with beer, which is pretty much drink it and then look around for more.
  • When someone looking at your house describes it as “interesting” they mean “Who installed this paneling, vandals?”
  • Today’s question comes from 12-year-old Bobby Smith, an imaginary child from Iowa who asks…
  • The problem with history is that everyone who knows anything about it first hand is dead.
  • Lately I have been thinking a lot about [enter any serious but obscure subject here, e.g. the Gross National Product of Japan], because it keeps my mind off [enter anything silly and personally embarrassing here, e.g. the sudden proliferation of hairs in strange places on my body since I turned 50].
  • I would have to say that the greatest single achievement in [enter country and discipline here, e.g. American medical] history is [enter something ludicrous but on-topic here e.g. Dr. Scholl’s Odor Eaters].
  • Every now and then I like to suggest sure-fire concepts by which you readers can make millions of dollars without doing any honest work.

Get the idea? With a little practice you can make up your own.

Menu 2: Easy-Target-Group Subject
The subject of your column should be some individual or group, real or imagined (imagined is better, since you cannot be sued for libel or accused of political incorrectness) who are dead-easy targets for scorn, ridicule or even, if you’re hard up, contempt. Ideally the subject should be so funny that simply thinking about this individual or group gets you snickering. If that isn’t possible, you need to add a hyperbolic adjective or two to make them appear more laughable. Examples:

  • Pretentious French wine snobs with large pointy noses
  • Camel-oriented nations
  • Mummified sales representatives
  • A guy in Idaho with the IQ of Cheez Whiz
  • The Ty-D-Bol man
  • Bill Gates
  • Dyslexic telemarketers
  • Previous American Presidents and Vice-Presidents (the current ones are not funny)
  • Tupperware and other home-sold product salespeople
  • Bratty children of politicians or royalty
  • Civil servants, especially the DMV
  • Foreign despots, especially funny-looking ones or those with bizarre names like Muammar Ghaddafi
  • Anyone who works in the airline or fast-food industry
  • Hundred-year-old rock stars
  • Real estate agents
  • Trout
  • Surly men with low centres of gravity
  • Call center staff of large corporations
  • Any group known for exposing their butt crack while working
  • Lyndon LaRouche
  • Bosses from Hell
  • The IRS
  • Proctologists

Menu 3: Funny Dialogue or other Italicized Text or Capitalized Term
This is to get you conditioned to laugh at anything that appears in italics or Capitalized Words in the rest of the article or column. This is the written humourist’s equivalent to the television laugh track. If you fail to laugh in the designated spot, this suggests you might be too stupid to ‘get’ the humour. This ‘aside’ also builds suspense for the subsequent action that is going to occur to the Easy-Target-Group Subject. Examples:

  • “$89,500 may seem steep for a refrigerator carton, but it is located near a good school.”
  • “The Coca-Cola Company is changing the name of its soft drink in China after discovering that the name in Chinese translates as ‘bite the wax tadpole’.”
  • (The Mexicans aren’t going to attack us, seeing as most of them already work here, and although I suppose Canadians could attack us, their population is only about the same as that of the audience on Oprah, only quieter, so even if they did attack, no one would know, especially if it was rush hour.)
  • If we sent the State Highway Department instead of the Army to defend our allies from foreign invaders, first they’d have their Cone Placement Division strew millions of plastic traffic cones randomly all over the roads, then they’d have the Sign Erection Department put up signs explaining that all the lanes would be really messed up for the next 17 years to Help Serve You Better, and then the Traffic Direction Division would get all kinds of low-life derelicts out there waving flags and directing motorists right into oncoming trucks, and before you know it it would be impossible for any vehicle from the invading country to get anywhere near the border.
  • At some point a hormonal secretion takes place in women that enables them to see dirt men cannot see, dirt at the level of molecules, whereas men don’t usually notice it until it forms clumps large enough to support agriculture.

Menu 4: Violent Action Verbs
Eventually even a writer as skilled and creative as Dave Barry needs to include some verbs in his column. The important thing in humour is that these verbs must convey the same imagery as the special effects in Road Runner cartoons or reruns of Three’s Company. Every action must be extreme, violent, absurd and visual (though actions that conjure up your other senses can also work, especially smell). Examples:

  • Exploded in a giant fireball that could be seen in Nepal
  • Crash into a remote mountaintop and be eaten by wolves
  • Catapulted the pate with such force that it took out a picture window
  • Dropped a mobile home onto Long Island from a height of 60,000 feet
  • Vaporized a small Siberian city
  • Pumping out enough sweat to make your clothing smell like a dead rodent
  • Suck your brains out through your eye sockets

Menu 5: Absurdly-Described Objects
Just for balance, the column also needs some inanimate objects. Such objects can stand on their own if they’re comical or vulgar in their own right (like spittoons, or Mel Gibson films), but otherwise usually need improbable adjectives for elaboration. Examples:

  • exploding toilets
  • boogers
  • Tang
  • blobs of earwax
  • bat urine
  • rap music videos
  • Ding-Dongs
  • hummers
  • instruction manuals translated from Chinese
  • Toys-Backward-R-Us stores
  • rusty potato-peelers
  • beer commercials
  • the University of Texas
  • testicles
  • nuclear-powered barbecues
  • infomercials featuring self-made guys on yachts surrounded by women in bikinis
  • mandatory school prayer
  • essential internal organs
  • fast food “nuggets”

I think that’s enough for now. We don’t want you to become too funny, or you’ll put late night talk show hosts and presidential speechwriters out of business.

And, of course, I’m not making any of this up. All the examples above come directly from columns and books of the inestimable Mr. Barry.

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4 Responses to How to Write Like Dave Barry

  1. Steve says:

    Now…THAT”S Funny!Keep that stuff up!Peace!

  2. Mike says:

    I’ve definitely learned a few things from this post! Insightful as always, Dave!

  3. Indigo says:

    Fun post Dave.

Comments are closed.