Interview with Dave Barry & Alan Zweibel

Posted by Goodreads on January 2, 2012
Only two artists have earned a PEGOT—by winning a Pulitzer, Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony. Comedy writers Dave Barry and Alan Zweibel are not those men (it was Richard Rodgers and Marvin Hamlisch). But Barry and Zweibel think they can fool the PEGOT gods by joining forces. Barry received the 1988 Pulitzer Prize for Commentary for his Miami Herald humor column, which was syndicated in more than 500 newspapers worldwide. Zweibel, one of the original Saturday Night Live writers, has several Emmy Awards for his television work and collaborated with Billy Crystal on the Tony Award-winning play 700 Sundays. Together Barry and Zweibel are still a G and an O short of a PEGOT. Keep trying, guys. In the meantime, they've cowritten a comic novel starring two ordinary New Jersey dads who hate each other with a boiling rage. In Lunatics, when mild-mannered Philip Horkman calls offside on acerbic Jeffrey Peckerman's daughter in the local kids' soccer league championships, their personal feud escalates into an international news story involving a kidnapped lemur, a secret terrorist cell, Cuban revolutionaries, and vacationers on a clothing-optional cruise. Barry and Zweibel took time off from polishing their awards to chat with Goodreads about pushing the limits of comedy.

Goodreads: Lunatics is told from both Philip's and Jeffrey's points of view in alternating chapters. Did one of you write Philip and the other Jeffrey, or did you both work on both characters?

Dave Barry: Alan wrote Philip, and I wrote Jeffrey. Also large sections of the book were written by J.K. Rowling, Stephen King, and the Twilight woman. But that part is confidential, so please don't print it.

Alan Zweibel: It was like corresponding with a deranged pen pal. I'd write a chapter as Philip and then e-mail it to Dave, who would then send me an outrageous Jeffrey chapter a few days later that always surprised me he was allowed to vote.

GR: How did you two meet and what prompted this collaboration?

DB: In 2005, Steve Martin won the Mark Twain Prize, and he asked me to be one of the presenters. There were a bunch of people there, including Alan, whom I think was there mainly for the free drinks. We got to talking, and we started seeing each other at book events, and at some point Alan suggested that we should collaborate on something. I was flattered, although I later learned that he tries to collaborate with pretty much everybody he meets, including postal clerks.

GR: Philip Horkman and Jeffrey Peckerman get in some epic fights during the course of Lunatics. What was the worst disagreement you had while writing the book? Or was it all sunshine and roses?

DB: It was basically a conflict-free process. I think our biggest fight was over who would be standing in front when we posed for the jacket photograph. I won that battle, because Alan is a large, hulking individual, and if he stood in front he would obliterate me. Or, for that matter, the Lincoln Memorial.

AZ: I had to stand downwind from Dave, who was emitting fumes that made Chernobyl seem like a rose garden.

GR: Philip and Jeffrey's madcap adventures become increasingly far-fetched with each chapter. When writing comedy, how do you know if you've pushed something too far? Is there such a thing?

DB: I'm sure there is. And I'm sure we achieved it in Lunatics. But at some point we decided, "The hell with realism; let's just go for it." I think that point was when we created an undercover terrorist disguised as Chuck E. Cheese.

AZ: In comedy anything is plausible if you stay within the parameters of a world you've created. In Lunatics, once Dave and I made the decision that our characters were going to be victims of inexplicable circumstances (i.e., the Central Park bears saving them from muggers, etc.) it set a tone that allowed us to escalate to greater far-fetched possibilities.

GR: While writing Lunatics, what's something surprising you learned about each other that the world does not yet know?

AZ: I was surprised when I discovered that he can't speak. Yeah, yeah, his writing is semi-coherent, but to sit across a table from this man and try to carry on anything that even resembles a dialogue is totally futile—unless, of course, you consider watching a grown man staring at his distorted reflection in a tablespoon and giggling like an imbecile lively conversation.

DB: I guess the biggest surprise for me was when he revealed that he is, biologically, a woman. I was also unaware that he is fourth in line for the British throne.

GR: Goodreads member Margo asks, "Alan, you've worked with and written for so many Hollywood legends—Billy Crystal, Gilda Radner, John Belushi, Garry Shandling, Rodney Dangerfield. What's the trick to writing good material for certain performers? Do you have to know them well, or do you always begin with the joke, not the comedian who will tell the joke?

AZ: The important thing, Margo, is to capture the voice of the person you're writing for. Dialogue, in and of itself, is not necessarily going to be funny when delivered by everyone. For example, material written for Rodney Dangerfield, with his onstage persona and speech patterns in mind, would most likely fall flat if delivered by Billy Crystal, who is a totally different type. So while it's not essential to personally know the comedian, it is vital that you have his voice in your head so you can write what would sound funny and in character specifically for him.

GR: Goodreads member Bmj2k writes, "Dave Barry's had a great platform to see the rise of the Internet and the effect it has had on print journalism. I would like to ask him if he were to be starting his career now, does he think he would be lost in a sea of bloggers? What would make him (and by extension someone breaking in to his line of work) stand out?"

DB: That's a good question, and I don't have a good answer. I think it'd be almost impossible for me to get started as a newspaper columnist today—there are fewer and fewer newspapers, with less and less space, and their penetration into the culture is declining. The Internet offers infinite opportunities, but as you note it's fragmented and easy to get lost in. There are people who've managed to break through—Andy Borowitz is a great example—but it's tough.

GR: Goodreads member Andalyn asks, "When was the moment when you realized you wanted to be a writer?"

AZ: I think I was about 12 years old when I found myself watching TV shows and reading MAD Magazine and saying to myself that I wanted to write things like that. It was then that I started writing jokes and funny compositions for school, and it just naturally escalated from there. I'm one of those people who believes that writers are born, not made. We are wired this way. We simply have to write. It's in our DNA.

GR: Goodreads member Rowan asks, "I would like to ask Dave Barry if he is going to write another Peter and the Starcatchers. I really enjoyed those books, and after reading the last, it felt like there should be another book in the series."

DB: I don't know if there'll be another Starcatchers book, though Ridley Pearson and I really liked the series and were very happy with the last one, The Bridge to Never Land. He and I are planning to start a new series for Disney, though; we think we have a pretty interesting idea. Hope you'll like it, too.

GR: Describe a typical day spent writing. Do you have any unusual writing habits?

AZ: I wake up at five every morning (including weekends) to start my writing day. It's a quiet time of day with almost no distractions, and I find my mind is most fertile in those morning hours. I write until I am burned out—which could be anywhere from 30 minutes to ten hours, depending on how the Muses are feeling that day. Unusual habits? Other than dressing like a Hasidic rabbi and dancing with my arms aloft after I write a great joke, I have none.

DB: After I take my daughter to school and walk the dog, I make coffee, then sit and stare at the computer screen for hours. But I don't get much writing done, because I have no keyboard, just the screen.

No, seriously, I tap words out slowly, but there's a lot of staring. It would be hideously boring to watch me write. Probably my most unusual writing habit is that, after every completed paragraph, I sacrifice a live raccoon.

No, seriously, the raccoon is already dead.

GR: What authors, books, or ideas have influenced you?

DB: Growing up I read everything I could find by the great humorist Robert Benchley. I also was a big fan of National Lampoon and the early Saturday Night Live. And of course I devoured the works of Marcel Proust.

AZ: Robert Benchley, James Thurber, and Woody Allen were my greatest influences when it came to written comedy. Their sensibilities appealed to me, as they provided wonderful glimpses into the world of satire. Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks's album The 2000 Year Old Man was huge for me. So was Woody Allen, Nichols and May [comedy duo Mike Nichols and Elaine May], David Steinberg, and Bill Cosby's stand-up comedy routines and Monty Python.

GR: What are you reading now?

DB: I'm reading Stephen King's time-travel novel, 11/22/63, and enjoying it, and hating Stephen because he sells so many freaking books. But at the same time loving him, because he is my friend and bandmate in the very bad all-author rock band, The Rock Bottom Remainders. Also I am reading The Brothers Karamazov, which was written by Fyodor Dostoyevsky in collaboration with Alan Zweibel. Or so Alan claims.

AZ: At the moment I am reading The Art of Fielding, and I'm enjoying it a lot. On the other hand, I am also reading some of Dave Barry's books and couldn't possibly be more disappointed.

Comments Showing 1-13 of 13 (13 new)

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message 1: by Ruth (new)

Ruth If the book is half as funny a the interview it will be fun to read.

message 2: by Matt Kent (new)

Matt Kent Ugh. I'm gonna read this. I'm gonna read this hard.

message 3: by onarock (new)

onarock i too will be getting this book and will send this link to my mom..........


message 4: by Mary (new)

Mary I love Dave Barry's books!

message 5: by onarock (new)

onarock Mary wrote: "I love Dave Barry's books!"

which one would b a good one to start out with......or is it too hard to decide....


message 6: by Jacqui (new)

Jacqui onarock wrote: "Mary wrote: "I love Dave Barry's books!"

which one would b a good one to start out with......or is it too hard to decide....


I really like Dave Barry Does Japan, personally. I have no idea if it's the best one to start out with though-it's not a novel like Big Trouble

message 7: by Harriet (new)

Harriet Schultz Dave Barry has to be one of the funniest men on the planet and it seems like he's found an equally talented collaborator in Alan Z.
Barry's column (or essay) on colonoscopies should be required reading for anyone about to undergo one.

message 8: by onarock (new)

onarock Harriet wrote: "Dave Barry has to be one of the funniest men on the planet and it seems like he's found an equally talented collaborator in Alan Z.
Barry's column (or essay) on colonoscopies should be required re..."

ha ha

message 9: by Denise (new)

Denise Harriet wrote: "Dave Barry has to be one of the funniest men on the planet and it seems like he's found an equally talented collaborator in Alan Z.
Barry's column (or essay) on colonoscopies should be required re..."

Oh, I absolutely agree! I'm sure I've read that at least 10 times and I laugh harder with each reading!

message 10: by Heidi (new)

Heidi onarock wrote: "Mary wrote: "I love Dave Barry's books!"

which one would b a good one to start out with......or is it too hard to decide....


I <3 Dave Barry! All of his humor books are fantastic. If you're new to DB, don't start with his novels, start with his humor compilation books. They can be read over and over again, they truly never get old! I've never laughed so loud as I have when reading his books!

message 11: by Seachange (new)

Seachange Well, this will be put to the top of my list. My only grumble with Dave's books is that there is never a warning on the jacket that they do not make good airplane reading unless you are comfortable making an idiot of yourself amongst strangers. It's okay to laugh out loud on a plane, but when one is reduced to the gasping, weeping soundless sort of laughter that has fellow passengers calling for a doctor, then it can be a little embarrassing.

message 12: by onarock (new)

onarock u guys make it sound like so much fun........thanx everyone........i am smiling just picturing me reading his books in a quiet


message 13: by Ebook Reader (new)

Ebook Reader  Buzz Great interview. Looking forward to reading the novel.

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