• Entrepreneur of the Month

Sam + Dave Barry Teach Us: Why It's Important to Be Funny


We’ve heard it before: Laughter is the best medicine. Funny brothers Dave and Sam Barry share some thoughts on why humor is mission-critical in their lives.

By Hope Katz Gibbs
Be Inkandescent Magazine

Odds are good that if you have been awake for some of the past 20 years, you know Dave Barry. The humor columnist (pictured right) has been syndicated in more than 500 newspapers in the United States and abroad. In 1988, he won the Pulitzer Prize for Commentary, and his book, “Dave Barry Turns 40,” became the basis for a TV show that ran for four seasons on CBS.

Dave has also written dozens of fiction and nonfiction books, two of which were used as the basis for the CBS TV sitcom “Dave’s World,” in which Harry Anderson played Dave. He also plays in a band with other famous authors — including Stephen King, Amy Tan, Ridley Pearson and Mitch Albom — called The Rock Bottom Remainders. For more information, visit Dave’s blog.

What you may not know is that Dave has a very funny brother named Sam. When he isn’t working as a marketing manager for HarperOne, a division of HarperCollins, Sam writes books — including “How to Play the Harmonica: and Other Life Lessons.” And, with his wife and literary provocateur Kathi Kamen Goldmark, he co-authored, Write That Book Already!

Like his brother, Sam is a musician. He plays in and around San Francisco in the band Los Train Wreck, and tours with the all-author rock band the Rock Bottom Remainders. For more, visit Sam at www.kathiandsam.net.

Be Inkandescent: Why is it important to be funny in the workplace?

Dave: Because if you can’t laugh in the workplace, you’ll eventually go insane. Also, if you’re funny, usually your co-workers will like you.

Sam: Most workplaces, even good ones, suffer from a lack of humor. There is a mistaken notion that work and laughter are antithetical, when in fact, humor loosens us up, relieving stress and encouraging creativity.

Be Inkandescent: What is the funniest thing that ever happened to you in the office?

Dave: This actually happened on the roof of my office, but: I once shot a Barbie doll out of a cannon. Everyone should do this at least once.

Sam: I was getting some painkiller from the medicine cabinet in the office kitchen when I dropped the little packet. I leaned over, picked it up, and when I stood I hit my head on the cabinet door. I was somewhat embarrassed and so hastily took my medicine and tried to return to my desk, but several people pointed out I really needed to get to the hospital. This was when I noticed that blood was pouring out of a gash on my head. I continued to insist that I was fine as I was taken to the hospital, where they administered stitches. I guess you had to be there.

Be Inkandescent: Even when things aren’t funny — do you try to find the humor? How do you manage it?

Dave: I was raised in a family where pretty much everything sooner or later became something we laughed about. Obviously if something really bad happens, it won’t seem funny at the time. But eventually you can find some humor in almost any situation.

Sam: I’m not sure I manage it. It’s more that when confronted with something difficult or absurd, a humorous perspective just emerges.

For example, last June some of the Rock Bottom Remainders (Dave, Ridley Pearson, Scott Turow, Amy Tan, Roy Blount, Jr., and my wife, Kathi Kamen Goldmark) were guests on National Public Radio’s “All Songs Considered.” Our ringer, rock star Roger McGuinn, was also there. There was a keyboard set up and I was asked to play “Wild Thing.”

Now, I am a good musician and I can play “Wild Thing” in my sleep, but for some reason my fingers just forgot what to do. For a moment I felt terrible, and then we all joked about what had just happened, which was a classic Remainders moment. We rallied and Scott belted out “Wild Thing” while everyone joined in. After that, Roger played “May the Road Rise to Meet You,” so there was some actual music played that day.

Be Inkandescent: You have both had illustrious careers. Do you attribute your success to the fact that you see the inane / lighter / brighter side of things?

Dave: I have built my entire career out of thinking up jokes. It has been decades since I did anything useful.

Sam: I have a career?

Be Inkandescent: Were you both funny people as children? What was it like at the dinner table?

Dave: Our parents were funny people, and humor was much valued in our family. We all tried to make each other laugh, and we were pretty good at it.

Sam: Our mom, in particular, had a wonderful, dark sense of humor. It was hard to go too far with jokes around her. Our dad was no slouch, either. All my siblings — Katy, Dave, and Phil — are funny people.

Walking back from our dad’s gravesite after the funeral, my mom stopped to read the name on a gravestone and then said, “That’s why I haven’t seen him around.” Our dad was a very kind man, but he didn’t suffer fools gladly; he really appreciated his wife’s sense of humor.

Be Inkandescent: It has been said that comedians are a little sad down deep. Do you agree?

Dave: Sort of. I think a lot of humor comes from feeling inadequate or unpopular; you want to make people laugh because you want their attention and approval.

I also think some comedians are pretty angry people, and their anger fuels their humor. I’ve definitely written some humor columns that began with my being upset about something.

But I also think there are plenty of funny people, including professionally funny people, who are reasonably happy. I’m pretty happy, most of the time.

Sam: I think all human beings are sad at some level. You’d have to be out of touch not to feel some sadness in life, and one of the primary ways we cope is to use humor. Comedians are simply striking examples of this universal trait.

Be Inkandescent: Of course, it has also been said that laughter is the best medicine? Do you think humor can keep you healthy?

Dave: It probably doesn’t hurt to laugh. Whereas it probably does take a physical toll to go around being pissed off all the time.

Sam: I agree with that, though it conjures an image of a doctor with a German accent saying, “You must laugh three times a day, preferably with a meal.”

Be Inkandescent: Have there been any real bummers in your careers? If so, did humor help you?

Dave: Professionally I’ve had some bad experiences, and a few utter failures. I can’t say I always saw the humor in those situations right away, but usually I could in a day or so. I’ve learned over the years not to waste a lot of time dwelling on stuff I can’t go back and change.

Sam: When faced with failure and disappointment, humor plays a crucial role in keeping despair at bay.

Be Inkandescent: Dave — Did any of the columns that you thought were a riot fall flat on your readers? How about your long-running TV show? Did that turn out to be as cool an experience as it seemed to viewers?

Dave: I’ve had a few columns that didn’t resonate with readers the way I thought they would. But it balances out — sometimes a column I really didn’t think much about would get a great response. As for the TV show: It was more of a strange experience, really, since I wasn’t writing it. It was nice to get money in exchange for not doing anything, but it was weird to have a character with my name doing wacky things on TV.

Be Inkandescent: Music is a also a big part of both of your lives. Do you find that music has similar positive effects to laughter?

Dave: Music definitely makes me feel better. Unfortunately I am not anywhere near as good at it as Sam is, so I don’t think my music makes anybody else feel better.

Sam: Yes, yes, absolutely yes. Music is so powerful. I also want to say that Dave is a way better musician than he lets on.

For more, click here to learn why Dave Barry says, I’ll Mature When I’m Dead.

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