For my TAG! You’re It piece, I asked to interview Josh Bard, because he and I share a love of sports and discussing frivolous things in a very serious manner. Unlike most of my Prompt friends, Josh and I have actually spent time together in person when I also lived in Washington, D.C. I saw this interview prompt as a way to rope him into a long conversation from our respective coasts. And because he’s funny and smart, which would make me look better by association.
Josh: Yeah, thank you for not making me say I know that I’m good at it, because—
Dennis: It always feels relative.
Josh: Yeah. Like, am I good at this? I don’t know. It’s something I spend time doing. I am better at it than when I started, which is good. Good to progress. But I wouldn’t go around being like [haughty chuckle] I’m a good writer.
I don’t know when I started writing for fun. I feel like in college, and maybe late high school, I realized I was creative. And maybe that creativity was also, you could say, I was funny. Or at least I thought I was funny at that point. And I think working in sports and TV, or at least working in TV I get to flex my writing muscles a little bit sometimes, even if they’re way shorter form. So I feel like I get to work on skills here and there.
Maybe the first time I realized I was really enjoying it, I got asked to be a Best Man at my friend Dave’s wedding, and I really really enjoyed writing the Best Man speech. I wrote it two months ahead of time. Super nerdy, but I just wrote it early, and then I edited it, and I kept editing it and doing drafts and refining it. Maybe that was the first time I really realized I was enjoying writing.
Dennis: So, it sounds like you started writing as a non-fiction writer. Well, you started as a speech writer.
Josh: Yes. A very officious speech writer.
Dennis: That’s interesting. I took a high school creative writing class and realized, “Oh, you can bang out a poem in an afternoon? This is great.”
Josh: For me, I agree. I took a high school creative writing class thinking, “I’ll be good at this and it’ll be fun.” I will say, I had an awesome teacher, and for whatever reason it just didn’t click. We did a lot of poetry, which for me, I’m always impressed by good poems, but I can’t seem to figure out how to do that. Or what a good poem even means. It’s like pornography; you know it when you see it. But I don’t know how to tell you what a good poem is. Whatever, I didn’t enjoy creative writing, so I guess it just came later.
Dennis: You didn’t write for your high school newspaper or anything like that?
Josh: No. And I feel like what a wasted opportunity not to have been, but I never did it.
Dennis: What was your major in college? Communications?
Josh: I was something called Electronic Media. Which was so impressive that, by the time I graduated, they had changed the name of it to something less ambiguous. They call it, now, Broadcast Journalism. Which makes way more sense.
Dennis: Even though I’m surprised by your answers and how you came to writing, it still makes sense with what I assumed. I know you’re a good talker and enjoy delving deep into weird topics or scenarios.
Josh: The way you said it sounds way better than the way I said it, but it is both of those things. I like having silly conversations and funny conversations. I like when people challenge me to think, whether that’s an important thing, or, even better, an unimportant thing. This is what you and I do very well together, is come up with a dumb scenario, but actually have it be interesting.
Dennis: Treat it with the gravity it does not deserve.
Josh: Yeah. And I’m sure that’s a way that not just this friendship, but many of my friendships thrive, or is the constant to those things. And like you said, that probably lends to someone who would write.
I remember—this is probably not important—but [Kelaine and I] signed up for an improv class, and I remember on the first day one of the things you had to do was tell everyone why you signed up for it. One of the things is I like making people laugh. And that is definitely the wrong answer, for many reasons, but that would probably be my same answer for wanting to write. I like making people laugh and think.
Josh: I would say that my favorite pieces to write are based on sports, because that comes naturally. Or a spoofy satire piece. I don’t know when I came across Simon Rich, but he’s my favorite writer. He is hilarious. Anyone who knows me has heard me talk about him or recommend him.
Dennis (who has not heard Josh talk about Simon Rich, and now realizes that he does not know Josh): I’m not familiar with him.
Josh: He wrote for Saturday Night Live, he wrote for The Simpsons. He’s the exact mold of a humor writer guy. He was on Harvard’s Hasty Pudding or whatever, all those things that Conan [O’Brien] came out of, and all the other shit. He writes short stories. He’s written longer form ones. He has like six books. I became familiar with him because a friend told me to watch, oh, this show with Jay Baruchel. Um.
Josh: No. It’s, uh, Man Seeking Woman is the name of the show. And it’s based on a book of short stories [Rich] wrote. The show was amazing. The book was probably better, and I just got hooked on them. Then I realized I had read one of his things in the New Yorker before, and then it all came full circle. And now anytime he puts something out, I read it. I pass books on to friends who I know will like it. He does what I wish I could do. He does at an A+ level what I probably do at, like, a C level. And I would like to get closer and closer to that A level. So, that’s like spoofing a thing or writing short, comedic pieces. He’ll spoof a genre or a famous story or toxic masculinity, and find ways to write it into a pirate story. All these ridiculous things, like Paul Revere. So, he rules, and I am but a studier of his art.
Josh: I think there are times when I don’t want to have conversations about sports stuff, because we talk about it so much at work. Those are usually the heavier or more boring topics to me, because they’ve been talked out or they’re just not interesting or fun. And that can happen on a variety of levels. But I don’t think it affects me in terms of not wanting to write or wanting to write about sports. I like writing about sports topics where I wish we had done more on our show. Things that our show doesn’t cover, or other shows don’t cover, like, here’s a place where I haven’t really gotten to flex my voice on it, or share my voice on something. So that makes me want to write about sports more, sometimes.
Then the other thing, and this is aspirational, I guess. I think sometimes if I have a small cache of sports pieces that are pretty good or very good, if I ever want to become a sports writer, or have more of a writing job in sports, I could look back on those. Like, here are some examples of me knowing so much about sports. Or here’s a couple of times where I think I’ve gotten it right, and they hold up over time. So, it’s also about maybe stockpiling a little bit of, you know, a—
Dennis: Building a portfolio.
Josh: Yeah, exactly. Building a portfolio to show off if I ever want to go more down a writing lane.
Dennis: So, when I type this up and you say “On our show,” can I say what the show is?
Josh: Yeah, yeah. You can say Around the Horn.
Josh: Good devious question. I’ll start with the process. I don’t have a set process. I can appreciate people like Sam [Hedenberg] who have a notebook and write everything down. Sam’s like a serious writer person, and I totally love that about him, but I am not that way. If I have a great idea I will put it in a draft of an email or something. If I go for a run, I have my phone with me and I’ll type myself a text or leave a note. But generally, no, I just try to think about it and try not to rush it. You know, we get a week or so, so I try to do a little thinking every now and then about it. Obviously, I feel like this is probably true for most people, the best pieces that I’ve written are based off the best ideas, because I care about them and I want to nurture them.
And then the times when my ideas are lacking, or whatever, definitely correlate to the pieces that I’m not as proud of.
Dennis: I don’t know if I’ve ever, especially for The Prompt, tortured out a good piece from an idea where I was like, “Eh.” I either have the idea and it comes out or it sucks.
Josh: I’m good at being patient. And I’m good at writing little bits here and there, and then putting it together. But no question, the ideas that I am really excited about are always the pieces that come out best.
Dennis: I was asked a very similar question, and I felt very Woo Woo Artist talking about the dumbest things I’ve written. Like my quarantine covers songs. I don’t feel like I wrote those, they were just there and I was the conduit for this idea that was in the ether, but I changed the words to a Cake song to be about the pandemic.
Josh: I think you and I have both done that where we’ve rewritten songs. I wrote “All the Small Things.” I was sitting on a plane and somehow laundry came into my mind. I was like “I’m on a plane, I’m just going to go with this.” And it worked. You know when it comes to you, right? It just is there.
Dennis: Okay, um…
Josh: Oh yeah. And then, the second question.
Dennis: Oh right. Go ahead.
Josh: It’s such a good question. And I hope you write that I said that it’s such a good question.
Dennis: I will.
Josh: Because, no one’s asked that, and sometimes I do get a random idea and I think “Oh, this would be a good piece, let’s see if we can get a prompt around it.” But I don’t think I ever do anything devious and try to sneak it through. I will try to come up with a—like I had an idea for a piece that was sort of allegorical about a battle, but it was a battle in the kitchen. And I was like how can I create a prompt that others will want to write to, but I won’t be screwing other people or getting no responses from the group. So I decided two of the three prompts that week would be, like, Battle Lines and one will be In the Kitchen and the third will be—
Dennis: Okay, so you’re like, “I got two of the three prompts—”
Josh: Yeah. I got two horses in the race here.
Dennis: And the third was Your Favorite Pet.
Josh: I won’t tank the third one. I’ll just try to think of a good one. And then I don’t think it got voted on, and I never wrote the piece anyway. But I do think about that. I do have a long list of prompt ideas. Some that have gotten votes, some that haven’t, and some that we haven’t trotted out. I do love when people suggest something, and that goes to the top of my list. Otherwise, it’s just a Google Doc.
Josh: Probably a little of both. I feel compelled to write, because when it’s good, it feels so good to write something awesome. I love—I assume we all do—I love getting feedback that’s like “Wow, this is really good.” And not getting it all the time is also good, because then when you get it, you know it means something.
I try to also do that for others. When someone writes a great piece I really try to reach out to them, but that’s a high bar. I don’t just reach out to people if it was pretty good. I try to instill that. But I also feel like it’s good to keep working on it. And, again, that’s sort of a professional thing and a hobbyist thing in this case for The Prompt.
So, I have a lot of time, clearly. I don’t know what that says about me. I have a lot of free time. If anyone wants to hang out, I could write less. I have a very easy work schedule hours-wise, so that opens me up to stuff. And I like being creative. This is a way to do that.
Josh: I’ve never gotten hate mail, and I feel like that is a big loss for me. Or I’m not doing a good enough job, because I know that you and other people have gotten hate mail. I would like to join that club, but I have not.
But also, I’m super stubborn and I would never let it go. Not that I can’t lose fights, I’ve lost fights before, I would never just let it go, which would not be great for anyone.
Josh: Off the top of my head, I don’t. I’m going to search right now through my stuff. If we can come back to this, I can give you an answer.
I have a cold, and my nose is absolutely being my enemy. It feels like my nostrils are on strike. One of them will stop, and then the other one will stop, and they just won’t work together ever. I think of that, and I’m like “Oooo, that would be a funny piece.” But is there anymore to that? Probably not.
Dennis: One side is stuffed. Then they’re both briefly clear, but then the other side stuffs up. But that’s it. There’s no more meat on the bone to write about.
Josh: It definitely sounds like a Sam question.
Dennis: Okay, to tweak it, maybe not something that compels you to keep going, just a really good piece of writing advice that sticks with you.
Josh: I don’t have a specific one that I would cite. I do think that people have said this forever, so I will just credit everyone forever and ever with this. When things are hard, I think the best thing to do is just keep writing. The worst thing to do with writer’s block is to accept writer’s block. I think you just have to say writer’s block is fake, even if writer’s block is real, you just have to tell yourself it’s fake. If you’re writing a piece or have an idea that’s not working, then write something tangential to it. Or write something completely different to it. Or make a list. Try to work a list and then go backwards. But I think that giving into writer’s block is the worst thing you can do if you want to write.
And it’s hard. That’s a hard thing to do, but you just have to. To me it’s psychological.
Dennis: I feel like any writer that you would respect has the same ideas. They treat writing as a job where they clock in and they do it whether they feel like it. The mail carrier doesn’t always feel like bringing your letters to your house, but they do it.
Josh: Baseball is dying because it’s too long. It just is. I love baseball. I grew up going to games. I grew up watching games. I still watch a lot of baseball, and I love it, but it’s too long. It has to be shorter. I know you can’t say that, but it’s true. You have to make baseball, at the absolute most, three hours. At the most. I would be good with two-and-a-half. I think that’s the start, because, I think, if you speed things up on the whole then you’ll get more action and it’ll be more fun.
I don’t know if that’s correct, but that’s what I would say.
Dennis: I mean, no one seems to know how it should be sped up, least of all the people who are in charge of speeding it up.
Josh: Pitch clocks are not fun. There’s nothing fun about a pitch clock, but it will suck for the first three months, and then it will get people to get their shit together. And then we’ll forget all about it.
Dennis: I’m one of the few people that just doesn’t care if a game is four hours. Whether it’s on TV or in person.
Josh: It’s also hard, because it’s one of the only sports when you really have no idea how long it’s going to take. Of course, basketball games can go into overtime, but you generally have a gist. It’s not going to four overtimes. It’s barely ever going to two.
Dennis: Yeah, it’s not like soccer where, after everything, you know it’s two hours and you’re done.
Josh: Alright. I don’t have one piece that I really love. Or I don’t have one piece that’s The One. The last couple of years I’ve written New Year’s Resolutions Anyone Can Do. I’ve enjoyed writing those a lot, and I think they’ve come out pretty well. I kind of like the idea that resolutions are pretty stupid things. But I also think that getting better, or being a better person, or being better to yourself are very, very reasonable and admirable things. The idea of anyone creating a resolution for anyone is a flawed exercise, but they kind of work because I’m accepting that and poking fun at that. And also I’m trying to find something that literally every single person can do. When you go grocery shopping, put your cart back in that dumb thing, even though it takes an extra 40 seconds. Just do it. Do it for the next year, and realize that your life has not been changed negatively, but you’ve probably helped someone positively. Or learn to cook one new thing. That’s not a really hard thing to do. That feels like everyone can do it. If you have 365 days, you can do that. I’ve enjoyed writing those.
Dennis: We’re about to get cut off, because I have the free version of Zoom. But I kind of like that idea.
Josh: Okay, perfect.
I like those [pieces], and then anytime I try to do something that looks like Simon Rich’s work and feels slightly like it. I like those ones, but then I hate everything else that doesn’t feel at all like it, but it’s supposed to. And you can have it cut me off. That’s a good way to close it out.
Dennis: It’s going to end with you saying “You can have it cut me off.”
Josh: Let’s just blame Kelaine for not buyi—
[The Zoom cut us off in the midst of our discussion of how the Zoom should cut us off.]
Josh via text: You don’t have to use this, but something I thought of, if you wanted to find a way to get it in…maybe about writing for fun.
The Prompt isn’t any kind of lucrative gig or something I’d do if I wanted to improve my lot… I’m sure I could find another way to do that. But it does get me to try something difficult, get better at it, and put me in a realm where I’ve gotten to meet other creative people who want those same things. If the best thing I can say about writing for The Prompt is I spent a lot of time that was mostly not recognized by the world, but I got to meet these friends, then it’s still totally worth it. I can name names, but I won’t. But I swear they’re real, they just live in Iowa and Portland.