Humor columnist Dave Barry was born in Armonk, New York, but has spent the past 30 years living in the greater (and lesser) Miami area.
After being hired by the Miami Herald in 1983, the self-deprecating humorist snagged a Pulitzer Prize for commentary in 1988 and went on to have his column syndicated in 500 newspapers nationwide.
Despite retiring from the paper in 2005, Barry still goes on occasional assignments such as covering this year’s political caucuses in Iowa and New Hampshire, both political conventions and the 2016 Olympics in Rio.
And he continues to write books. He will be in Santa Rosa Sept. 12 to read from his latest, “Best. State. Ever. A Florida Man Defends his Homeland” (Putnam, 2016), a backhanded apology for what he calls “The Joke State.”
During a phone interview from his home in Coral Gables, he discussed them all, starting with the Olympics.
“I really like Rio a lot, because it reminds me of Miami ... It’s beach and fun-oriented, with nice weather and a relaxed party vibe,” Barry said. “Here I was, the Idiot Gringo, stumbling around, not speaking any Portuguese ... and I couldn’t get over how nice the people are.” (To see how nice Barry was to the Cariocas, Google “Copacabana” to watch the video.)
Along the way, Barry also has written a few novels and, with his friend and fellow musician, Ridley Pearson, penned a series of children’s books that serve as a prequel to J. M. Barrie’s “Peter Pan.”
“There’s a lot of weirdness and stupidity, but it’s sort of charming and quirky,” he said. “I wanted to capture a little bit of the old Florida that I remember when I was a kid, the roadside attraction Florida, which has disappeared, but the spirit still hovers over the state.”
Barry will be stopping by Santa Rosa Sept. 12 to talk about his latest book at Copperfield’s in Montgomery Village. That’s just two days after his fellow Floridian and Miami Herald alumnus Carl Hiaasen appears at the Central Santa Rosa Library to chat about his 15th work of adult fiction, “Razor Girl” (Knopf, 2016).
Here are some serious and not-so-serious questions about Barry, who has built a career out of finding humor in everything from Brazil’s “gum wrapper” bikinis to the three-ring circus that is this year’s presidential election.
Q: What drove you to write about Florida, after writing such nice, innocent children’s stories?
A: It’s been percolating in my mind for a while. I’ve always been a mocker and defender of Miami. It has a bad reputation and is grossly misunderstood, but a lot of things are absolutely true. It’s like living in a foreign country, people are crazy, and I love it.
In recent years, that vibe has extended to the state of Florida, the Joke State. But it’s not just the guy urinating naked in Walmart. So I wanted to write about that. And also talk about why so many people want to live here and keep moving here. If you’re in Indiana and mocking Miami, the guy urinating in the Florida Walmart is probably from Indiana.
Q: What would be your advice to people who want to move to Florida?
A: You really have to pick which Florida to move to. If you go to Naples, it’s Ohio with a beach. You have a choice between an Olive Garden and another Olive Garden. The Villages, up near Ocala, is unlike any place I’ve ever seen. But it’s heaven if you like to play golf and have a cocktail in the evening and do line dancing and have no one make fun of you.
Then there’s Miami, which I love, but it’s not like any of those. Latin America begins in Miami. People live here who don’t speak any English and never have to.
Or you can go to Key West, which is a little, crazy, booze-soaked island. Then there’s the northern part of Florida, which is basically Georgia. So you have to pick the lifestyle you want.
Q: If you were to open a museum of Florida kitsch, what would be your first procurement?
A: A Mold-a-Rama machine. Somebody needs to start some kind of foundation to preserve them. They are dying out. They make a mold of whatever the attraction is you are visiting. At Weeki Wachee, it’s a mermaid. At Gatorland, it’s a guy wrestling a gator. In the end, it’s just a wad of mucous-covered rubber. Usually, the machines don’t work, and that’s one of the charming reasons you should have one. Maybe it comes from the factory with a handwritten piece of paper that says, “Out of Order.”
Q: Why do you think the Everglades is the most boring place on Earth?
A: I know people think it is the greatest thing ever, but I have never seen the charm. It’s a swamp. It smells like a swamp, it has grass as far as you can see, and all kinds of wildlife like alligators and snakes are in there, but you can’t see them. On a hot summer day, there’s no smell like it. I know it is a vital ecological resource, but so is the sun, and I don’t want to live there.
Q: What would you regard as your best day in Florida?
A: I would say a day in January when it’s snowing 10 feet in New York and New Jersey. You wake up, see it on the news, have a cup of coffee, and go outside and it’s 72 degrees. Then you drive to Key Biscayne, stop at The Oasis, which has the best food in America. Then you go out to the beach and pay $5 to park. It’s a beautiful beach, and all these people have flown over from Europe to be there.
Q: What kind of beverage and food would you pair with your book?
A: A mojito, because I’m a Miami guy. Miami is an amalgam of cultures, but the dominant one is Cuban, and most bars serve mojitos and most people know how to make them. And a Cuban sandwich. There are two kinds — Medianoche and Cubano — and I can’t tell the difference. They use a special bread and press it. It’s such a good sandwich.
Q: Another Florida author, Carl Hiaasen, is appearing here a few days before you. How would you compare your styles?
A: Carl is infinitely more cynical. I am Robert Fulghum (author of “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten”) compared to Carl. Carl is extremely funny. He spends his time thinking about what is the most twisted thing a person could do or say. His books are very funny, and there’s always crime involved and scumbags. It’s hard to find a likable character.
Q: Whatever happened to the Rock Bottom Remainders (the rock ’n’ roll band that included Amy Tan, Stephen King, Mitch Albom and Barry)?
A: Theoretically, we disbanded, and then we got together twice. We don’t even know how to break up. We end our band like we end our songs, at all different times, clumsily, but we’re still all friends.
Q: One of the chapters of your new book explores the “Skunk Ape,” a Florida version of Bigfoot, and its Research Headquarters in Ochopee, Florida. Did you know your hometown of Armonk celebrates “Frosty the Snowman” every year?
A: No. I’ve got to google that. “Frosty Day.” That is after my time.
I just want to say, and this is not to dis the lyricist, that “Thumpety, thump, thump, Thumpety, thump, thump” is not really great lyric writing.
Staff writer Diane Peterson can be reached at (707) 521-5287 or email@example.com. On Twitter @dianepete56.