Armonk native and current Floridian Dave Barry has made a career out of making people laugh. A humorist whose column ran in the Miami Herald for more than 20 years, Barry is the author of more than 30 books and even had his own sitcom. Pick up any of his work, and you’ll understand why writer Carl Hiaasen called him “one of the funniest writers alive.” We spoke with Barry recently, to get the dish on his latest book, Best. State. Ever.: A Florida Man Defends His Homeland.
How would you describe growing up in Westchester?
I grew up in Armonk in the 1950s and ’60s, and it was wonderful. It was a perfect balance of life in a small town — I knew everybody, and everybody knew me — that happened to be easily accessible to one of the world’s great cities. Armonk is an upscale suburb now, but back then, it was a real village, with a very friendly vibe. It was a great place to grow up.
The Miami Herald hired me. I was reluctant at first because Miami seemed like an insane place. To be honest, it still does, but I’ve come to love it.
Your book discusses some of the hysterical peculiarities of Florida, like the skunk ape and Tarpon Springs. Which eccentric Florida attraction was your favorite place to explore and write about?
It’s hard to pick a favorite. I love the Skunk Ape Research Headquarters; it’s not that old, but it’s a classic example of the old-school sketchy Florida roadside attraction. I’m also really interested in The Villages, where huge numbers of baby boomers go when they’re done being responsible and want to basically party. Cassadaga, which is a weird little town infested with psychics and mediums, is fascinating, as well as creepy. And Key West is a great place to engage in debauchery.
What would you say is the most profound difference between living in Westchester and living in Florida?
Florida’s a lot more relaxed. Westchester is full of strivers. Florida not so much. It’s hard to strive in all that humidity.
You returned to Armonk in April for an event. How did it feel to be back?
I really just came back for one evening, to do a fundraiser for St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, which my family belonged to when I was growing up. (Believe it or not, I was an altar boy.) It was a lovely evening; I saw quite a few old friends, and it brought back some fond memories. The scary part was realizing that my childhood friends are now pillars of the community.
What projects are you currently working on?
I’m working on a book about dogs and what they can teach us. At least I think that’s what it’s about.
What writers or journalists do you admire most, past or present?
My childhood writing idol was Robert Benchley, a brilliant humorist, although now mainly remembered only by us old folks. I also loved Art Buchwald and Russell Baker — and MAD magazine.
You have a unique and celebrated sense of humor. Where do you get it from?
My parents. They were both pretty funny, especially my mom, who was very edgy for a 1950s housewife. She’d make fun of anything, and we Barry kids learned from her not to take ourselves too seriously.