Dave Barry Delivers 'Best. State. Ever.', Avoids Mr. Old Guy
Dave Barry’s latest book, Best. State. Ever.: A Florida Man Defends His Home, answers a question the storied humorist has been answering for other people for many years now: What, exactly, is going on in Florida? The book plays upon the notion that there’s something not quite right about Florida and its people.
“In the last decade or so there’s been this crescendo of Florida mocking,” he says. “It’s grown and grown and grown. I felt like it was time to mount a defense. I’m not going to pretend that Miami and Florida aren’t weird places. I’m not going to pretend that there’s not weird and sometimes dangerous things going on here. I just thought I would try and flesh that out a bit and show that there’s a certain level of enjoyment to it that you can sort of savor. A lot of people come from states where people mock us, end up here and they don’t go back.”
The book is not, of course, anti-Florida. It’s just a book that looks at the lighter side of the state’s foibles.
“This is home,” Barry offers. “This is where I’ve chosen to raise my kids. I’m the first one to make fun of Florida, especially South Florida, where I live. But I do get tired of people who have never been here mocking it. Not that we don’t do things that aren’t mockable.”
The veteran humorist says that Best. State. Ever. provided him the most fun he’s had writing a book, in part because it allowed him to see Florida in greater detail.
“Usually I’m just sitting in my office making things up. That’s been my technique for many years," Berry says. "This time, I said, ‘Maybe I should go see some parts of it I haven’t seen or others haven’t seen.’”
He asked friends and acquaintances to help him compile a list of must-see locales in the Sunshine State. He began driving or flying to these places and discovering, as he says, “places that used to be what people would see in the 1940s and 1950s, when people would drive through. There was no Disneyworld, so you just drove until you saw some roadside attraction and pulled off to see what it was. A lot of times it was something really sketchy, sometimes it was something interesting. It was always something to do.”
There remains a tendency for people visiting Florida to seek out unusual adventures or communities, such as the one found in Cassadaga, touted as the world’s largest community of psychics. “It’s kind of what you might imagine,” he says, “it’s this strange little town with lots of psychics. I went there right before Halloween which is like their Christmas season. The industry is giving readings and promising contact with the dead. I don’t know too many states that have a place like that.”
Barry’s own relationship goes back more than 30 years. The Miami Herald hired him to come down and write some observations about the city. “My first reaction was that it was the most insane city I’d ever seen in my life,” he says. “This was in the early 1980s when the Cocaine Cowboy era was raging. Drugs were literally falling from the sky and washing up on the beaches. There were gun fights. Routinely. I saw cars with bullet holes in the sides. It was dystopian, really. I thought, ‘I’m never, ever going to live there.’
His work with the Herald continued but he remained a resident of rural Pennsylvania who flew in and out of Florida only for work. Eventually, he says, he came to know the state better and began liking the place. “There’s just a spirit here,” he says. “It’s partly weirdness, partly danger. But it’s never boring. I became more and more intrigued by it.” Eventually, the newspaper suggested that he make a complete transition to the city. “I did and I’ve never regretted it.”
Barry’s brand of humor remains popular and relevant today, a remarkable feat in an industry that is fickle and prone to rapid and sometimes inexplicable shifts in tastes. He arrived with Saturday Night Live, the popularization of National Lampoon and, in general, a period where the Baby Boomers began to infiltrate popular culture at all levels.
His particular brand of funny didn’t necessarily sit well with fans of Mike Royko and others of the ilk at first. “No one thought Boomers bought papers and then they started to,” Barry says. Though he was friendly with columnists such as Art Buchwald and Erma Bombeck, he didn’t offer political satire or views on domestic life. “I was making fun of the whole concept of newspapers,” he says. “I wrote as a false authority. Editors told me they thought I was funny but doubted that readers would get it. I had to overcome that condescension at first.”
His audience differs today. “It’s a bunch of really old people,” he says, then adds, “I just try to write what’s funny and hope that other people will too. That’s not fake humility. It’s what I do. Obviously sensibilities have changed radically from when I got started. There’s this whole world of Internet meme humor that mutates hourly. It’s almost impossible for an old fart like me to be relevant to people in that world. And I wouldn’t try to.”
Barry turns 70 in 2017 and is quick to point out that although he recognizes his age, he’s keen to not make age the point of his humor.
“Over the summer I went to both political conventions and wrote daily columns. I also went to the Olympics and wrote daily columns. I didn’t go as Mr. Old Guy. I went because I think I can still think and write about those topics and offer something besides me as the source of humor,” he says. “I wouldn’t want to get to the point of that being my humor I’d have to buy a firearm and shoot myself. I’d probably shoot myself in the foot. Then I’d have something to write about.”
Dave Barry reads at Abode Venue in conjunction with Watermark Books at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 13.
Jedd Beaudoin is the host of Strange Currency. Follow him on Twitter @JeddBeaudoin.
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