by London Griffith
“If you’re a humor columnist and you don’t come to Key West, you’re an idiot.” Thus the raucous and anticipated talk by Dave Barry cemented itself as the most entertaining, if not the physically hottest event of the day.
Through the course of his talk, Barry regaled a giggling and rapt audience with major, minor, and obscure events throughout his career that remarkably (or unremarkably) mirror the timeless chaos of Florida.
Barry’s unmatched talent for comedic storytelling, and delivering a well-structured set-up and punchline was on full display for a mixed crowd of long-time fans, and newfound fans he gained from telling the story of interviewing the former Mayor of Key West known fondly as Captain Tony.
Barry was doing his best impression of a hard-hitting journalist in his retelling when he asked the mayor “How do you feel about the monkeys coming to the Keys?” While the mayor’s response proved an illuminating depiction of a loved Key West character, it proved a vivid picture of Barry’s skill as a journalist, as Barry recited word for word his transcription, ending with the delightful (and possibly unintentional) punchline from the mayor “Key West is an outdoor insane asylum, we just didn’t put up the walls.”
While some could arguably take offense to such a line, Barry’s reputation for “take no prisoners” comedy continued with the new tagline for tourism in his hometown of Miami: “Come back to Miami, we weren’t shooting at you.”
Many years spent as one of Florida’s favorite sons were shared lovingly through stories of winning his Pulitzer with his son in tow, poking fun at TV Interviewers, his miraculous stint on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, and how he stole and lied in order to get onto Oprah for an episode about righting the wrongs in your life.
His newest book Swamp Story was initially inspired by an event little known outside of Florida, the Python Challenge. Everyone is invited to come and hunt the Burmese Pythons lurking in the swamps to attempt to curb this invasive species because “like New Yorkers, (it) has no natural enemies in Florida”. How did these Burmese immigrants arrive in beautiful Florida? According to Barry, people were keeping them as pets and “ran out of crack”. But don’t worry, while this large snake event makes an appearance in Swamp Story, New Yorkers do not.
As he started winding down, he got to what some could consider the meat of the talk when he admitted, “ That’s not what I’m here to talk to you about today.” What could possibly be more important to Florida’s favorite humorist than making us laugh?
That’s right, making us laugh harder. “I’m running for President!” Barry declared, and all fans – old and recent converts – cheered. He graciously highlighted his stance on foreign policy (bomb Russia and China with lawyers), healthcare (a better way to get a colonoscopy), and education (bring the foreign kids here to get the job done).
But as the hour came to a close, and the audience giggled through a couple of questions and Barry’s quick-witted answers, an unassuming high school English teacher took the mic to ask him about a National English Honor Society Chapter named after him. And in true Dave Barry fashion, answered her today with the same response he emailed her years ago “That’ll be fine as long as I don’t have to do anything.”
And his fans are happy to accept it, as long as it includes laughter inspired by him for years to come.
London Griffith is a recovering actor and budding writer. She currently resides in Pennsylvania.