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South Florida's Best and Brightest
Originally published: Friday, July 1, 2011 (12:02:26 a.m. ET)

Dave Barry
Author and humorist Dave Barry. (Photo courtesy of Getty Images).
Dave Barry
Aside from the eight volumes of his collected columns that have made their way to bookshelves and online retailers over the years, he's authored another three dozen works, give or take, since "The Taming of the Screw," debuted in 1983. And in 1988, he was bestowed the highest honor in American print journalism when he received the Pulitzer Prize in the "Commentary" category. Indeed, it was a bittersweet day in 2004 when Dave Barry announced he'd no longer pen his weekly humor column for The Miami Herald in an effort to spend more time with his family. Barry, who graduated with a B.A. in English from tiny Haverford College outside of Philadelphia in 1969, still writes occasionally for The Herald, churning out with his usual hilarity annual holiday gift guides and Year in Review pieces. His style never lacked boldness or self-deprecation and will forever be considered inimitable. His 1999 novel, "Big Trouble" was made into a movie directed Barry Sonnenfeld that starred Tim Allen and Rene Russo.

Q: What advice would you give youngsters who want to embark on a career in your industry?
A: If you want to get anywhere in any communications business, particularly newspapers, but also TV and radio, and even movies, the critical thing is real world experience. Not classroom experience. You need to get good grades, if only to show you can, that you have the discipline and intelligence. But the way to get a job is to go to work as an intern, even for free, at a newspaper, a magazine, or at a TV or radio station, if you can. That's how you get started. That's how you find out how it really works and how you meet people who are in position to hire you eventually. And the sooner you start that process, the better. If you go to college, major in communications, then get a graduate degree, all you're doing is putting yourself behind the kids who got internships.

Q: Of what professional accomplishment are you most proud?
A: Well, I've never gotten arrested. Professionally, though, I'd say it's the fact that I was consistent. I know there are people who don't like my work or don't think I'm good at what I do. But for the ones who do, who like what I write, I think I was able to give them what they wanted for many years without phoning it in or with any drop in quality. I met my deadlines and I got stuff to people that they liked.

Q: What's the most challenging part about your work?
A: Meeting deadlines. If you're a writer, you always have something due. You're usually a little bit behind and you have to force yourself [to work]. If you go to an office and you have a job answering phones, you have to be there and answer the phone. You have no choice. If you're a writer, it's up to you. Are you going to write today or aren't you? And there's always a strong temptation to not write. So the biggest challenge is compelling yourself to write all the time. Or at least regularly and produce.

Q: What did you envision doing for a living when you were growing up?
A: I didn't really think about it. I grew up in a different era, really. I graduated from college in the '60s. Unless you were going to be a doctor or a lawyer, and you knew that, you didn't really think about it. Much more likely, you graduated from college and asked yourself, 'What would I like to try?' That's how it was then. Now, it's much more pressure right from the start. I didn't sit around thinking that I'd like to be a humor writer. If I'd known I could do that, it's definitely what I would have wanted to do. So I ended up working at newspapers because I like to write and sort of drifted into humor writing from there.

Q: In ten years' time, I will be _________________.
A: Ideally, still alive. Maybe a male underwear model. I hope to still be doing what I'm doing. It's one of the beauties of writing. It's not heavy lifting and there's really no retirement age. I just hope that if [my writing] gets really lame, someone will shoot me in the head. Then someone will find me, slumped over my keyboard, and they'll say, 'He got lame and someone took him up on his offer.'

Q: Who are/were your professional role models and why?
A: When I was a kid, it was a guy named Robert Benchley, who nobody really knows about anymore. He's pretty obscure. But he was a great humorist in the '30s and '40s. He wrote for Life Magazine and the New Yorker. He was part of the Algonquin Round Table. And his columns were collected, his essays, into books and my dad happened to have them; my dad was a fan of his. So I read them as a kid and I just thought it was amazing and I loved them. Beyond that, it was Mad Magazine, the National Lampoon, Saturday Night Live, a wide range of humor that was big back in the '60s and '70s that got me thinking, "Gosh, I really wanna do something like that.'

Q: If you could do anything else in the world for a living, what would it be?
A: I'm not capable of it, but I'd love to be a musician. I'm in an all-author rock band called The Rock Bottom Remainders and we're horrible. But we're bad enough that I'm allowed to play in the band. I've always loved music. I'm just not very good at it. If I could, that's what I'd like to do, to be a guitar player who's actually considered good at it. I have no formal training, I don't practice, and I have no musical talent. Aside from those three factors, I'm pretty good.

Q: What's the best part about your job?
A: It's fun. That's probably the most underrated thing about it. It's fun to write humor because you have to be funny. You do things that are fun, sometimes. I go to conventions, the Olympics, and the World Cup, just for the purpose of having fun and writing about it. So that's great. The other thing is not having to go to an office. Not having a routine, not having a boss. You get to sort of pick what you're going to do with your day and your life. It's good.

Q: What's the worst part about your job?
A: The feeling that you have to come up with something new and you're facing a blank screen. That's not just for humor writers. That's for anybody who writes anything. I get jealous sometimes at people who start their morning and know exactly what they are going to do that day. It sounds boring, but in the end, it's reassuring in a way. To be able to say, 'I'm going to go to this office and I'm going to do this' or that 'This car is going to come in and I'm gonna fix it.' You know what your job is. When you're a writer, you really don't know what your job is. You have to think of something to write. And there's pressure and anxiety. Unfortunately, I have no useful skills at all, so I have no choice. I have to figure out something to write.

Q: What's the one most important thing that experience has taught you?
A: This is going to sound kind of corny, but it's taught me that you have to be responsible for your own life. I think when you're younger, especially, it's easy to think that things are out of your control. And you eventually learn that nothing's out of your control, except maybe whether you get sick. That kind of thing. You have to take responsibility for what your life is going to be. And the ones who do, become successful. The ones who don't, become failures and blame everyone but themselves. The other thing is something my mom and dad taught me. Be nice to people. Life is easier and better if you're nice to people than if you're a prick, than if you're mean, nasty, obnoxious, and demanding. In the end, those things come back to you. Be responsible and be nice. And don't take yourself too seriously.

Q: What's the best career advice anyone has imparted on you?
A: This is going to be specific to writing. Write your own way. Read a lot. Understand what other people are doing and see how well they are doing things. But in the end, when you sit down to write, it should be you. You shouldn't be a copy of someone else. In the beginning of most people's writing careers, they do tend to copy somebody. It's sort of a natural tendency. But it's important to find your own voice at some point if you're going to become a successful writer. It will also make it easier for you. You know more about what you think and what you like than anybody else. Be true to that.

Q: What one thing would you do different/better if you could start it all over again?
A: I'm pretty happy with the way things turned out for me. I pretty much went straight from college into a business in which I wrote and I stuck with writing the whole time. I never really veered away too far. I never really did something about which I thought later on was stupid. I don't have any big regrets. Kind of going back to what I said before about being nice, there were times when I could have been nicer, more thoughtful, more aware of other people than I was. As you get older, I think you become more sensitive to when you were obnoxious in your life. If anything, I regret not treating some people better when I was young. Being more respectful, more caring of other people.

Q: What's your favorite South Florida charity?
A: Fellowship House. It's an organization in Miami that takes care of mentally ill adults. People with bipolar disorder or people with drug problems. People used to be in mental hospitals and when mental hospitals were essentially closed down, or when they made it so that people could not be held against their will, a lot of people ended up on the streets. And there's a certain degree of mental illness in my family. So I've always been sensitive to that. It's not an attractive charity. It's not little babies. It's grown-ups who just have problems and tend to be shunted away by their own families, their own friends. Fellowship House is an organization that says, 'You come to us, we'll take care of you, we'll get you going again. We'll do what we can.' For quite a few years, I've been very involved with Fellowship House.
Archive: 20 Good Questions
Best & Brightest: June 2011