Barry was born in Armonk, New York, where his father, David, was a Presbyterian minister. He was educated at Wampus Elementary School, Harold C. Crittenden Junior High School (both in Armonk), and Pleasantville High School where he was elected "Class Clown" in 1965. He earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in English from Haverford College in 1969.
As an alumnus of a Quaker-affiliated college, he avoided military service during the Vietnam War by registering as a religious conscientious objector. Notwithstanding his father's vocation, Barry decided "early on" that he was an atheist. He said, "The problem with writing about religion is that you run the risk of offending sincerely religious people, and then they come after you with machetes."
Barry began his journalism career in 1971, working as a general assignment reporter for the Daily Local News in West Chester, Pennsylvania, near his alma mater, Haverford College. He covered local government and civic events and was promoted to City Editor after about two years. He also started writing a weekly humor column for the paper and began to develop his unique style. He remained at the newspaper through 1974. He then worked briefly as a copy editor at the Associated Press's Philadelphia bureau before joining Burger Associates, a consulting firm.
At Burger, he taught effective writing to business people. In his own words, he "spent nearly eight years trying to get various businesspersons to...stop writing things like 'Enclosed please find the enclosed enclosures,' but...eventually realized that it was hopeless."
In 1981 he wrote a humorous guest column about watching the birth of his son in the Philadelphia Inquirer, which attracted the attention of Gene Weingarten, then an editor of the Miami Herald's Sunday magazine Tropic. Weingarten hired Barry as a humor columnist in 1983. Barry's column was syndicated nationally. Barry won a Pulitzer Prize for Commentary in 1988 for "his consistently effective use of humor as a device for presenting fresh insights into serious concerns."
Barry's first novel, Big Trouble, was published in 1999. The book was adapted into a motion picture directed by Barry Sonnenfeld and starring Tim Allen, Rene Russo, and Patrick Warburton, with a cameo by Barry. The movie was originally due for release in September 2001 but was postponed following the September 11, 2001 attacks because the story involved smuggling a nuclear weapon onto an airplane. The film was released in April 2002.
In response to a column in which Barry mocked the cities of Grand Forks, North Dakota and East Grand Forks, Minnesota for calling themselves the "Grand Cities", Grand Forks named a sewage pumping station after Barry in January 2002. Barry traveled to Grand Forks for the dedication ceremony.
Articles written by Barry have appeared in publications such as Boating, Home Office Computing, and Reader's Digest, in addition to the Chicken Soup for the Soul inspirational book series. Two of his articles have been included in the Best American Sportswriting series. One of his columns was used as the introduction to the book Pirattitude!: So You Wanna Be a Pirate? Here's How! (ISBN 0-451-21649-0), a follow-up to Barry's role in publicizing International Talk Like a Pirate Day. His books have frequently appeared on the New York Times Best Seller List.
On October 31, 2004, Barry announced that he would be taking an indefinite leave of absence of at least a year from his weekly column in order to spend more time with his family. In December 2005, Barry said in an interview with Editor and Publisher that he would not resume his weekly column, although he would continue such features as his yearly gift guide, his year-in-review feature, and his blog, as well as an occasional article or column.
In 2005, Barry won the Walter Cronkite Award for Excellence in Journalism.
On Sunday, September 22, 2013, the opening night of the 15th annual Fall for the Book festival in Fairfax, Virginia, Barry was awarded the event's highest honor, the Fairfax Prize honoring outstanding literary achievement and presented by the Fairfax Library Foundation.
From 1993 to 1997, CBS broadcast the sitcom Dave's World based on the books Dave Barry Turns 40 and Dave Barry's Greatest Hits. The show starred Harry Anderson as Barry and DeLane Matthews as his wife Beth. In an early episode, Barry appeared in a cameo role. After four seasons, the program was canceled shortly after being moved from Monday to the "Friday night death slot".
During college, Barry was in a band called the Federal Duck. While at the Miami Herald, he and several of his colleagues created a band called the Urban Professionals; with Barry on lead guitar and vocals, they performed an original song called "The Tupperware Song" at the Tupperware headquarters in Orlando, Florida.
Beginning in 1992, Barry played lead guitar in the Rock Bottom Remainders, a rock band made up of published authors. (Remainder is a publishing term for a book that doesn't sell.) The band was founded by Barry's sister-in-law Kathi Kamen Goldmark for an American Booksellers Association convention, and has also included Stephen King, Amy Tan, Ridley Pearson, Scott Turow, Mitch Albom, Roy Blount, Jr., Barbara Kingsolver, Matt Groening, and Barry's brother Sam, among others. The band's members "are not musically skilled, but they are extremely loud," according to Barry. Several high-profile musicians, including Al Kooper, Warren Zevon, and Roger McGuinn, have performed with the band, and Bruce Springsteen sat in at least once. The band's road tour resulted in the book Mid-Life Confidential: The Rock Bottom Remainders Tour America with Three Chords and an Attitude. The Rock Bottom Remainders disbanded in 2012 following Goldmark's death from breast cancer.
Beginning in 1984, Barry and Tropic editors Gene Weingarten and Tom Shroder have organized the Tropic Hunt (now the Herald Hunt), an annual puzzlehunt in Miami. A Washington, D.C., spinoff, the Post Hunt, began in 2008.
Barry has run several mock campaigns for President of the United States, running on a libertarian platform. He has also written for the Libertarian Party's national newsletter.
The screen adaptation of Barry's book Dave Barry's Complete Guide to Guys was released in 2005; it premiered at several film festivals and is available on DVD.
Barry has defined a sense of humor as "a measurement of the extent to which we realize that we are trapped in a world almost totally devoid of reason. Laughter is how we express the anxiety we feel at this knowledge."
When distinguishing fact from hyperbole, Barry frequently asserts: "I am not making this up." Among his favorite topics are exploding or flaming items (cows, whales, vacuum cleaners, toilets, Pop-Tarts, Barbie dolls, etc.), dogs lacking intelligence, live blogging the television series 24, and amusing government studies. He labels various posts on his blog with long initials, such as WBAGNFARB ("would be a good name for a rock band"), poking fun at long internet abbreviations.
He also enjoys making fun of South Florida, where he resides. In Dave Barry Hits Below the Beltway, he suggested that many of America's problems could be solved if South Florida were literally sawed off from the mainland and disowned by the United States. He has also made fun of the region in Homes and Other Black Holes as well as other books. Even his novels Big Trouble and Tricky Business capitalize heavily in the absurdities that exist only in South Florida. In Big Trouble, for example, the ridiculous nuances of South Florida are expressed through the experiences of the two hit men, Henry and Leonard. They experience an irritating sports talk show host, a highly incompetent airport security detail, and an attack by a python by the name of Daphne in the same airport before deciding that they never want to return to Florida again. Barry also uses Big Trouble to poke fun at the existence of a Russian arms black market, the corrupt political system (Puggy makes a living off being paid to vote), and the incredibly loose labor laws in the region.
The phrase "would be a good name for a rock band" is an observation Barry often applies to phrases that pop up in his writing, such as "The Moos of Derision", "Decomposing Tubers" and "Hearty Polyp Chuckles". In keeping with this, Barry's website contains a fairly sizable list of phrases that he claims would be good names for a rock band.
In his humor books, Barry often cites a humorous phrase or image, which he then mercilessly repeats throughout. Notable examples include the Hawley-Smoot Tariff in Dave Barry Slept Here: A Sort of History of the United States, Buffalo Bob in Dave Barry Turns 50, and giant prehistoric zucchini in Dave Barry Hits Below the Beltway, e.g., "Growth of U.S. government according to Alan Greenspan=giant prehistoric zucchini." He continues to reference these things, occasionally with fake subtlety, e.g., referring to the Hawley-Smoot Tarrif as "The H*****-S**** T*****" in Dave Barry Slept Here.
His novels typically feature numerous initially unrelated subplots, many related to criminal activity, which slowly intertwine over the course of the story. Many critics explicitly compare this style to that of Elmore Leonard, though with a more comedic tone.
Barry married his second wife, Beth Lenox, in 1976. Barry and Lenox worked together at the Daily Local News, where they began their journalism careers on the same day in September 1971; they had one child, Robert. Barry and Lenox divorced in 1993. Barry experienced tragedy in his family; his father and brother were alcoholics before his father died in 1984, his sister was institutionalized for schizophrenia, and his mother committed suicide in 1987. In 1996, Barry married Miami Herald sportswriter Michelle Kaufman; they had a daughter, Sophie, in 2000. Barry has had dogs named Earnest, Zippy, and now Lucy. All have been mentioned regularly in Barry's columns.The Taming of the Screw (1983, with illustrator Jerry O'Brien)
Babies and Other Hazards of Sex: How to Make a Tiny Person in Only 9 Months With Tools You Probably Have Around the Home (1984, with illustrator Jerry O'Brien)
Stay Fit and Healthy Until You're Dead (1985, with illustrator Jerry O'Brien)
Claw Your Way to the Top: How to Become the Head of a Major Corporation in Roughly a Week (1986, with illustrator Jerry O'Brien)
Dave Barry's Guide to Marriage and/or Sex (1987 with illustrator Jerry O'Brien)
Homes and Other Black Holes (1988)
Dave Barry Slept Here: A Sort of History of the United States (1989)
Dave Barry Turns 40 (1990)
Dave Barry's Only Travel Guide You'll Ever Need (1991)
Dave Barry's Guide to Life (1991) (includes Dave Barry's Guide to Marriage and/or Sex, Babies and Other Hazards of Sex, Stay Fit and Healthy Until You're Dead and Claw Your Way to the Top)
Dave Barry Does Japan (1992)
Dave Barry's Gift Guide to End All Gift Guides (1994)
Dave Barry's Complete Guide to Guys (1996)
Dave Barry in Cyberspace (1996)
Dave Barry's Book of Bad Songs (1997)
Dave Barry Turns 50 (1998)
Dave Barry Hits Below the Beltway: A Vicious and Unprovoked Attack on Our Most Cherished Political Institutions (2001)
"My Teenage Son's Goal in Life is to Make Me Feel 3,500 Years Old" and Other Thoughts On Parenting From Dave Barry (2001)
"The Greatest Invention in the History Of Mankind Is Beer" And Other Manly Insights From Dave Barry (2001)
Dave Barry's Money Secrets (2006)
Dave Barry on Dads (2007)
Dave Barry's History of the Millennium (So Far) (2007)
I'll Mature When I'm Dead: Dave Barry's Amazing Tales of Adulthood (2010)
You Can Date Boys When You're Forty: Dave Barry on Parenting and Other Topics He Knows Very Little About (2014)
Live Right and Find Happiness (Although Beer is Much Faster): Life Lessons and Other Ravings from Dave Barry (2015)
Best. State. Ever.: A Florida Man Defends His Homeland (2015)
For This We Left Egypt?: A Passover Haggadah for Jews and Those Who Love Them (2017)
Dave Barry's Bad Habits: A 100% Fact-Free Book (1985)
Dave Barry's Greatest Hits (1988)
Dave Barry Talks Back (1991)
The World According to Dave Barry (1994) (includes Dave Barry Talks Back, Dave Barry Turns 40 and Dave Barry's Greatest Hits)
Dave Barry is NOT Making This Up (1995)
Dave Barry Is from Mars and Venus (1997)
Dave Barry Is Not Taking This Sitting Down (2000)
Boogers Are My Beat (2003)
Big Trouble (1999)
Tricky Business (2002)
Peter and the Starcatchers (2004, with Ridley Pearson) ISBN 0-7868-3790-X
Peter and the Shadow Thieves (2006, with Ridley Pearson) ISBN 0-7868-3787-X
Peter and the Secret of Rundoon (2007, with Ridley Pearson) ISBN 0-7868-3788-8
Escape From the Carnivale (2006, with Ridley Pearson) ISBN 0-7868-3789-6
The Shepherd, the Angel, and Walter the Christmas Miracle Dog (2006)
Cave of the Dark Wind (2007, with Ridley Pearson) ISBN 0-7868-3790-X
Science Fair (2008, with Ridley Pearson)
Peter and the Sword of Mercy (2009, with Ridley Pearson)
Blood Tide (2008, with Ridley Pearson)
The Bridge to Neverland (2011, with Ridley Pearson)
Lunatics (2012, with Alan Zweibel) ISBN 978-0425253373
Insane City (2013) ISBN 978-0399158681
The Worst Class Trip Ever (2015 ISBN 978-1484708491)
The Worst Night Ever (2016 ISBN 978-1484708507)
Big Trouble (2002)
Dave Barry's Complete Guide to Guys (2005)
Peter and the Starcatchers (Disney project, announced May 17, 2012. Release date TBA)
Mid-Life Confidential: The Rock Bottom Remainders Tour America With Three Chords and an Attitude] (1994) with Stephen King, Kathi Kamen Goldmark, Al Kooper, Ridley Pearson, Roy Blount, Jr., Joel Selvin, Amy Tan, Dave Marsh, Tad Bartimus, Matt Groening, Greil Marcus, Tabitha King, Barbara Kingsolver, Michael Dorris
Naked Came the Manatee (1998) with Carl Hiaasen, Elmore Leonard, James W. Hall, Edna Buchanan, Les Standiford, Paul Levine, Brian Antoni, Tananarive Due, John Dufresne, Vicki Hendricks, Carolina Hospital, Evelyn Mayerson
Novels (as listed above) with Ridley Pearson and Alan Zweibel.
Hard Listening], (July 2013) is an interactive ebook about his participation in a writer/musician band, the Rock Bottom Remainders. Published by digital publisher, Coliloquy, LLC
A Totally Random Evening With Dave Barry (1992)
A Prairie Home Companion: English Majors: A Comedy Collection for the Highly Literate (as guest) (1997)
Stranger than Fiction (compilation album) (1998)