ADDRESSES: Agent—c/o Author Mail, Random House, 1540 Broadway, New York, NY 10036.
CAREER: Writer, performer, and standup comic. University of Southern California, art teacher, 1970s; The David Letterman Show and Late Night with David Letterman, head comedy writer, c. 1970s to 1980s; writer for television series, including Buffalo Bill, Making the Grade, Mary, Moonlighting, Newhart, and Sex in the City; contributor and performer for Not Necessarily the News and TV Nation; Buzz (magazine), humor columnist; featured performer in Home Box Office and other comedy specials.
AWARDS, HONORS: Four Emmy awards for comedy writing for The David Letterman Show and Late Night with David Letterman; Writers Guild and Ace performance awards for Not Necessarily the News.
(Editor) Andy Breckman and others Late Night with David Letterman: The Book, Villard (New York, NY), 1985.
What the Dogs Have Taught Me and Other Amazing Things I've Learned, Viking (New York, NY), 1992.
How to Be Hap-Hap-Happy like Me, Viking (New York, NY), 1994.
Merrill Markoe's Guide to Love, Atlantic Monthly Press (New York, NY), 1997.
The Day My Dogs Became Guys (juvenile), illustrated by Eric Brace, Viking (New York, NY), 1999.
It's My F—ing Birthday (novel), Villard (New York, NY), 2002.
Contributor to periodicals, including Woman's Day and New York Woman; author of scripts for television specials, including This Week Indoors, 1987, and Merrill Markoe's Guide to Glamourous Living, 1988, both Cinemax.
SIDELIGHTS: Merrill Markoe's specialty is comedy. She has performed it, written it, and received numerous awards for it, particular for her work as head writer for David Letterman, who was both her comedic, and one-time personal partner. Markoe met Letterman in the late 1970s, during a period when she shared the stage with some of the other greats of the time, in places like Los Angeles's Comedy Store. She had unsuccessfully tried writing her offbeat brand of humor earlier in her career, but going into the 1980s, television was finally ripe for the wacky sketches Markoe created for Letterman's show. Markoe has also written for other comedians, including Bob Newhart.
Markoe was editor of Late Night with David Letterman: The Book, which features photographs, cartoons, and typical skits. School Library Journal's Elizabeth Thurston felt that young adults who stay up late enough to watch the show "will find this is a very funny book."
After leaving Letterman, Markoe wrote for and appeared in a number of television shows, including Not Necessarily the News and TV Nation. John T. O' Connor reviewed her Cinemax special, Merrill Markoe's Guide to Glamourous Living, in the New York Times, noting that "Ms. Markoe is all over the place, and television is much the better for it." Joanne Kaufman commented in People that Markoe "is one of the most talented comedy writers in the biz, playing a large role in creating the slightly skewed tone of Late Night. Hey, she deserves to be in the Comedy Hall of Fame just for thinking up Stupid Pet Tricks."
Beginning in the early 1990s, Markoe wrote a number of books, including What the Dogs Have Taught Me and Other Amazing Things I've Learned, which includes many of her essays originally published inNew York Woman. A Publishers Weekly contributor called them "the literary equivalent of snack food: they're quickly devoured and difficult to put down." Markoe talks about and through her dogs and discusses male retreats, living alone, and "chick" flicks like Pretty Woman in a tone that could be described as feminism lite. Time's Amelia Weiss called the collection "flimsy when she talks about horoscopes and cute guys. But where the dogs reign, Markoe shines." Booklist's Ilene Cooper wrote that Markoe is "as funny as that darn old Dave any day. She can make you fall off the chair laughing without even a Top Ten list to her name." Library Journal reviewer Carol Spielman Lezak felt that the book "deserves to be read by men and women alike. . . . Markoe's dog essays are the jewel of this book."
How to Be Hap-Hap-Happy like Me is a collection of thirty-three tips on how to achieve happiness, with everything from pampering, to dining, to taking a class. The class Marcoe takes is with an S & M dominatrix, and she shares a dinner with supermodel Fabio. Her dogs are central to her happiness, as are makeup and screening calls on the answering machine. She parodies Girl Scout cookie drives, home shopping shows, and party-giving in the style of Martha Stewart. A Publishers Weekly critic wrote that "Marcoe's brand of chirpy cynicism can grow grating." However, People's Joanne Kaufmann called Markoe "the funniest woman in America and, please, let's have no arguing, okay?" Cooper said, "Markoe's version of life on the wry is not to be missed."
Merrill Markoe's Guide to Love is also about the disappointing methods used to find love, which she thoroughly researched by attending seminars and reading how-to books. A Publishers Weekly reviewer felt that her "look at love and sex in the 1990s is often tiresome, sometimes wickedly funny, and occasionally hilarious." Donna Seaman noted in Booklist that Markoe "decides that love is simply chemistry gone awry, like an allergic reaction." Chicago Tribune Books critic Carolyn Alessio wrote that "in general, Markoe receives advice that is implausible and impractical. But delivered in Markoe's ironic style, the Guide to Love is a hilarious, refreshing lampoon of the endless self-help resources on romance and relationships. . . . Ultimately, she realizes that she has learned the most about love and relationships from her four dogs."
Markoe's The Day My Dogs Became Guys is a tale for children, with illustrations by Eric Brace that Janice M. Del Negro wrote in Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books resemble the "slightly off-the-wall visuals reminiscent of Ren and Stimpy cartoons." Carey is the boy of the story, and his dogs are Butch, Dee Dee, and Ed, normal pets until a solar eclipse changes them into the "guys" of the title. They retain their dog personalities, however, and cause all sorts of mischief, then turn back into dogs with the end of the eclipse, just as Carey's mother returns home from work. Susan Dove Lempke noted in Booklist that "the basic situation is humorous." A Kirkus Reviews contributor felt this story will be embraced by "readers who ever hoped that their pets could become people." A Publishers Weekly reviewer observed that Brace's illustrations "will have children of all ages rolling on the floor" and said Markoe's first juvenile work "makes a very droll children's book debut."
It's My F—ing Birthday is Markoe's first novel and consists of the journal entries of a single high school art teacher on seven consecutive birthdays following the end of a relationship. A Publishers Weekly reviewer called the book "the perfect gift for all women who face birthdays with grim determination, pepper spray, and sharp fingernail files." Beginning with her thirty-sixth birthday, the unnamed narrator writes an overview of the past year and makes poignant observations about men, such as "Here was a guy who claimed to earn his living as a handyman. . . . But he had no idea at all where anything was on a woman."
The narrator is forced to celebrate every birthday with her parents, who spend the entire time telling her what a loser she is and who give her gifts of incredibly ugly clothing. One of the actions the narrator takes is to refuse to continue this annual torture. In each entry, she takes a stand. On her thirty-sixth birthday she vows not to participate in bad sex. On her thirty-seventh she says no more shopping with her mother. She concludes on her thirty-eighth birthday that it is no big deal that she didn't have a partner that year. "When you have never loved at all, at least you have enough attention span left to get some reading done," is her revelation at thirty-nine. Seaman wrote that "Markoe's hero discovers at age forty what readers knew all along: that she's mighty good company, boyfriend or no boyfriend." "This funny story about jerky men and clueless parents is a great complement to Markoe's nonfiction works," commented Kathy Ingels Helmond in Library Journal.
Publishers Weekly's Melissa Mia Hall interviewed Markoe, and asked her if It's My F—ing Birthday is autobiographical. Markoe replied, "I was trying to write the voice of the women I've been hanging out with for the past ten years—assorted smart, really neat, great women. And there's this lament I've been listening to and participating in. It's the joint voice of that peer group."
Hall asked Markoe if she thought birthdays should be celebrated or outlawed. Markoe said, "Let's get rid of them. You can have one like every fifteen or twenty years. It's the underlying attitude—it has nothing to do with the birthday. It's the whole way they hammer at us about being nervous about life. To hell with it."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Book, March-April, 2002, Steve Wilson, review of It's My F—ing Birthday, p. 76.
Booklist, May 1, 1992, Ilene Cooper, review of What the Dogs Have Taught Me and Other Amazing Things I've Learned, p. 1578; August, 1994, Ilene Cooper, review of How to Be Hap-Hap-Happy Like Me, p. 2017; February 1, 1997, Donna Seaman, review of Merrill Markoe's Guide to Love, p. 912; February 15, 1999, Susan Dove Lempke, review of The Day My Dogs Became Guys, p. 1076; February 1, 2002, Donna Seaman, review of It's My F—ing Birthday, p. 922.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, March, 1999, Janice M. Del Negro, review of The Day My Dogs Became Guys, p. 248.
Cosmopolitan, January, 1987, Caroline Latham, "Does Anyone Know the Real David Letterman?" p. 68.
Entertainment Weekly, October 28, 1994, Matthew Flamm, review of How to Be Hap-Hap-Happy like Me, p. 84.
Kirkus Reviews, January 1, 1999, review of The Day My Dogs Became Guys, p. 69.
Library Journal, April 15, 1992, Carol Spielman Lezak, review of What the Dogs Have Taught Me and Other Amazing Things I've Learned, p. 90; September 15, 1994, Wilda Williams, review of How to Be Hap-Hap-Happy like Me, p. 72; January, 2002, Kathy Ingels Helmond, review of It's My F—ing Birthday, p. 150.
Los Angeles Times, March 21, 1997, Irene Lacher, review of Merrill Markoe's Guide to Love, pp. E1-E2.
New York Times, June 6, 1988, John J. O'Connor, review of Merrill Markoe's Guide to Glamourous Living, p. C18.
O, March, 2002, Lisa Kogan, review of It's My F—ing Birthday, p. 128.
People, July 27, 1987, Jeff Jarvis, review of This Week Indoors, p. 11; May 23, 1988, Joanne Kaufman, "Merrill Markoe, Late Night's Loss and Cable's Gain, Surfaces in a Glamourous Special All her Own," p. 79; July 25, 1994, Craig Tomashoff, "TV Nation," p. 15; October 24, 1994, Joanne Kaufman, interview, p. 24, review of How to Be Hap-Hap-Happy like Me, p. 25.
Publishers Weekly, February 24, 1992, review of What the Dogs Have Taught Me and Other Amazing Things I've Learned, p. 35; August 8, 1994, review of How to Be Hap-Hap-Happy like Me, p. 408; January 2, 1995, review of How to Be Hap-Hap-Happy like Me, p. 42; December 9, 1996, review of Merrill Markoe's Guide to Love, p. 54; January 18, 1999, review of The Day My Dogs Became Guys, p. 337; January 21, 2002, review of It's My F—ing Birthday, p. 64, Melissa Mia Hall, "PW Talks with Merrill Markoe," p. 65.
School Library Journal, April, 1986, Elizabeth Thurston, review of Late Night with David Letterman: The Book, p. 107.
Time, June 1, 1992, Amelia Weiss, review of What the Dogs Have Taught Me and Other Amazing Things I've Learned, p. 86; October 3, 1994, Ginia Bellafante, review of How to Be Hap-Hap-Happy like Me, p. 87.
Tribune Books (Chicago, IL), February 9, 1997, Carolyn Alessio, review of Merrill Markoe's Guide to Love, p. 6.*