Markoe, Merrill 1951–
Markoe, Merrill 1951–
Writer, comedian, and actor. 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 The New Laugh In, The Mary Tyler Moore Variety Show, 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. Also lifestyle reporter for Channel 13, Los Angeles, CA, and actor in television sitcoms and series, including Friends, Mike Hammer, and Suddenly Susan.
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.
(With Andy Prieboy) The Psycho Ex Game, Villard (New York, NY), 2004.
Walking in Circles before Lying Down (novel), Villard (New York, NY), 2006.
Contributor to periodicals, including Rolling Stone, Time, New York Times Magazine, Los Angeles Times, Self, Cosmopolitan, Glamour, Us, People, and New Woman; author of scripts for television specials, including This Week Indoors, 1987, and Merrill Markoe's Guide to Glamourous Living, 1988, both Cinemax.
Merrill Markoe's specialty is comedy. She has performed it, written it, and received numerous awards for it, in 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 is 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 in New 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." Carol Spielman Lezak wrote in the Library Journal that the book "deserves to be read by men and women alike." Lezak also noted: "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 Markoe 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. People's Joanne Kaufman called Markoe "the funniest woman in America and, please, let's have no arguing, okay?" Cooper wrote that "Markoe's version of life on the wry is not to be missed."
Merrill Markoe's Guide to Love is about the disappointing methods used to find love, which she thoroughly researched by attending seminars and reading how-to books. A Publishers Weekly contributor noted that her "look at love and sex in the 1990s is … 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 contributor 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." Alessio went on to write: "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 commented that this story will be embraced by "readers who ever hoped that their pets could become people." A Publishers Weekly reviewer noted that 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 contributor 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. 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. 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."
Markoe collaborated with Andy Prieboy to write the novel The Psycho Ex Game. Written in alternating chapters by the two authors, the novel focuses on e-mails sent between screenwriter Lisa Roberty and Indie rock musician Grant Repka concerning the foibles and disasters of their past romances. In fact, the novel reflects real life in that Markoe and Prieboy, who is a rock musician, exchanged similar emails after striking up a friendship. "It was so florid, not sexual in any way, but just detailed," Markoe said of her real-life e-mails during an interview with Allison Block on the BookPage Web site. "At some point, Andy and I started playing a game: who had the more horrible previous love life?" A Publishers Weekly contributor wrote of The Psycho Ex Game: "In this collaborative effort, the authors explore the anxiety of personal interaction versus the safety of e-mailing and the [dubious] trustworthiness of cyber friendships." Bella Stander, writing in People, noted: "Summer reading doesn't get more fun than this."
In her next novel, Walking in Circles before Lying Down, Markoe tells the story of Dawn Tarnauer, a dog lover looking for human companionship and love. Dawn, who is twice divorced and comes from a dysfunctional family, suddenly finds that her dog, Chuck, is talking to her after her latest boyfriend leaves. Chuck has plenty of sage advice and observations but eventually runs away, leaving Dawn to ponder whether she loves her dog more than she could any human. A Publishers Weekly contributor referred to Walking in Circles before Lying Down as "off-beat enough to stand out of the pack." Allison Block, writing in Booklist, commented that the novel "may be her best yet, delivering the drama, dark humor, and dysfunctional characters that have become the author's cachet."
Markoe told CA: "My mother, a frustrated writer-wanna be, was kind of grooming me as a writer from grade school on, perhaps unintentionally. She used to mark up my homework assignments with editor's markings in blue pencil (like NEW PARAGRAPH and SP.) Because of this I went to art school instead of pursuing writing. But when that money trail ended, I wrote some spec material and drove down to L.A. alone to see if writing might work out. And to my utter shock, it did. A few weeks after I arrived, I had a job.
"My two biggest stylistic influences were probably Robert Benchley and Kurt Vonnegut. However, everything that I encounter and find interesting influences me. Everything. I feel like I am on a constant hunt for useful bits of information and moments. This also causes a mess on my desk since I think many of my findings should be where I can see them, and make use of them when the time comes. What I love about art, and writing, is that they both provide you with a use and a channel for the million interesting ideas that are all around us. And I mean everywhere. From a walk down the block to following the unlikely connective tissue that Internet searches present to talking to friends to reading the advertising copy on cereal boxes in the market. I constantly make notes and try to figure out ways to use the things that I think are funny or interesting."
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; July 1, 2004, Allison Block, review of The Psycho Ex Game, p. 1818; June 1, 2006, Allison Block, review of Walking in Circles before Lying Down, p. 38.
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; May 1, 2004, review of The Psycho Ex Game, p. 417.
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; July 12, 2004, Bella Stander, review of The Psycho Ex Game, p. 48.
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; May 10, 2004, review of The Psycho Ex Game, p. 36; June 12, 2006, review of Walking in Circles before Lying Down, p. 29; August 28, 2006, "Marley and She," discusses Walking in Circles before Lying Down, p. 8.
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.
BookPage,http://www.bookpage.com/ (July 2, 2007), Allison Block, "The Ex Files," interview with author.
Merrill Markoe Home Page,http://www.merrillmarkoe.com (July 2, 2007).
The Psycho Ex Game Web site,http://www.psychoexgame.com (July 2, 2007).