The Merrill Markoe Interview

Today is the day to pick out a good dog.

Today's interviewee you could say has done pretty well for herself in the comedy realm. I'm going to borrow liberally from her Wikipedia entry here in my introduction--She has written for many television shows, among them Newhart, Sex and the City and Moonlighting, but she may be best known for her work on Late Night with David Letterman (a show for which she won five Emmys).. She was the show's original head writer, having done the same on Letterman's short-lived live NBC morning show in 1980. She engineered most of the original concepts for the show, along the way creating the segment "Stupid Pet Tricks." There is more stuff in the bio here that is of interest. But most recently she is the author of Walking in Circles Before Lying Down.She has also published three books of humorous essays and the novel It’s My F---ing [as they say on Amazon] Birthday, as well as co-authoring (with Andy Prieboy) the novel The Psycho Ex Game.

The Merrill Markoe Interview: Just Under Twenty Questions

If your dog could talk right this second, what would he probably say?
You MUST want to go for a walk right now. You're kidding yourself if you don't. You want to go. I can tell you do.  You just aren't letting yourself acknowledge it. Yes, I know its dark out. I don't see what that has to do with anything. There is no RIGHT time to go for a walk. It's ALWAYS the right time.

You've just published your latest book, Walking in Circles Before Lying Down. What are you working on now that it's out?
I am working on figuring out what I can sell to someone next. I have an idea for a book. And I have an idea for a TV Show. And I have a new screenplay kicking around. And I have no idea if anyone is going to pay me for any of the above.

Which of your books thus far have been the most difficult to write?
This one was very tough . Easiest for me is writing funny journalism and opinion pieces. But for some reason I am told those don't sell as well as novels. Novels are difficult to write. Keeping a narrative going for hundreds of pages, and having it move quickly and stay interconnected and make sense is just plain old HARD.  And now that I have used up every last personal anecdote and have to write actual fiction, it is all more painstakingly difficult. Writing novels is HARD.
So are you a dog dresser-upper or do you prefer to let your dogs be nude (other than collars)?
. I prefer my dogs au natural. For me the great delight of living with animals is that I get to witness a parallel reality to my own. It is like sponsoring exchange students from Neptune. I like watching as animals share my environment, adjusting to things they would have never encountered in a more indigenous setting and taking them for granted, pretending like they know what is going on. And I think it is funny what a different take they have on things like the delivery of the mail.  I like imagining what they think is going on. I like it so much that I have just written a novel full of it.
You've written for (and been on) many TV shows—can you tell from the outset whether it will be a hit (critical or popular) or you never know?
 Boy oh boy. I NEVER know. I am the worst judge of this because every ounce of my DNA is so indie. I would get a main stream transfusion if I could, just for the help it would be to me in terms of sales. But I am stuck with too much indie DNA. It's a curse.
What new shows are you looking forward to this season?
 I am a "24" freak. I was so crazed for "24" that after I finished watching every single episode of every single season of it this past summer I have been afraid to sample other serialized shows for fear of getting that hooked. I will never get any writing done at that rate.  I also like "Curb your Enthusiasm.",  "The Minor Accomplishments of Jackie Woodman." And that reality show about Danny Bonaduce…I was very hooked in to that one last season. I really liked The Dog Whisperer when it started. But once I watched a whole season I felt like I could predict all the advice and so never watched the second season.
You've blogged for the Huffington Post—have you ever considered starting your own blog?
Yes. But I don't think anyone would know about it. And therefore no one would read it. And therefore  I would be writing to no one. And I get plenty of that when I publish my books.

Do you check the comments you get on the HuffPost blog and interact with the commenters?
 No. Ever since I read a few nasty comments on Amazon I am afraid to read comments. If I have learned one thing in this life, (and one may be the total when the final totals are in) it is that there is no gain whatsoever in taking in the nasty degrading remarks of others. Especially after the fact.

Of all the important cultural events of the '60's that you left early, which are you most glad that you didn't stick around for?
. I am glad I didn't stick around longer at any of them. In fact, sad to say I probably would leave them all even earlier now. I still don't like giant crowds full of smoke and incense. But I used to feel bad and make excuses.  Now I am old enough to feel just fine about not liking them.

Do most late-night talk show writers dream of being guests on the show one day (or hosts in their own right?)
 I think they probably do dream of being a guest. And its not such an impossible dream. When you work on a talk show you find out that guests are canceling at the last minute on a daily basis. . The producer of Johnny Carson's show once said to me ,"There is a point during the week where Charo starts to look very good to you." (Do you even know who Charo is? Think: Paris Hilton with a thick accent.) As for hosting: They probably all dream of that too. But hosting is a relentless job. And you get a report card every day. DAILY RATINGS. Think of that; Every day someone says "You failed. " or "You did okay." Or "You did great." And if it's the first one, and it happens day after day, you still have to keep getting up, getting dressed, and putting on a good face knowing that your bosses think you are failing.  It can be brutal.

What was the first paying gig as a television writer that you got?
. I got a job as one of about 15 first time writers hired to create "The NEW Laugh In." And I had never watched the OLD Laugh In, so it was all kind of amazing. We sat in little offices and wrote jokes all day. And in the end they never used any of our material, they just recycled stuff from the original show, which bombed.

You worked with David Letterman on the morning show that eventually turned into his evening show. How come you think talk shows that are on prior to 10:30 PM (CST) have to be safe, comedy-wise? The kids should be at school anyway, not watching the daytime stuff.
. I think you mean 10:30 AM. Which is when it was on. At 9 in the morning, live. for 90 minutes. Network guys believe that the audience for morning shows is housewives and that they are half wits and pin heads. They have the statistics to prove what housewives do and don't watch, and it skews toward makeovers, soap operas etc.. I attended meetings where I was the only woman in the room and these guys would be saying "Women want this, Women do NOT want that." And I would say "How can YOU tell ME what women want. I am the only woman here." But of course, now I look back and realize that  I actually have no idea what women want. I am a real oddball, taste-wise.

Is it difficult to write jokes and not present them yourself?
Not if  you really understand and relate to the voice of the person who you are writing for. But you have to put your ego on hold. Writing for others is all about allowing yourself to serve a master. It's all about giving someone the kind of thing they would have written for themselves if they'd had the time and were really really in the best possible form.

If you could write on one genre for the rest of your life (TV scriptwriting, screenwriting, novels, etc) which would it be?
I think I like going out with a camera and doing little pieces about real life. I used to do a lot of that. Not so much lately. I have some old pieces of mine up on and I am getting some more digitized so I can put them up.

Who is Leo Tecate?
That is my writer's guild pseudonym that I use on occasions when I have been so re-written by others that it seems goofy to put my name on the work. But at the same time I still want them to mail me any royalties. I made up the name because as I was filling out the form, I didn't know what to use so I said Leo, because I am a Leo. And Tecate, because it was the beer I was drinking at the time.

Who are some of your favorite female comics or humorists?
Julia Sweeney, Margaret Cho, Elayne Boosler, Laura Kightlinger, Amy Poehler, MaryLyn Rasjkub, Lynda Barry, Sue Kollinsky, Nora Ephron and a host of others.

Which movie or TV show do you think does the most accurate job of portraying real life for those in the entertainment business in Hollywood today?
I just saw IDIOCRACY and I was totally blown away by it. It is Mike Judge's new vision of the future of our culture. And it has been buried by its parent company. Barely released. No publicity. It is AMAZING. Find it and go see it.
Where do you hang your monkey paintings?
There is only one appropriate place for monkey paintings: the living room.
How does it feel to be the 155th person interviewed for
For some reason, it feels more like I am the 90th or 91st. person. And it feels fantastic.