markoe on markoe

the early years

Merrill Markoe was born in New York City and lived there for the first three years of her life. After that, nothing notable happened until High School. By then the Markoe family had moved five times, eventually landing on the San Francisco peninsula where, during her sophomore year, Merrill began a decade long tradition of attending the biggest most important cultural events of the sixties and seventies, only to leave them early. “The Human Be-In in Golden Gate Park,” “The Ken Kesey Acid Test” in San Francisco, “The People’s Park Protest,” and “The Black Power Conference” in Berkeley, and the famous Rolling Stone’s Concert at Altamont are just a few of the famous events that Merrill Markoe showed up for but didn’t have the patience to sit through because, according to her still unpublished childhood diaries, she found them “too smoky” or “too stinky from all the incense and free form dancing.”

the art years

Eventually Merrill Markoe graduated from UC Berkeley with a Masters Degree in Art, having decided to spend an additional two years listening to graduate school discussions about “the crystallization of ambiguity,” drinking inexpensive alcohol, and making detailed paintings using a brush with one hair. This culminated in a couple of art shows and a one year Assistant Professor of Art position at the University of Southern California where, while teaching Freshman Life Drawing, Merrill Markoe tried as hard as she could to talk sorority girls in to taking time out of their busy tanning schedules to attempt a couple of charcoal sketches of nude models. When this turned out to be futile, Merrill Markoe herself began auditing all kinds of classes at the USC Film School, just to insure that, under her watch, someone was learning something. A year later she abandoned her art teaching career and, much to the surprise of everyone she knew, began writing for television.

People often ask how she made this transition with no previous training or intentions of being a writer. Merrill Markoe tells them that no one was more shocked than she when the “spec” comedy material she wrote in her creepy apartment was actually able to assist her in gaining employment.

the variety show years

Merrill Markoe’s first job was as a member of a giant staff of writers on an attempted revival of “Laugh In.” When “Laugh In II” was a disaster, it was no surprise to Merrill Markoe who was pretty puzzled by the many mystifying attempts to repackage, “Sock it to me.”

After that Merrill Markoe got a job on Mary Tyler Moore’s short lived and ill-conceived attempt to star in her own variety show on CBS. During those few strange months, she believes she actually witnessed a choreographed production number being taped in which a young David Letterman and an even younger Michael Keaton were forced to sing and dance to the Village People song Macho Man. Sometimes, late at night, when she is having trouble sleeping, she wonders if this could have been a feverish hallucination.

the talk show show years

It was during this period that she began writing and creating shows with David Letterman, who she knew from the Comedy Store in the late seventies. Together Merrill Markoe and Mr. Letterman eventually designed the beloved NBC talk show, Late Night with David Letterman, But first there was an Emmy award winning NBC day time talk show, live from New York City every morning at 10 a.m… which had, among it’s highlights, an episode during which the studio caught fire, live on network TV, due to a shower of flammable, igniting rose petals meant to enhance the fiftieth wedding anniversary celebration of an obscure couple from Long Island. Not so surprisingly, the show only lasted 4 months.

After five or six years of writing and producing what seemed like thousands of individual units of late night comedy and winning a bunch of Emmys for “Late Night with David Letterman,” Merrill Markoe felt that she had plumbed the depths of her ability to invent off-beat, comedic ideas for acerbic witty white hosts in suits. Haunted by the fear that the creation of Stupid Pet Tricks was going to be the only thing that would appear in her obituary should she die right then, Merrill Markoe decided to abandon the talk show game entirely unless she herself had something she needed to plug.

the more eclectic years

Although she was now offered an assortment of presumably high paying jobs producing talk shows for other people, Merrill Markoe decided to try and reconnect with her own voice by taking a job in local news at Channel 13 in Los Angeles where she wrote, produced and appeared in bi-weekly remote segments that were called, oddly enough, “Merrill’s L.A.”

After only a few months on the air covering events like the national auditions for Rocker Barbie and the opening of Mickey Rooney’s Yogurt Parlor, she was proud to be singled out in a Los Angeles Magazine review as “the most disturbing life style reporter to hit the tube in some time.”

In the years that followed, Merrill Markoe continued to work as an on-air reporter for a number of magazine shows, including Michael Moore’s TV Nation and HBO’s satirical hit “˜Not Necessarily the News’ while also writing freelance for numerous print publications (Rolling Stone, Time, New York Woman, The New York Times and Los Angles Times, etc.) and television shows (Newhart, Moonlighting, Sex in the City). The highlight of this period was the production of a number of obscure but well reviewed cable TV specials and pilots which Merrill Markoe wrote, directed and starred in, either by herself or with beloved American icons such as Harry Shearer and Richard Rosen. She also completed scripts for a number of movies, at least one of which has been on the infuriating verge of being produced for the last twenty (count em; TWENTY) years.

and then there was this stuff

In the late nineties Merrill Markoe was shocked to find herself working in talk radio in Los Angeles where she spent every day trapped in a small room arguing about the so-called “issues” with not just a right wing co-host but also the rabid conspiracy theorists who call up radio shows.

Even more peculiar, in retrospect, were the assorted pieces of her checkered acting career. For example, her portrayal as Marsha, the irritable museum curator, on episode two of “Friends,” and a Dr. Laura-like character who gets strangled on “Mike Hammer,” not to mention a credit bureau snoop on the Brooke Shield’s vehicle, “Suddenly Susan.” Fortunately she also wrote a couple of long running magazine columns, many of which were collected in to her first three books.

When none of the above career moves had anything like legs, Merrill Markoe made the courageous decision to put her hopes for a national platform on hold as she tumbled boldly in to the darkest and most labor intensive hole of them all; writing novels. This brings us to today, where we find her waking up each morning to face the question, “Now what?”

So now, Merrill Markoe has authored three books of humorous essays and the novels It’s My F—ing Birthday and What the Dogs Have Taught Me which have been all published by Villard Books/Random House Publishing Group. She has also co-authored with Andy Prieboy the novel The Psycho Ex Game. Then there are the two talking dog novels: Walking in Circles Before Lying Down ( 2006 )which is now in its 24th printing and Nose Down, Eyes Up which was published by Randomhouse in 2009  A fourth book of humorous essays, published by Randomhouse in 2011, is called Cool, Calm and Contentious. You definitely should buy it.

Personal life

Merrill Markoe is the daughter of the always prompt but now late Ronny and Gerry Markoe. She was a librarian. He was a builder. Markoe had one brother, Dr. Glenn Markoe, who was a curator of ancient art at the Cincinnati art museum for 23 years.

Ms. Markoe has never been married, per se. She has been, however, lived-togethered. Among these liasions was one with Mr. Letterman which started in the lovely spring of 1978 , ended in the turbulent winter of 1988 and spanned three or four of his earlier TV shows before the move to CBS.

Since 2001, Ms. Markoe has been living with the singer/songwriter Mr. Andy Prieboy, co-author of her novel The Psycho Ex Game. Check him out. He’s great. The lovely couple has two amazing dogs: Hedda and Puppyboy. No, really. They’re amazing. Seriously. They are.

 

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