Humor writer Merrill Markoe — you can thank her for Letterman's “Stupid Pet Tricks” — recently published her eighth book, Cool, Calm & Contentious. She's at Beth Lapides' Un-Cabaret this week.
L.A. WEEKLY: Cool, Calm & Contentious has been called your “most personal, affecting collection yet.” Why get personal?
MERRILL MARKOE: And after all these years of doing the Un-Cabaret it finally dawned on me: “Hey. Since I'm a person, it only makes sense that I probably have personal things to say!” Although I confess I found it difficult and even morally confusing at times to say a lot of those things. Especially the chapter where I quoted extensively from my mother's irritable damning travel diaries. Which, by the way, originally made their debut in a set I did at the Un-Cabaret where they received a warm, if astonished, response. Since then I've learned that no crowd can resist listening to my mother disembowel the French countryside. Among other things, she called it “singularly uninteresting.”
And can we expect more dog stories in the future?
As long as I continue to live among the dogs, there will be dog stories. Since most of my life I have lived in a herd, I now see myself as the canine Jane Goodall — but without all that annoying research. That makes dogs my most convenient, omnipresent form of inspiration, because they stare at me all day long with an expression that says, “We trust you are planning something amazing for us.” Usually I'm not, but I can't stand to disappoint them, so I get on it.
I didn't know you wrote for Laugh-In. You wrote for Laugh-In? What did you write?
I wrote for the … ahem … all-new Laugh-In. It was Laugh-In-esque … so close but yet so far away. George Schlatter produced both shows. This was his attempt to revive his big hit. But the one I worked on, which was my very first job writing for television, disappeared without a trace after only four episodes. The only cast member that went on to greater glory was Robin Williams. The writers sat in tiny cubicles writing jokes, and at the end of the day, we would get the jokes we'd written back Xeroxed with a number written on them. #1,296, #1,638, etc. This was the job that drove me to trying stand-up.
What movies or TV makes you laugh these days?
I love Portlandia. I love The Daily Show and Colbert. I like all the Amy Poehler/Tina Fey oeuvre. But you know what? I've turned into one of those people who doesn't turn the TV on very much. I mainly watch clips from things online. This will sound annoying and pretentious, but I've been making a real effort to learn something by reading a lot of the books I buy and keep forgetting to read.
What will you reading at Un-Cabaret?
Well, because it's not a “reading” night, I will be doing my version of an Un-Cabaret set, which traditionally is untested material about stuff that has happened to you. That means I might be talking about the time I spent last week in the Midwest visiting my boyfriend's relatives. Unless someone yells out a request to hear my mother's travel diaries, which I will be able to accommodate because Beth Lapides still has the book of them I left behind on the bar when I performed in February. If memory serves, it contains her treatise on trying to get a lobster fork at the Red Lobster, which she described as “a reckoning that did not happen until meal's end.”
Can you please tell your boyfriend, Andy Prieboy, that we need him to resurrect White Trash Wins Lotto? Thanks.
I have done as you asked. Now please release my children.
Merrill Markoe at Un-Cabaret with Margaret Cho and Casey Wilson, First & Hope, 710 W. First St., dwntwn.; Sun., July 8, 8 p.m.; $20; uncabaret.com.
Sun., July 8, 8 p.m., 2012