You may not have heard of her, but Merrill Marko is one of the funniest women in any media. This interview gave us amazing insight into the trials, tribulations, and triumphs of being a woman, a writer, and in many ways a legend in TV:
Merrill Markoe, Patron Saint of Women in TV Comedy Writing
by Grace Bello
The very funny Merrill Markoe has written for TV, movies, print, and talk radio. She wrote for Laugh-In, Newhart, Moonlighting, and Sex and the City, and she’s probably best known for her Emmy award-winning work on Late Night With David Letterman, where she invented the segments Stupid Pet Tricks — and its Stupid Human Tricks spinoff — and Viewer Mail. In her new memoir Cool, Calm & Contentious, she dissects her life in show business and beyond, recalling that virginity was “something to be gotten rid of quickly, then never discussed again, like body odor.” I spoke with Merrill about her career in comedy, and her Lynda Barry envy.
Who do you think are the funniest people on TV right now?
I like a lot of people on SNL right now. Kristin Wiig, Bill Hader, and Fred Armisen are all consistently amazing. I love Tina Fey and Amy Poehler. I thought Carrie Brownstein was really funny on Portlandia. But I gotta admit I haven’t really been watching a lot of the new shows. Also: Chris Elliot is very funny on his new show Eagleheart.
And it almost goes without saying that Colbert and John Stewart are very funny. They’re so immortalized and entrenched in the comedy culture at this point that I forgot about them.
What kind of humor do you think is definitely not funny, or is perhaps overdone these days?
Well…my personal preference is always toward cerebral silliness. I just don’t have the gene required to laugh at most poo and fart stuff. I can’t help it. I try but my facial muscles won’t move. Same with double entendres. They can stare me right in the face, and I stare back but I can’t smile. What I love is tiny details, detailed observation. That’s what kills me about Kristin Wiig and Bill Hader: The tiny details and gestures and reactions that they add to the people they play are so careful and well-observed. I am also a sucker for arcane references. Plus I need to add that I like pure stupidity. I almost always laugh at the combination of incompetence and confidence. Fred Willard doing his chatty blank person always makes me laugh….