Thanks for the House, Merrill Markoe

I just finished Jason Zinoman’s new book on David Letterman, Letterman: The Last Giant of Late Night, and I have feelings.

I am a lot of things but at my core, I am a typical middle-aged white male TV comedy writer who grew up worshipping David Letterman as a god. He was my idol, the One Who Was Funny The Way I Wanted To Be Funny. And he is the reason I became a standup comic and am now a TV writer.

I won’t bore you with all the reasons I loved David Letterman but in a nutshell, after obsessively watching him on The Tonight Show and then his amazing but failed morning show, I spent an entire summer with a friend mounting an obsessive mail campaign to try and get on Late Night. Then I went to film school and made a fake documentary about it (you can watch it here https://vimeo.com/125728757) And then I spent another few years mounting an obsessive mail campaign trying to get the fake documentary on Late Night.

So I was well, obsessed. David Letterman was my everything.

What I didn’t realize at the time was that Merrill Markoe was also my everything.

This is where Mr. Zinoman’s book comes in (and you must must read it). It illustrates more clearly than ever what Letterman fanatics to some extent already know: Merrill Markoe not only created signature Letterman bits like “Stupid Pet Tricks,” but was heavily responsible for the voice of the show and even the voice of David Letterman himself. She was at the center of the Letterman comedy ethos that shaped and inspired a generation of comics and writers, including me.

You’ll have to read the book to find out the details, but one thing that struck me about Ms. Markoe’s achievement is let’s face it, it’s 2017 and there are still a lot of people out there who think “women aren’t funny.” In 1980 there were a lot more.

I like to think I never had that attitude, but on the other hand, as the aforementioned typical middle-aged white male TV comedy writer who grew up worshipping David Letterman as a god, you automatically think “Dave makes me laugh. It’s Dave.”

Well sure. But it was Merrill too. (And her legendary writing staff. The staff she put together.)

Currently I spend my days on One Day at a Time, a show I co-created with a woman, in a writers’ room half comprised of women. And I have deep appreciation that not only do I get to write with some of the funniest and most talented humans I’ll ever have the privilege of working with, but that these women are indispensable writers and voices. Our show wouldn’t exist without them. Certainly Ms. Markoe’s talent and trailblazing had something to do with that reality.

So I’m here because of Dave. But also because of Merrill.

Occasionally I’ve heard show business people say a certain phrase of appreciation to the person whose creative influence on them was so great that they consider that person essentially responsible for their career. The phrase is: “Thanks for the house.” As in, you are the reason I make a living at this, my dream profession.

Thanks for the house, Merrill Markoe.

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