You’ve heard of the Cannes Film Festival. Now, get ready for the Canine Film Festival, an event taking place in Charlottesville this Saturday. The night’s emcee is a woman who came up with Stupid Pet Tricks for David Letterman’s show and has made a career by combining canines and comedy.
Merrill Markoe has made the most of her comedic skills and her love of dogs - writing 8 books, including Walking in Circles Before Lying Down. Markoe knows dogs well. She has, at times, had eight of them.
“And when I write, they’re sitting around staring at me and it just always made me laugh. It always made me wonder what they think I do for a living. In some ways it’s like having an exchange student from Neptune. They’re sharing your furniture, but they really have no idea what’s on your mind.”
Which was why, as head writer on the Late Show with David Letterman, she thought Stupid Pet Tricks would be so funny.
“When I was in college, we would sit around and stare at the dog and occasionally put a shirt on him or sox on him, and that would be entertaining, and I was just thinking, ‘I’m pretty sure everyone does that.’ At the time I was living with Mr. Letterman, and we did it endlessly with our dogs --nothing that you could take to the circus or Vegas or anything. Just stuff that was infinitely entertaining.”
Later, Markoe appeared on a show called Word of Mouth, doing reviews of products like pet toys.
“This is your squeaking plastic pork chop, and when you think about it, a dog is a creature of smell. He’s not going to buy that this is a pork chop, right, but if he does, what is he thinking? This is the toughest, nosiest pork chop! I’m thinking this is stressful for your dog.”
She produced a TV pilot in which her dog, Lewis, instructs others on proper canine performance. Here, for example, he explains to his fellow dogs what to do when one’s owner departs.
“Oh my God, it’s after 10 o’clock. I have to get out of here. Goodbye sweet baby. Goodbye sweet boy. She’s out the door. The door closes. Is this the time to begin our activities? Let’s take a look. Oh, God, I forgot my sunglasses. Hey, welcome back! It’s been a long time. Nice to see you. You look fantastic! Two reappearances is common, three is not unheard of. Four is rare but still possible. You must greet her at all of them. It’s part of the job. They expect it.”
When it appears your owner really is gone, Lewis says, the fun begins.
“The idea is to lie on your side on every surface in the house. On the side and legs straight out. One, two, three, four.”
And, Markoe produced a satirical take on dog shows in which the real competitors are the dog handlers.
“In ring two, the mini-pinschers are showing white men in rumpled jackets - a non-sporting group commonly known as sitters. With their lumbering gates and their large pockets full of keys, loose change and moist handkerchiefs, they make excellent shop keepers and bus drivers.”
Markoe’s work will be featured Saturday at Piedmont Virginia Community College in Charlottesville, and she’ll host the event the Ruff Cut Film Festival - a benefit for Service Dogs of Virginia.