Two survivors of love catalogue the claws of attraction “Love is merely a madness,” says Rosalind in Shakespeare’s As You Like It. In her latest offering, humorist Merrill Markoe carries that sentiment to the extreme. Co-written with veteran singer/songwriter Andy Prieboy, The Psycho Ex Game is a mordant study in two-part disharmony, in which a pair of jaded Angelenos engages in a battle of online one-upsmanship to establish who has suffered more in the name of romance. Plumbing the depths of dark humor is nothing new for Markoe, author of six books, including the raucous It’s My F ing Birthday, and one of the creative forces behind “Late Night With David Letterman.” Both acerbic and sweet, the Los Angeles-based writer is wired to barb. “I think people figure out early in their lives what currency they can work in,” she says. “Some people know that they are so adorable looking, all they have to do is smile and dress up and they get plenty from that. Then there are some of us who, early on, see that that doesn’t work. So we joke about it.” In The Psycho Ex Game, successful screenwriter Lisa Roberty and indie rock musician Grant Repka meet after one of Grant’s shows, a comic operetta about the doomed romance between Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee. While romantic sparks don’t fly, the two are interested enough in each other to exchange e-mail addresses. Inspired by Grant’s hit song, “My Psycho Ex,” they begin sharing excruciating details of romantic bliss gone bad.
Written in alternating “he said/she said” chapters by Prieboy and Markoe, The Psycho Ex Game delivers a deluge of narcissistic, sadistic, venom-drenched displays. The dysfunctional showdown pits tales of Grant Repka’s former lover, the multiple-personalitied “Junkie Queen of Darkness” against the bad behaviors of Lisa Roberty’s ex, a lobster-hurling actor and director widely known as “Mr. Summer Box Office Record-Holder.” Throughout the game, Repka and Roberty attribute numerical values to their suffering; the greater the trauma, the higher the number of points. The book was inspired by a real-life literary correspondence between Markoe and Prieboy, before the two became romantically involved. “It was so florid, not sexual in any way, but just detailed,” Markoe says. “At some point, Andy and I started playing a game: who had the more horrible previous love life?” She says The Psycho Ex Game is based both on actual experiences and observations: as a 25-year resident of Los Angeles, she’s gathered a wealth of material on the megalomaniacal. A veteran television writer, Markoe was earning laughs long before her prickly humor saw print. In the early ’80s, she teamed up with then-boyfriend David Letterman to create a morning show that would go on to become “Late Night with David Letterman.” The morning show won a couple of Emmys, says Markoe, but it was considered too deranged for the early A.M., when sweet housewives were watching TV. “It was live, and great, weird things happened,” she says. Markoe ended her relationship with “Late Night” and Letterman in 1987, but made amends seven years later when she appeared on the show to promote her second book, How To Be Hap-Hap-Happy Like Me. “It was a dark joke that appealed to my sense of humor,” says Markoe. “You would not speak to somebody for a very long time, then get all dressed up and put on tons of makeup and go see them on their show. It was a lot of fun.” Among Markoe’s “Late Night” legacies is “Stupid Pet Tricks,” an idea she and Letterman generated for the original morning show. (Though Markoe stays mum on the topic of Letterman himself, her kinship with canines is showcased in What the Dogs Have Taught Me, in which she describes her overly excitable pawed pal, Lewis, who suffers from a “greeting disorder.”) Enamored as she is of mutts, Markoe hasn’t written off humans. Not yet. In The Psycho Ex Game, amid remembrances of psychos past, Lisa and Grant discover truths about each other and themselves. Might the pair become romantically linked in their log-on, log-off-again lives? After documenting the demented, it seems only fitting that they should fall madly in love.