By Jon Zeller | July 29, 2022

If you’re a comedy fan and a pug person, there’s a good chance you know about Josh Gondelman. The New York City–based comedian has written for TV’s Desus and Mero and Last Week Tonight, and is the author of the book Nice Try, but The Farmer’s Dog is particularly fond of his pug-based standup bits and improvised pug-centric parodies of pop songs—all inspired by Bizzy, the senior dog he adopted with his now-wife, Maris Kreizman.

He’s also been known to dispense colorful commentary about Bizzy’s expressive face, as demonstrated in the following tweet:

Gondelman took a moment out of his writing and performing schedule to discuss the many ways that Bizzy, whose fifteenth birthday is coming up in August, enhances and controls his life.

Josh Gondelman’s new special, People Pleaser, is now streaming.

Photo: Mindy Tucker

Digest: In People Pleaser, you talk about how you’ve taken on your wife’s enemies as your own. What about Bizzy’s enemies?

Josh Gondelman: Bizzy, sadly, is too easily slayed by deli meats and Greenies to keep up a lot of animosity towards people—but for my wife and I, any dog or person that has ever been impolite to Bizzy is on our list of enemies.

What do people do to get on this list?
People comment on the grayness of Bizzy’s face in a way you wouldn’t do with a person. You wouldn’t look at someone’s grandmother and say, “look at all that gray hair she has; wow!” Someone referred to her “ghost face,” which I think was especially off-putting to my wife—bringing up the imminent specter of our dog going from the mortal world to the supernatural.

Describing your own optimism, you’ve used the phrase “Can you believe there’s a sunset every day?” Do you see that quality in Bizzy?
I think she’s always delighted by the things that she enjoys—like, “Man, the couch is so soft every day! Can you believe I get to nap on it for 20 hours?” Or just, “Man, sliced turkey is delicious! Who knew?”

Also, I think she’s a little more impatient about things like that than I am. She’s very much like, “Okay, let’s get on with it.” But I think she’s enjoying her retirement and doesn’t have a lot of patience for people who waste her time—including me, sometimes.

What else is she impatient about?
She’ll herd us to bed at night. If we’re staying up later than she wants, she’ll ask us to take her off the couch. She’ll stir around, I’ll put her on the floor, and she’ll do a little snort, like, “Time for bed, everybody! We’re all going to bed now.”

Does she sleep with you?
Yeah. When we got her, she was 8 years old. We tried to keep her in the crate overnight. But I think because she was old enough, she had set preferences and did not hesitate to voice them. So how that manifested was, the first couple of nights—and especially living in an apartment in New York, right?—the advice that we got was “Wait her out if she gets a little barky or a little whimpery.” We put her in the crate and got into bed, and she furiously barked for 30 to 60 straight minutes. We were like, “Okay, this is truly cruel and unusual punishment,” and she has gotten her way ever since.

You’ve joked about how being bald has impacted your self-image. Do you think Bizzy’s appearance is a good fit for her, or do people make false assumptions when they see her?
Especially because pugs have a reputation for such an inbred Hapsburg frailty, I think when some people see Bizzy thriving, strong-willed, and capable at her age, they misinterpret that as youth when it is just a spite-fueled vigor.

Tell us more about this spite-fueled vigor.
Oh, it’s so funny. She’s been up a lot at night lately. The last couple of years, she doesn’t sleep quite as well, and she demands company—so I’ll occasionally have to sleep with her on the couch. Because we’re in an apartment with neighbors, I feel more obligation to placate her. She’s very strong-willed.

And we have a friend in the neighborhood who sometimes watches her when we’re away. We have a very detailed list of all her supplements and tinctures and compounds that she takes to ameliorate various effects of aging, and she will remind you. If you give her the treats in the wrong order—or forget to give her something—she’ll stand by the right drawer and kind of grumble and insist: “Now is the time that I get my calming chewy that I chew after this walk,” or: “Now is when I get my pain medication that tastes like meat so you don’t have to wrap it in turkey to trick me into eating it.” It’s very fun.

How does she act when you get back home from a trip?
She is always happy to see us when we’re back, but she is not a super affectionate dog. I think at her age, she’s even a little bit more… there’s that quote from Whoopi Goldberg where she’s like, “I don’t want to get married because I don’t want someone in my house.”

She has become a little bit less of a lapdog. She likes to get into a position of maximum physical comfort for herself. But it is fun when she’s more snuggly. It’s a little unpredictable now, but we’re always very happy when she snuggles with us in bed. Sometimes at night I’ll be staying up and watching a basketball game or doing some work. We have two love seats instead of a long couch, and I’ll put her on one and sit on the other—and then she will sit on the edge of the other one until I put her next to me, and then she goes back to sleep, which is very precious that she just wants to be close.

But also at night, she—and this has become slightly problematic—she won’t go to bed. She’ll sometimes tire herself out and sleep a little bit in the hallway, but she usually won’t come to bed unless my wife and I are both home—so if one of us is out late, she’s very bratty. She’s like, “It’s not bedtime unless we’re all here.” To her, it’s like needing three people to turn the key on the nuclear football.

It’s good that you’ve embraced Bizzy’s ways of showing that she loves you.
For sure. She’s very sweet and gentle, and she has her own way of receiving and giving affection. I see pictures of people with a pug sitting right on their lap, or you can hold one on their back and rub their tummy—and she’s never really been much for that. If she’s sitting in your lap, she’s usually flopped on her tummy across you.

But a couple of weeks ago, we were out across the street at our local bar, and Bizzy was with us. I picked her up, and she just let me hold her and rub her belly for 45 minutes. It was a really lovely night. And it was unusual, but she was just in that kind of mood.

You’ve found a way to raise Bizzy that works for you. Do you ever get unsolicited dog-care advice?
Occasionally we’ll get advice and tell people, “Yeah, we’ve tried that.” Like, “What works for my dog is CBD.” And we’ll say, “Yeah, we’ve heard of CBD, and it doesn’t work for our anxious Jewish dog. She has a stress more powerful than CBD can remedy.”

And my mother-in-law really likes it when Bizzy visits. We had to say, “Remember last time, when she just wouldn’t sleep? That’s what it will be. That was the norm, not the exception.”

So it’s not condescending—it’s just, like, “We’d love to see the dog,” and us responding, “Oh, that’s not possible, she’s a little Emily Dickinson.”

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

The Dog-Person Questionnaire: Josh Gondelman

Josh also answered our series of general queries about the human-dog bond and its role in his life. Here are his responses:

What’s your earliest dog memory?

I remember friends of my parents having kind of a big, boisterous dog, and being afraid. I was very small. We didn’t have dogs in our home. We had one cat that had been my mom’s since college, who was not a friend. My parents were just like, “Leave the cat alone. He does what he wants. He pukes where he wants. He’ll try to fight you if you get too close.” So I didn’t grow up with an especial talent for displaying warmth to household cats. I hadn’t learned how to approach an animal with warmth, so this dog who was a little big and a little loud would always stress me out.
What qualities of Bizzy’s do you most admire?
I really admire the way she’s like, “Look, I know I just slept for three straight hours, got up, ate lunch, and peed outside, but I’m going to sleep for another three uninterrupted hours.” And I’m like, “Yeah, you’ve got to listen to your body.” I respect that.
And I really like her gentleness. I think that’s a really admirable quality. There are puppies in our neighborhood, bigger puppies that will want to play with her, and she doesn’t know how to play, really—or doesn’t have any interest in it with her little arthritic paws—but she will let them jump up on her a little bit, and she just kind of moves her head out of the way when they’re pawing too aggressively. She will sniff them and let them sniff her. She is very gentle with kids, and she’s a very easy dog to introduce to people and animals.
If Bizzy could speak, what would she spend the most time talking about?
Probably snacks. She’s very, like, “I could eat.” I feel like she would say that a lot.
What’s the biggest lesson Bizzy has taught you?
I think patience. You can’t make someone do a thing that they don’t want to do. There’s no passive aggression with a dog. It’s yes or no. So I think really understanding and accommodating the preferences or needs of another, and not just being like, “But I want to do this.” Having a creature that lives in our house that is a little bit intractable is a good reminder that, “Oh, yeah, it’s not just all about me.”
What’s Bizzy’s best trick?
Let me think. I mean, when she is warm she sounds like she’s beatboxing, which I would describe as a talent. Even though we try to cool her down right away.
And I think, going back to her gentleness, she has a very strong sense of calm around things that make many dogs anxious. She doesn’t mind storms at all, and she doesn’t mind fireworks. None of that fazes her. She just chills on July 4 every year. I would say her talent is sleeping through it. That’s her greatest trick: sleeping through loud noises.
What do you think is the key to a great dog-human relationship?
I think it is listening and really being attuned to each other’s needs. Knowing that this is a little living critter that’s in my home, and I need them to feel good and not impose human values on their needs.

Questions and answers have been edited for length and clarity.