A miss-and-hit portrayal of the stand-up comedy scene, circa 1979, by comedian Maher, the sardonic host of Comedy Central's Politically Incorrect. Stand-up comedy's a notoriously tough subject for a novel (see Meg Wolitzer's This Is Your Life). So give Maher credit for an authentic peek at manic jokesters, scuzzy promoters, star-struck groupies, and hostile audiences. He also captures the start of the 1980s boom that franchised comedy to the heartland, with ""road comics"" housed in the divey comedy condos provided by club owners. But he's written a better documentary than a novel. His five comedian protagonists -- Dick, Shit, Fat, Chink, and Buck, so ""pseudonymed"" for their specialty jokes -- are fleshed out little beyond their too-oftenrepeated monikers. It's hard to care about comedians whose comedy styles -- as evinced by the less-than-stellar monologues peppering the book -- suggest they think mostly about avoiding the dreaded idea of a day job. Their crises-stage success and sex (or maybe love) -- mainly provide set pieces for Maher's ironic eye and rifling descriptions. He has some small epiphanies to pass on: To embrace groupies brings comedians down from their perch, adding a Catch-22 to celebrity; a waitress nicknamed Pussy is popular because she provides empathy, a more precious commodity to comics than sex. And some of his lines linger: ""Summer hit...with all the force of one of those great weather analogies in a Dashiell Hammett detective story."" Too many other lines belong to the ephemeral realm of speech; on the page they're groaners: ""Getting in shape was a difficult undertaking...and for that reason undertaking had always been a profitable business."" Shtick may work in Seinlanguage, but not here. A decent read for comedy buffs or fans who can imagine the author's irreverent voice. Otherwise, nice try, Mr. Maher, but don't give up your comedy job.