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-often-repeated 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 riffing 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.