Biff Kincaid, the stand-up comic who delivers punchlines and punches with equal vigor, finds his inner sleuth aroused when he’s asked to sub for Tiger Moore, a Vegas headliner who’s been suddenly indisposed by a knife in the stomach. Who was the assailant? No one seems to know, but there is a clue. Spray-painted on the wall of Tiger’s hotel room is a warning: “Get off the stage. You suck.” Clearly, someone didn’t think the defunct comic was a lot of laughs. Tiger, however, is not alone in failing to measure up. Pretty soon stand-up comics are dying all over the place without benefit of metaphor. Switching from jester’s cap to deerstalker, Biff sets out to discover the why of it, convinced the why will eventually lead to the who. And soon enough he finds that the current round of Late Comics is rooted in the brutal killing of a young tyro some years ago who got involved with the wrong people. Or was that murder really murder? As he follows clues that take him from Vegas to L.A. and back again, Biff begins to wonder whether reports of Chad Karp’s death aren’t greatly exaggerated. And whether the heckler/murderer may not be putting together his own headliner: an act of vengeance.
Too long, too far-fetched. As he did in his debut (Killer Material, 2000), Barton successfully evokes the bleak world of professional funnymen, but—to paraphrase the incisive Henny Youngman—take that world. Please.