The sardonic tale of a hapless comic who rockets to fame with an idiotic gimmick only to find his life in worse turmoil—especially after emptying a gun into a guy on the street, for reasons left unexplained until the end.
Warner, a writer-editor associated with McSweeney's, makes his fiction debut with a novel about a character referred to only as the funny man—not the Funny Man, but the lower-case kind. The funny man's shtick is to deliver impressions and one-liners with his fist shoved deep into his mouth. His ticket to greater fame is a movie so awful—a bunch of hand-in-throat outtakes—that audiences mistake it for something brilliant. The funny man loves all the money and celebrity and limo sex, but it doesn't make him any less pathetic. His wife leaves him when a publicity-seeking actress claims she had sex with him during filming, comes back after he falsely fesses up and then leaves him again when he insists on the truth. His lawyer's genius strategy to plead him not guilty by reason of celebrity is a non-starter. And then there's the obligatory blow to the crotch the funny man suffers, in a batting cage. Redemption comes, sort of, in the form of the one-time tennis star he has been smitten with since detecting she was beaming him private messages in her TV ads. Much of the book seems beamed from the past as well. Warner's cultural commentary is passé when not obvious, and in going after a George Saunders–type absurdism, he isn't especially funny or clever (the protagonist's fondness for Kick in the A$$, a reality show he invents on which volunteers get booted in the rear for money, is indistinguishable from Warner's). Warner also should note that no comic would use "You dirty rat," the most famous line James Cagney never actually uttered, in a Bogie impersonation.
It's certainly possible to write a hilarious novel about a bad comic, but Warner never breaks through the smug sensibility of his debut to transcend his subject.