A young stand-up comic finds his world turned upside down when a mysterious brain disease kills off the world’s sense of humor.
This debut novel by Guffey (Chameleo: A Strange but True Story of Invisible Spies, Heroin Addiction and Homeland Security, 2015, etc.) is a strange mishmash of influences. It taps into the cultural zeitgeist of I’m Dying Up Here, Showtime’s gritty portrait of stand-up comedy, but then squanders its traction on a navel-gazing contemplation of how humor makes us human. Elliot Greeley is a stand-up comedian creeping up on 30, making his way around the indie comedy circuit with his best friend, Danny Oswald. Trading on routines like “My Girlfriend’s a Coke Whore,” Elliot is emblematic of comedians like David Cross, a bitterly funny, vulgar comic who’s reaching burnout in a hurry. It doesn’t help that he self-prophesizes his own dilemma in the first few pages. “I often wondered if most of the human race wasn’t suffering from some kind of strange disease, an anti-evolutionary trait that prevented them from detecting the mad humor that surrounded them each and every day,” Elliot muses. Sure enough, a mysterious new illness starts attacking people’s funny bones, and Elliot and his friends fall into a deep metaphysical funk. Guffey tries to inject some humor with a gig opening for a punk band (“Doktor Delgado’s All-American Genocidal Warfare Against The Sick And The Stupid”), a pair of bumbling Jehovah’s Witnesses in the vein of Vladimir and Estragon, and a host of other satiric figures, but the book turns very dark as Elliot’s friend Heather returns from a gig in San Francisco. Asked if anyone was getting any laughs, she responds: “Some, the ones who aren’t funny. The rest of us were devastated, we couldn’t understand it. The whole city felt dead, filled with dead people, dead cars, dead buildings, dead girders, dead molecules, everything dead. Dead to the core.”
A nihilistic satire that takes the idea that death is easy and comedy is hard to a whole new level.