No Laughing Matter

Comedy is a serious business - some people just die laughing.

Nick Madrid witnesses the suspicious death of one of the performers at the Just For Laughs comedy festival, where the undercurrents, ambitions and passions of the cutthroat comedy business are frankly no joke. Nick is a journalist who prefers practising advanced yoga postures in his hotel room to interviewing the comedy stars all around him but he turns gumshoe to find out whether the death was accidental or intended. He is helped in his quest by drink-sodden hack Frank Wyatt and Bridget Frost, the Bitch of the Broadsheets, whose pushy and tacky exterior conceals - well, a pushy and tacky interior, but also a determination to get the facts on any good story. It seems likely that at least one of the hapless trio won't survive to tell the tail as the trail leads first to the mean streets of Edinburgh during the Festival and then to Los Angeles, where the truth lurks among the dark secrets of some of Hollywood's biggest movie stars.

Guttridge on No Laughing Matter

My debut comic crime novel was inspired by my years writing about the comedy industry in the US and the UK - believe me, hanging out at festivals like Just For Laughs in Montreal or at the Edinburgh Festival with a couple of hundred comedians is no laughing matter. They're not like normal people - in any situation, they're always looking for the punchline. So my main protagonists, Nick Madrid and his journalist sidekick Bridget 'Bitch of the Broadsheets' Frost find there's no rest from the witty - except when someone start knocking them off. I wanted to write the funniest book I could whilst making it very suspenseful (is that a word'If not, it should be). That's tricky because the laughs can often release the tension of the serious bits. I wanted the novel to seem real so I filled it with real US and UK comedians - everyone from Jim Carrey to Paul Merton. The climax in Hollywood, at a huge party at Randolph Hearst's old castle, also features every modern movies star, from Jack Nicholson down (no expense spared in this novel, I tell you). Originally, they were all blabbing away, comedians cracking wise but my publishers got nervous about copyright on the gags so now all the comedians are still in it - but mute. The critics gave my little masterpiece good reviews, though my favourite was one that I didn't understand because, on first reading it sounds clever, then you think: huh' It went: 'This is a funny novel masquerading as a very funny novel.' Mmmm. Good reading - oh, and don't try the yoga position at home.

Chapter one

I was trying to figure out how to scratch my nose when the naked blonde flashed past my window. She looked surprised to see me, judging by her wide eyes and waving arms. I was pretty surprised to see her. It wasn't that I knew her, although she did look vaguely familiar. And it wasn't because she was naked. I'd seen naked women before. I remembered them both. I was surprised because my room was on the fourteenth floor and I was pretty sure the hotel didn't have an outside elevator. Her fall was badly timed if she was expecting help from me. I couldn't even get at an itch. I was in an advanced yoga posture, technically known as uthitha kurmasana, less technically, for reasons unclear to me, as the balancing tortoise. Balanced on my hands, I'd lifted my legs back under my armpits and over my shoulderblades and crossed my ankles at the back of my neck. As you do. It was one of those postures that are hard to get into, even harder to get out of. I felt sorry for the blonde, catching sight of me in her hurried descent. Instead of her life passing before her, her final moments would be spent puzzling over the sight of this naked man whose big ears, sticking out either side of his head, had toes on them. She'd be glad to hit the ground. It was the first time I'd managed to get into this posture and, aside from the itchy nose, I had been feeling quite comfortable. I'd chosen as my drusty or gaze-point a silhouette of a person I could see in a lighted window in the building opposite. I'd been staring fixedly at it when the blonde whizzed by and broke my concentration. Startled, I lost my balance and toppled over. I landed heavily, trapping my ankles beneath my head, my legs under my arms and my wrists under my buttocks. It took a moment or two to realise I was stuck. My body weight was on my feet and hands and I couldn't immediately work out a way to free them. When I tried to lift my head to release my ankles, my buttocks pressed down on my hands. When I tried to raise my buttocks, my weight shifted on to my ankles. Either way, the pain was agonising. It was three hours before the chambermaid found me. By then I'd lost all feeling in my body. I had tried to free myself but all I'd succeeded in doing was wiggling my ears for the first time in my life. So I'd lain still, concentrating on keeping my breathing steady. I was worried mostly because my posture encouraged flatulence. I didn't want to be asphyxiated by my own ...Well, you get the idea. I passed the time perfecting my ear wiggling and thinking about the woman who had fallen to almost certain death. Even upside down, she'd been a real looker. The chambermaid screamed when she saw me. I think at first she thought I'd somehow been chopped in half. Then she thought there were two of me doing something very rude. I croaked for help and she looked more closely. When she saw I was alone, naked and in a strange self-embrace she curled her lip in disgust. I asked her to turn off the air-conditioning, cover me with a blanket and ring for help.I asked her to be discreet. I was sharing this Montreal hotel with some 250 comedians taking part in 'Just For Laughs', the largest comedy festival in the world. Any one of them heard about this I might as well leave town. The chamber maid flung a blanket over me and went out of the room, leaving the door wide open. I'm sure I heard the word pervert. Out of the corner of my eye I saw one or two people walk along the corridor. They looked in, saw me wrapped in a blanket, looked again, then hurried on. 'Would you shut the door'' I called weakly to the chambermaid just as Loud Lenny Finnegan walked by. 'Hi fella,' he said, coming to a dead-stop. 'You okay'' I groaned. I may as well leave town. Lenny, a motormouth stand-up comic from Seattle, stepped into the room. He looked down at me. Sniffed suspiciously. Wrinkled his nose. 'Somebody died under there?' In response I broke wind for the fiftieth time. He took a quick step back. The blanket was tucked up to my chin so all he could see was my head resting on a pair of crossed feet. He indicated the feet. 'Aren't you going to introduce me to your friend?' I smiled thinly. 'Ain't nobody here but us chickens, Lenny.' Lenny frowned. He seemed lost for words, which must have been a first for him. He was a permanently on, stick-it-there, how-ya-doin'kind of guy. I'd met him on my first day as I was getting in the lift. He'd shouted after me: 'Don't take that lift - I had a dream.'That's the thing about sharing a hotel with 250 comedians: there's no rest from the witty. He walked over, pulled the blanket off me. His eyes widened. 'Jeez, Nick, you really take self-gratification seriously, huh'A solo soixante neuf. I'm impressed.'I could almost see his mind racing behind his eyes. Comedians aren't like the rest of us. In any situation they're always looking for the punchline. 'Is this what you Brits call having a leg-over?' Lenny was just getting started, I could tell, but thankfully the maid came back in with one of the deputy managers. He joined Lenny and stared at me blankly. Sniffed suspiciously. I wiggled an ear in greeting. 'This is shaping up to be a very strange day,'he eventually said. 'You've found the girl who jumped out of the window?' Lenny looked down at me. 'Somebody jumped out of your window?' 'You know her?' the deputy manager said sharply. 'The broad who did this to you?' Lenny said. He looked reverential. 'Who did this with you?' 'I saw her. She went past my window as I was doing my yoga.' 'Ah, yoga,'the deputy manager said, looking slightly relieved. Then he peered at me suspiciously. 'The chambermaid says you've been like that three hours. You were doing yoga at five in the morning?' 'Jet-lag. My sleep pattern's all to pot. But listen, do you think you could help me here?' 'Where'd she land?' Lenny asked the deputy manager, ignoring me. 'In the pool.'The deputy manager looked sorrowful. 'It's a tragedy.' 'Yeah, poor woman,'I said in commiseration. 'We only had it retiled last week. She's made a real mess in the shallow end.' 'Landed in the pool,'Lenny murmured, already working on ways to get this stuff into his act. 'People will be most unwilling to use it now. Especially with the other death.'A dreamy expression crossed Lenny's face. 'The other death?' 'The man in the pool,'the deputy manager said. 'The man in the pool.'Lenny beamed. 'She landed on someone doing his fifty laps. Whoa. At five in the morning - must be another Brit, right?' 'She didn't land on him. It seems he died of a heart attack when the young lady joined him in the pool so precipitately. As I said: a very strange day.' 'Ah well, another day another doleur,'I croaked, rather pleased with myself for making a bilingual joke in this bilingual city. The two of them just stared at me. I became conscious again of the indignity of my position. 'Look, could you kind of roll me on to my side and then unhook my ankles?' Lenny and the deputy manager didn't move. 'C'mon guys. It's not catching. But go slow. My muscles have seized up.' Two hours later I was lying snug in bed. The deputy manager had summoned the physio from the health club to massage my body back into life. Loud Lenny had gone on his way by then. As he left I called after him hopelessly: 'I'd appreciate it if you'd keep this to yourself, Lenny.' He didn't give me so much as a backward glance.
Now read on

UK paperback publication / May 1998 / ISBN 0 7472 5645 4

Comedy is a serious business. Some people just die laughing.

"The funniest crime novel of the year"
Publishing News

"Jokes are delivered with the speed and accuracy of a Gatling gun"
The Telegraph

"This sparkling debut fires volleys of one-liners... Romping good stuff"
Daily Mail

"Brilliant farce"
Good Housekeeping

"An entertainingly self-conscious romp
GQ

"A fast moving, laugh-a-line frolic... we gasp with amazement, excitement and amusement."
Reginald Hill

"Made me laugh out loud and wince in sympathy both at the violence and the humiliation meted out to the narrator... enormous fun."
Val McDermid

1 - 4 / 4