Last Laugh
Season 3
Number 20
Writer Carol Mendelsohn,
Bob Harris,
Anthony E. Zuiker
Director Richard J. Lewis
Original Airdate April 24, 2003
Previous Episode: A Night at the Movies
Next Episode: Forever

Last Laugh is the twentieth episode in Season Three of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.


A comedian is poisoned on stage and his death turns out to be connected to the death of a teenager. Meanwhile, a woman in her bathtub drowns and the CSIs don't think it was an accident.


Victim: Dougie Max (deceased)

On the case: Catherine Willows, Gil Grissom, Jim Brass

At the Comedy Hole, comedian Michael Borland is bombing badly on stage. Outside, fellow comedian Dougie Max is reciting his routine while simultaneously getting pleasured by a female. After Michael is done (to no applause), Dougie takes the stage. He finishes his bottle of water and spits it on a patron as a joke, much to the delight of the crowd.

Catherine, Grissom, and Brass are then shown entering the club, where Dougie is lying dead on the stage. According to Brass, the crowd thought this was part of Dougie's act—until he didn't get up. Catherine looks over the body and sees no overt evidence of a drug overdose—foam around the mouth, discoloration of the lips, and/or dilated pupils. Grissom has someone turn down the house lights and turn up the stage lights; he wants to see what Dougie saw when he died. However, he reveals that he sees nothing.

Brass talks to the manager, Alan Sobel, while Dougie's fellow comedians wallow in their own self pity. Alan complains to Brass that Dougie got his start at the Comedy Hole, made it big, and now he has to pay a lot of money to get Dougie to come back and perform. He calls Dougie a hack who got a lucky break, adding that any one of his fellow comedians could be a suspect in an attempt to fill Dougie's shoes.

In the green room backstage, Catherine sees a half-eaten food tray and notices what looks to be cocaine on the table. Back on the stage, Grissom observes that Dougie had six bottles of water, but he had only opened and drank half of them. The other three bottles are unopened. Catherine has every comedian and club worker open their wallets so she can take a look at their credit cards. She notices cocaine on one of the credit cards belonging to Leah, a waitress. Leah (who is also the woman who was pleasuring Dougie earlier) is arrested.

In autopsy, Doc Robbins tells Grissom that Dougie was pretty healthy. His death shows signs of a heart attack; however, this isn't what Dougie died from. Grissom tells him that the tox screen on Dougie came back positive for cocaine. Doc Robbins says that he didn't find the telltale signs of cocaine use—the nasal passages are normal, the lungs are clear, and there are no track marks on the body.

In the interrogation room, Leah's attorney has informed Catherine that she will plead guilty to possession and answer any questions. Catherine tells her Dougie's system tested positive for cocaine, but the waitress tells her that Dougie was in a program. She admits that she sprinkled it on Dougie's privates before she pleasured him, and that she did this every time before he went on stage. The experience would leave Dougie frustrated, which was the intention. She says it gave Dougie an edge for his act—"go in hot and burn the place down."

Catherine and Grissom find out from Greg that Dougie didn't die from a cocaine overdose. According to the blood sample, he was killed by naratriptan, a migraine medication, and he had 12 times the recommended dosage in his system. Dougie was poisoned. With this knowledge, they go over all of the consumables from the club that match Dougie's stomach contents, figuring that the poison was in something he ingested. They take samples from the water bottle, fruit, a cocktail, and a chocolate candy, among other things.

Greg informs Grissom that he has narrowed down the source of the poison. Naratriptan was discovered in Innoko water bottle #3; Dougie drank from it and collapsed onstage. The other five water bottles, however, came back clean. Grissom tells Greg to run the bottle for trace impurities—anything that mixed in with the poison may be able to lead them to the original source. If they can identify the source, maybe they can identify the killer.

Back in the club, Catherine and Grissom talk to the bartender, Barry Yoder. Barry tells them that he's the one who set everything up for Dougie. This includes six Innoko water bottles on stage all facing the same way, passion fruit, and Choco Bees (only blue). Grissom tells Barry that one of the Innoko water bottles was poisoned, which surprises Barry. He says that the water is from Dougie's own private stash, which is kept behind the bar. Despite that fact that only the bar staff is really allowed back there, it's soon evident that this isn't the case. Barry starts chewing on his nails, and Catherine asks him if he gets migraines; he replies that he's getting one at that moment. Grissom informs Barry that they're taking all of the Innoko water bottles back to the lab.

In the lab, Catherine tells Grissom that she looked into Barry's medical records—he's had six different prescriptions for migraines over the last two years. The medication he's currently on now? Naratriptan. Meanwhile, Grissom has sent Warrick to a crime scene at a convenience store. When Warrick enters the store, there's a dead teenager in one of the aisles. The clerk tells him that the kid entered the store, walked down an aisle, and just dropped dead. He was observed pacing around the store, looking to consume something without paying. According to the clerk, the kid drank from a bottle of something before being spotted doing so, then put the bottle back. Warrick finds a bottle of Innoko water on the shelf. They now have a problem.

Catherine meets Warrick at the store and gets on the phone to alert the chief of police that all Innoko water needs to be recalled immediately—that includes grocery stores, restaurants, and a population of two million people who may have bottles in their refrigerator. Warrick tells an Innoko representative that they're going to need the names of anyone who was recently fired from the company, had lawsuits against the company, or made threats against the company. Greg enters the store and Catherine hands him the bottle, telling him that he needs to check its contents.

In the lab, Greg tests the water found in the convenience store and discovers that it also tests positive for naratriptan. That gives the team two poisoned bottles, but there appears to be no connection to their locations or the victims. Grissom tests the water bottle from the convenience store, but is unable to find any puncture wounds in the bottle. Under the microscope, Catherine sees traces of naratriptan in the threads of the bottle cap. Grissom has her look at the one from the comedy club.

Catherine informs the rest of the team that naratriptan was put into the threads of the bottle caps. Capillary action pulled the solution into the threads, where it dried into white crystals. Every time someone took a drink, the water would come in contact with the drug and wash it back into the bottle. It seems that they're going to have to test 40,000 bottle caps to see if any other ones have been tampered with.

Meanwhile, Grissom looks over the two poisoned bottles and sees that they came from the same lot number—NV5871. He finds that the bottles from the convenience store don't share the same lot number as the poisoned bottle; however, they do match the lot from the comedy club. Grissom wonders whether the case isn't about product tampering, but, rather, covering up one murder with another.

Greg reminds Catherine and Grissom that naratriptan comes in pill form and that it would have to be ground up and put in a solution in order to be administered to the bottle cap. Catherine remembers that there were traces of caffeine found in the water, and Grissom is sent out to bag the coffee maker from the club's green room as evidence. While in the green room, he notices a caricature of Dougie on the wall with hateful things written around it.

Out in the club, Grissom looks at a makeshift memorial for Dougie, complete with a wreath and the last picture taken of Dougie onstage. He notices a reflecting red light in the photo which, in the comedy business, means "get off the stage NOW." Grissom asks the manager why he was giving Dougie the red light, but the manager says he would never do that to his headliner. Grissom walks over to where the light switch for the red light is located and notices blood around it. He tells the manager that he's going to need everyone's DNA.

At the station, Catherine has all of the club participants line up for a DNA sample. She notices that Barry the bartender is biting his nails. On closer examination, there's blood around one of them. He admits to giving Dougie the red light in an attempt to distract and humiliate him onstage.

Greg has good news and bad news for Grissom—the bad news is that the coffee from the comedy club doesn't match the tainted water. However, he's able to trace the caffeine to a specific coffee, Kopi Luwak, which is the most expensive coffee in the world. He explains that the coffee is made with the feces of the luwak, a small cat-like creature from Indonesia. The luwak only eats the ripest beans, which pass through its digestive system intact. During the process, enzymes break down and leave a unique chemical signature. Whoever drinks Kopi Luwak is their killer.

Michael Borland is seen onstage at the club, bombing horribly once again. He then recreates Dougie's act, which starts to draw applause. Grissom is in attendance and he sees Michael drink from a coffee cup. He gives a nod to the manager, who gives Michael the red light. Michael then starts to break down once he sees everyone applauding his low-brow humor. He threatens the audience, then tells them that comedy is supposed to be about the truth. As he wraps up his act, he admits to killing Dougie because he despised everything he stood for and regrets that a 15-year-old kid died in the process. He walks up to Grissom and blames him, saying he "didn't get the joke." Grissom replies that he got the joke—it just wasn't funny.

Victim: Shelley Stark (deceased)

On the case: Nick Stokes, Sara Sidle

Brass talks to Nick in the break room and tells him about a case he had a few weeks before. The police had been called out to Green Valley, where a woman named Shelley Stark had slipped in the bathtub, cracked her head, and drowned. Brass says that there was nothing suspicious and that he ruled the case an accident without calling in the CSIs. However, while standing outside the comedy club the night before, Brass eyed a man driving a Ferrari and spending time with a young blonde. The man is the deceased woman's husband, George. Three weeks before, he was devastated; however, George has now "traded up" and is out on the town with his new girlfriend.

Brass tells Nick that, the day after Shelley died, George called the life insurance agency asking for his money. The payout is $750,000. He hands Nick a file that has all the information he needs and tells him that he's acting on a hunch.

Nick and Sara go over the crime scene photos. Sara says they show signs of an accident, but Nick informs her that the blow to the back of Shelley's head was non-fatal. Doc Robbins oversaw the autopsy and ruled the cause of death to be drowning, which lines up with every other statement in the file. Nick is still not so sure since no CSI got to look at the original evidence. They decide to visit the scene of the accident.

At the Stark residence, Nick asks George if he and Sara can look at the bathroom to tie up some loose ends regarding Shelley's case. George is reluctant to let them in the house, but he relents after Sara trips his car alarm, causing all of the neighbors to stare. In the bathroom, Nick notices the smell of fresh paint. George tells him that the had the whole house redone in the past week to help erase the bad memories. The bathtub hasn't been replaced, but the fixtures have. Sara notices that there's no towel bar, and George tells her the contractor took it away because it was junk. He explains that the towel bar came with the house; in fact, the whole subdivision comes stock. George adds that he's upgraded things in the house in anticipation of selling it, as it's too big for one person to live in.

Nick abruptly thanks George for his time and leaves. Outside, Nick tells Sara that the bathroom isn't their crime scene anymore since it's been redone. He notices an open house across the street featuring a model home and tells Sara that this is the next best thing. In the model home's bathroom, Nick and Sara recreate the accident scene with Sara playing the part of Shelley. She pretends to get out of the bathtub, slip, and grab onto the towel bar. However, after furiously trying to dislodge the towel bar from the wall, Sara is unable to do so. She believes that there's no way Shelley separated the towel bar from the wall on her own. Nick gives it a shot and, with great force, is able to dislodge the towel bar. They conclude that someone went to a lot of trouble to make Shelley's death look like an accident.

Nick and Brass talk to Doc Robbins, who tells them that Shelley had bathwater in her lungs and a blow to the head consistent with a fall. He also tells them that homicide ruled the case an accident, so there was no reason to do more than an abbreviated autopsy. Doc Robbins takes offense to them wanting to reopen the case, telling them exhuming a body is a very public ordeal and that it makes him and the department look bad. Brass talks to Doc Robbins in private and tells him that they can either let George walk for killing his wife or they can exhume the body. This isn't about trying to make anyone look bad; it's about justice for Shelley Stark. Doc Robbins relents and has the body exhumed.

In the morgue, Nick and Doc Robbins are cleaning up Shelley's exhumed body. Doc Robbins notices bruising on her back and her right elbow, which Nick notes is consistent with a fall. However, this wasn't stated in the doc's report, as he notes subtle bruising may not appear until after the embalming process. When Doc Robbins removes the makeup from Shelley's face, they find bruising in the shape of a handprint. The investigation has now shifted towards murder.

In the interrogation room, Brass tells George that something about Shelley's case never seemed right. It wasn't because of George's newfound wealth, new car, or new girlfriend—it was something he said earlier. In a flashback, Brass remembers George saying "she was my life." Brass tells him that it's very rare for a grieving spouse to use the past tense; when they do, they're usually guilty of something. Of course, this means nothing in the court of law.

Nick shows George and his lawyer photos of Shelley's exhumed body with the bruises evident. George is surprised that his wife's body was exhumed and says that he never gave anyone permission to dig her up; however, he's told that this can be done since he's a suspect in her murder. The Starks loved each other, which is why Shelley didn't react when George walked into the bathroom that night. In a flashback, George is shown sitting on the edge of the bathtub, then holding Shelley's head under the water until she stopped flailing. He then ripped the towel bar from the wall and staged the crime scene. Brass tells George that it was physically impossible for Shelley to pull the towel bar from the wall, but George maintains that it was an accident.

George's lawyer says that none of the evidence provided proves that George murdered his wife, and they walk out of the police station with George a free man. However, George's exuberance is short-lived; his new Ferrari is getting towed away. Brass tells them that they don't have enough evidence to file criminal charges, but the insurance company feels that they have more than enough. Civil charges have been filed against George, and the insurance company wants their $750,000 back. Nick tells him that this isn't over and that they will continue to investigate the case.


Main Cast[]

Guest Cast[]

  • Tom Gallop as Attorney Randy Painter
  • Wallace Langham as David Hodges
  • Leslie Bega as Leah
  • David Berman as David Phillips
  • Paula Francis as News Anchor
  • Bobcat Goldthwait as Michael Borland
  • Jeffrey Ross as Dougie Max
  • Gilbert Gottfried as Stand-Up Comedian
  • Bryan Callen as Barry Yoder, Bartender
  • Alan Blumenfeld as Alan Sobel
  • Jeff Perry as George Stark
  • Sandra Purpuro as Shelley Stark
  • Maggie Wheeler as Stand-Up Comedian
  • Larry Thomas as Convenience Store Clerk
  • Molly Weber as Waitress
  • Anthony E. Zuiker as Heckler


  • One of the food samples from the comedy club that was in Dougie's stomach was a Choco Bee chocolate candy. Catherine asks Grissom if it's "death by chocolate again," referencing their case in Revenge is Best Served Cold where Doyle Pfeiffer essentially overdosed on too much chocolate. 


  • The on-stage death of the comedian, with the crowd thinking that his death is just an act, and Grissom saying "When was the last time a comedian died of natural causes?" most probably refers to the death of famous British comedian Tommy Cooper, who, on 15 April 1984, died of a heart attack while being on live television. The crowd thought his collapse was part of the act.
  • The poisonings heavily evoke the real life Chicago Tylenol murders and Paraquat murders.
  • The death of Shelley Stark appears based on the death of Julie Post at the hands of her husband, Ed, in June 1986. On a business trip, Ed drowned her in the hotel bathtub, ripped the towel ring from the wall, and attempted to sue the hotel in addition to claiming a six-figure life insurance policy purchased shortly before her death. Similar to Sara and Nick's test, the investigators in this case had a woman Julie's weight and height test the towel ring of an identical room, finally determining either someone four times her size using significant force or Julie descending over multiple stories would be needed to remove it. Also similar to the episode, the exhumed body revealed the significant bruising and marks of Julie's drowning after the initial autopsy, and there was speculation that Ed's actions were motivated in part by interest in a younger woman (colleague). Unlike in the show, Ed was ultimately convicted (twice) and, several years into his prison sentence, confessed.
  • Larry Thomas played the convenience store clerk. He is most recognizable for his role as The Soup Nazi in a very famous episode of Seinfeld.
  • Bryan Callen played Barry the bartender, and would later appear in the Season 13 episode Pick and Roll, playing Jack Oxford. He also appeared in the CSI: Miami episode Getting Axed, playing Kent Ackerman, and was a performer on the sketch comedy show MADtv from 1995 to 1997.
  • Another comedian with a brief cameo is Gilbert Gottfried.
  • Alan Blumenfeld, who played club owner Alan Sobel, would later appear in the Season Ten episode Appendicitement, where he played Bernard Higgins, a victim of the later-identified Dr. Jekyll.
  • Jeff Perry, who played George Stark, would later appear in the Season Ten episode Doctor Who, where he played Vince Grady, a coffee stand barista who was trying to help Langston solve the Dr. Jekyll case.
  • This is the second cameo appearance of series creator Anthony E. Zuiker. He appears as a heckler at the end of the episode's final scene.
  • The brand name of the bottled water which is poisoned is named "Innoko," which is the name of a wildlife refuge in Alaska.

See Also[]

CSI:Las Vegas Season 3
Revenge is Best Served ColdThe Accused is EntitledLet the Seller BewareA Little MurderAbra-CadaverThe Execution of Catherine WillowsFight NightSnuffBlood LustHigh and LowRecipe for MurderGot Murder?Random Acts of ViolenceOne Hit WonderLady Heather's BoxLucky StrikeCrash & BurnPrecious MetalA Night at the MoviesLast LaughForeverPlay with FireInside the Box