Most barbers are congenial and informative, and this is true of the narrator in Ring Lardner's short story, "Haircut." However, Lardner's barber does not seem to grasp the true irony of the story that he is telling. Set in Michigan, the barber candidly tells the story of the late Jim Kendall and the unusual practical jokes that he played on his friends and neighbors. What seems to be humorous folly to the barber, however, are actually malicious acts of cruelty perpetrated by Kendall. The barber relates how Kendall sends notes to local residents that their wives are cheating on them; how he invites his own wife and children to the circus and then leaves them waiting; how he spends his own paycheck on liquor and thwarts his wife's attempts to collect from him in order to pay the bills; and how he makes fun of a retarded man.
The barber continues his recollection of Kendall's practical jokes, telling his customer how he tries to rape the local doctor's girl, Julie. After she reports him to the local authorities, Kendall gains revenge by playing another joke on her. But the last laugh is on Kendall. When Kendall invites Paul, the mentally disabled man (whose only friends are Julie and the doctor), to go duck hunting, Paul "accidentally" discharges the gun, killing Kendall. The barber sees the killing as only a tragic accident, not understanding that Paul has the mental capacity to understand what the doctor has told him: that "any body who would do a thing like that ought not to be let live."