David Grossman is one of the great Israeli writers. People we should know about him.


David Grossman, born in 1954, who lives in Jerusalem, Israel, is the author of ten acclaimed novels and four non-fiction books. His works have been translated into forty languages, he is the winner of numerous prizes, his writings appeared in the New Yorker and other magazines, and he can be seen on YouTube. “A Horse walks into a Bar” was written in Hebrew in 2014 and translated into English by Jessica Cohen in 2017. It is only 194 pages long.

It is about a stand-up comic named Dov Greenstein who telephones a boyhood friend Avishai Lazar, who he hasn’t seen in decades, who was a district court judge who was fired from his job as a judge three years ago for repeatedly making caustic and degrading remarks about the people who appeared before him, including lawyers. Dov requests Avishai to come for about an hour and a half to hear him do a stand-up comic routine. He promises to pay all his expenses. All he wants from Avishai is for the judge to give him his reactions to what he hears, even in a sentence. This makes no sense to the judge who suspects that the comic wants something else, but he agrees and attends.

As he sits and listens to the comic insult his audience, which is his routine and the routine of many other comics, he begins to remember his short relationship with the comic when he was a boy. He recalls that the comic was severely mistreated in the past by bullies. He remembers that something happened to end their relationship, and there was something other than the bullying that happened to the comic as a youngster. He watches as the audience as a whole are insulted and how individuals were pointed out for insults, and yet they generally laughed. But there was one very small woman in the audience whom he insulted who did not laugh. She said that she knew the comic as a child, that he frequently walked on his hands rather than his feet, and stressed that he was a good boy.

It is fascinating to ponder why the audience laughed. What is the psychological reason for the comic’s insults, his need to do so, and the people’s laughter despite being belittled?