The Sunday Magazine

'Laughter is a good way to breathe again': David Grossman on using comedy to deal with tragedy

David Grossman is widely regarded as Israel's finest living novelist. His new novel, A Horse Walks Into a Bar, is a searing account of a stand-up routine that teeters precariously on the line separating comedy from tragedy. In June, 2017, it was awarded the international Man Booker prize for fiction in translation.
Renowned Israeli novelist and peace activist David Grossman, pictured at the Frankfurt Book Fair in 2005. ( JOHN MACDOUGALL/AFP/Getty Images)

Update -- June 18, 2017:

Since this interview first aired in March, 2017, David Grossman was awarded the Man Booker International Prize for fiction in translation for A Horse Walks Into a Bar. The novel focuses on a stand-up routine that teeters precariously on the line separating comedy from tragedy. 

It takes some time after a trauma to start to be able to make fun of it...and yet it has a kind of a healing aspect to it, the fact that people are able to laugh again.- David Grossman
David Grossman's new novel, "A Horse Walks Into a Bar," won the 2017 Man Booker International Prize. (Penguin Random House)
In Netanya, a small Israeli city 30 kilometres north of Tel Aviv, a middle-aged comic takes the stage. Over the next two hours, he launches into a routine that combines crass humour with self-flagellation. Just under the thin veneer of his patter lies a devastating loss he suffered as a child, and which keeps muscling its way to the surface. 

In the audience, his former childhood friend — now a retired judge, struggling with his own loss — watches in horror and amazement. 

People ask me, "How dare you laugh about the Shoah ?".... Maybe it's more tactful that a Jew makes jokes about the Shoah and not others. Sometimes when we think about the Holocaust and we stop breathing, laughter is a good way to breathe again.- David Grossman

David Grossman is widely regarded as Israel's finest living novelist. He has published numerous novels, children's books and works of nonfiction. He is a passionate advocate for peace, and a staunch critic of the occupation. 

Michael spoke with him in Jerusalem in 2006. At the time, his son Uri was a soldier in the Israeli army, and Mr. Grossman was three years into his novel, To the End of the Land

Later that year — just before the end of the Second Lebanon War — Uri was killed. After sitting shiva for his son, Mr. Grossman returned to his novel. The result was a tour de force that has been compared to War and Peace. Michael spoke to him at the time about To the End of the Land, and about the loss of his son.

In this wide-ranging feature interview, David Grossman talks about his new novel, comedy, loss and the search for peace. 

Click the 'listen' button above to hear the interview. 


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