‘A horse walks into a bar’ is on the surface the performance of an Israeli stand-up comic in a small-time nightspot. The audience, not surprisingly, is expecting comedy— and it gets it— but the jokes are interspersed with his story of growing up, and his feelings of desolation at the death of his mother, while at age 14 he is away at a military preparatory training camp. As the evening progresses, we realize this is his last performance, and that he invited a childhood friend, now a retired judge, to see it and presumably pass judgment. A number of interesting things come up in the narrative. One that struck me is that then the camp commander was notified of Dov’s mother’s death, he immediately made arrangements for him to be transported to the funeral, but none of the staff actually told him what had happened. His only knowledge was that he overheard one of them refer to him as ‘the orphan’. On the long drive to the funeral, the driver is uncomfortable, since the topic of death seems overwhelming, so he tells jokes. Though Dov never quite says it, one wonders if this led to his lifelong profession of telling jokes as a way of dealing with loss.
The audience, expecting a lot of laughs, doesn’t know how to react to Dov’s performance. Over the course of the evening, some get up to leave. Others are intrigued by what is happening. To me, it is a good example of how we develop narratives to make sense of our lives. As John Sutherland put it, ‘Human beings are storytelling animals’. ‘A horse walks into a bar’ envisions how one man found a unique venue to tell his story.