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You know, there was a time when Turks had no idea what standup comedy was. Never had any person gone on stage to make you laugh through the use of mere speech and gestures in quite the same vein as standup. That is not to say that there weren't one-man-shows or scripted plays which, admittedly, are somewhat akin to standup. But I think we can all recognize the essential differences between them. The lines will undoubtedly become blurred quite often.

One way to distinguish between the two may be to say that one is rigidly scripted and the other is open to brainstorming and snappy additions to the prescribed material. Whereas theatre is based on the actor's/method actor's assimilation and honing of their understanding of a character, standup is about out of the blue "knob jokes". Standup and theatre, in their respective evolutions have quite certainly broken through these moulds, and then some. Standup, notably, has not only progressed past the simple one-liner, but has become something of a device for knocking down the occassional taboo. Humour is fabulous that way.

The state of obliviousness I refer to above goes back to just before the mid-90's. The 1990's, that is. The comments made in the preceding paragraph have some bearing in this particular celebrity's case if only because it stirred a small controversy as to what the hell this new thing taking us by storm was.

But first, let's take a look at who Cem Yilmaz is.

Although the pioneer of Turkish standup, Yilmaz has engaged extensively with other "art forms" and was known in the mainstream long before he sidled towards a stage mike. While he was studying at Bosphorus University in the early nineties he began work as a cartoonist at Leman magazine. His work there probably does not qualify as the most outstanding of all the other seasoned artists at Leman, but it certainly foretold the kind of humour Yilmaz would employ when he walked on stage for the first time.

Come August, 1998, Yilmaz took the gamble that was to open the door to untold stardom. He went on stage at Leman Kultur (culture), a café which also belonged to the magazine where Yilmaz worked. Within mere months Yilmaz had already begun to play to sell-out crowds. His audio recordings were the most widely downloaded files among Turks and also sold like hot cakes on the street. And, as is always the case, everyone was trying to do his act.

So this was standup... Where the hell had it been all our lives?

Some people weren't as amused, however, and preferred to snub the entire genre saying that it was NOT THEATRE. Yilmaz had not staked such a claim. The opposition simply inferred that since Yilmaz was playing all the major venues where plays or operas usually took place, he was moving on his obnoxiously self-proclaimed merits towards viewing himself as one. Ironically, Yilmaz would later try his hand at acting and emerge with flying colours. Not only that, but he would co-author the script for one of the higest-grossing Turkish films of all time, "Hersey Cok Guzel Olacak" (Everything's Going to be Dandy).

Yilmaz is also shunned for his newfound wealth. Something that also plays a part in the so-called intelligentsia's disregard for him. Yilmaz downplays this by intentionally drawing attention to the ridiculous amount of money he makes. On the back cover of one of his compilation of cartoons he cites his bio, beginning with his years at Leman and ending it with a list of luxury cars he has bought over the years. Add to this his eagerness to star in adverts right and left, albeit using his comical genius in the process, and the melee between the two camps intensifies.

To sum up Yilmaz's comic performance, he is a disassembler of what we blindly build ourselves up to be. He re-emphasizes our simple inadequacies as a people but also celebrates the indisputably Turkish traits that we love to laugh at. A distant western mirror of Yilmaz might be Ben Elton, who might at any one time talk about things like, "Prince* sitting on the bog with his glittery knickers around his ankles". "I don't mean to spoil the magic", Ben would say, which is exactly what Yilmaz likes to do. Spoil the magic.

Yilmaz also targets the Western popular culture that has flowed in through our screens since the days of Dallas. He pinpoints the cavalier conceit of leading characters in movies and television shows that include Superman, Star Trek, Knight Rider, etc., contrasting them with the down-to-earth attitude of Turks.

K.I.T. of Knight Rider: Michael, pull over at the Mobil station will ya... I hear they're givin' away free mugs.

His observations about The Turkish Radio and Television Institute's efforts to dub foreign programming in some contrived and non-existent Turkish explode in their hilarity.

J.R. Ewing: Bobby, I'm afraid this jacket doesn't suit you.
Bobby: Ok, I'll take it off. Just don't freak out.

The jury is still out on whether Yilmaz is, to put it in our meaningless indigenous terms, a national treasure. Suffice it to say that anything's possible by the will of the people when one notes the Knighting of Jagger in recent years. For one, there is, to my mind, no Turk who has not laughed or at least chuckled at a Cem Yilmaz bit. But his inclusion in the massive glamour and glitter parade, regularly patronized by tabloids and the paparazzi media, has sadly overshadowed his unprecedented talent. He does not invite it as many might think, however, but merely finds it amusing: "I can't believe some of the stuff they write about me. Things like who I've been with. I now find that I have to light a cigarette everytime I'm finished reading the daily paper."

This unnecessary dispute may be resolved by Yilmaz's recent foray into cinema and music. His latest upcoming feature film, Gora, is a culmination of his parodies of western popular culture. A Turk in Space being the premise. Some are already billing Gora as the biggest Turkish box-office smash, ever. Noting the enthusiasm surrounding the imminent release, I have to say I agree and will probably be at a loss to find a ticket to a showing for at least a couple of weeks.

Filmography:

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