Turkey’s Top Export? Comedy

If you take a look at the CIA World Fact book, you'll see that Turkey's top exports include apparel, foodstuffs, textiles, metal manufactures, and transport equipment. What the United States government doesn't know, or doesn't want you to know, is that Turkey tops the world in a commodity not listed here: comedies. In our ongoing quest to discover the greatest comedies of all time, I decided to take a look at what IMDB had to say. IMDB does have an official list of the top 50 comedies, but I wanted more. Many lists include 100 movies, so I went to the Advanced Search and searched for all movies in the genre "comedy", with at least 1000 votes, excluding TV movies, TV shows, and direct-to-video releases. The first thing I noticed is that IMDB's search is broken, apparently "ignore TV series" really means "litter the results with lots of TV series." The next thing I noticed is something even the CIA couldn't discover: Turkish dominance of the top 3 comedies of all time. At number 1, with a rating of 9.2, is Babam Ve Oglum (2005), also known as My Father and My Son. At number 2, with an 8.9 rating, is Tosun Pasa (1976), with Hababam sinifi (1975) just a notch below at 8.8. The Turkish dominance is finally interrupted by Dr. Strangelove (1964) at the number 4 spot. I have never seen any of these films, or any Turkish comedies for that matter. But these aren't just simple flukes - they each have more than 1000 votes, and it's hard to see why they are not included in the official top 50. What makes these films so funny? Let's take a look as a memorable quote from Tosun Pasa:
Saban: [Scared] Who are you? Real Tosun Pasha: Ibrahim Pasha from Cairo is in your order, Sir! Saban: [Seriously] Who made you a pasha, sir? Real Tosun Pasha: It was with your order, Pasha! Saban: So I made you a pasha, Mr. Ibrahim? Real Tosun Pasha: Yes, Pasha! Saban: [Mockingly] Hey Ibrahim, are you Seferoglus' pasha? Real Tosun Pasha: Sorry, you lost me, sir. Saban: [Laughs] Come on Ibo, you can't fool me!
Ha ha ha heh... heh... Hmm. Perhaps there is a cultural divide. You see, pasha is a title granted within the Ottoman Empire. It was an honorific originally limited to military commanders but later used for civilians as well. Pashas rank above beys and Aghas but below khedives and viziers. There have been a number of important Pashas, for example Ibrahim Pasha of Egypt put down a rebellion of Wahhabis in Arabia and later fought in the Greek War of Independence. He was the adopted son of Muhamad Ali, though few people know that since it was left out of the film. Let's take a look at the plot summary for Babam Ve Oglum:
Sadik is one of the rebellious youth who has been politically active as a university student and became a left-wing journalist in the 70's, despite his father's expectations of him becoming an agricultural engineer and taking control of their family farm in an Aegean village. On the dawn of September 12, 1980, when a merciless military coup hits the country, they cannot find access to any hospital or a doctor and his wife dies while giving birth to their only child, Deniz. After a long-lasting period of torture, trials, and jail time, Sadik returns to his village with 7-8 years old Deniz, knowing that it will be hard to correct things with his father, Huseyin. (source)
Now that sounds funny. I can only imagine the death-during-childbirth scene takes place in fast-motion with a "Benny Hill" soundtrack, much like the examples Mr. Wallz has uncovered. I kid. Actually, all three of these movies sound pretty interesting, and if I ever finish my thesis, I'll try tracking them down. I do have to suspect, though, that their high ranking is due in part to a small, but sizable Turkish minority on IMDB who very passionately love their domestic film industry. Has anyone seen any of these three? Any Turks or Cypriots out there care to clue me in? I'd like to know: what's so funny about Turkey? [youtube]vsQrKZcYtqg[/youtube]

  1. Hi Jason,

    I am a Turkish citizen living in Turkey. First of all “Babam ve Oglum” is not a comedy film. It is a film that caused millions in Turkey to shed tears and cry. It is actually the best drama I have ever seen.

    The other two films “Tosun Pasa” and “Hababam Sinifi” despite they are rather old, still are the best comedy films in Turkey. They still make new generations laugh. I think this explains the ratings. Sure there are culturel things to understand most of the jokes, but I can say the main actor “Kemal Sunal”s style resemble Peter Sellers in Pink Panther.

    About the high rankings, we Turks are really fanatic in votings like this, but for the films mentioned above I would vote the highest possible points in contentment.

    December 19th, 2006 at 5:53 am
  2. Hi there.

    The late kemal sunal was the Turkish peter sellers, he actually sampled a couple of the visual gags you could often see Peter sellers do.
    Also he cursed a lot in a funny way. Nobody said you son of a donkey like Kemal Sunal did.
    How about this for funny.
    this is from sabanoglu saban.

    Its night time. Soldiers are in the trenches of world war 1. Everyone is scared and looks to the explosions and gunfire which are erupting right in front of them.
    Except for Kemal Sunal (KS), who is sleeping.
    The commander (Sener Sen) orders an assault on the enemy trenches, so the hornplayer has to play the attack tune.

    KS starts playing the sleeping signal.

    Everyone starts to stretch and get sleepy.

    commander: You idiot. Play the attack tune. Don’t play the sleep tune.

    KS: what should I play

    Idiot beside him: play something lively

    KS starts playing some belly dancing music

    Commander starts to dance then remembers where he is : Yanlissssh! Wrong you idiot.
    you are playing the wrong tune. Play the attack tune.

    KS: what was the attack tune, I dont remember.

    Idiot beside him: did didi dit dit dit diri dit diii di did didi dit dit dit diri dit diii di did didi dit dit dit diri dit diii di

    KS starts saying: did didi dit dit dit diri dit diii di did didi dit dit dit diri dit diii di did didi dit dit dit diri dit diii di

    Commander irritated: Yanlissssh Wrong that is the wrong tune. the attack tune is like this: did didi dit dit dit diri dit daaa da. did didi dit dit dit diri dit daaa da. did didi dit dit dit diri dit daaa da. did didi dit dit dit diri dit daaa da.

    All three start saying : did didi dit dit dit diri dit daaa da did didi dit dit dit diri dit daaa da did didi dit dit dit diri dit daaa da did didi dit dit dit diri dit daaa da did didi dit dit dit diri dit daaa da.

    commander even more irritated. : Play it with the horn you idiot
    they start the attack, which of course goes horribly wrong.

    Some Turkish humor is universal. Some is very local.
    People from Sarajevo to Sanaa enjoy Turkish humor.
    All these people have been in the Ottoman empire though.
    But like any humor, you have to have some notion about the subject they are ridiculing.
    Not everbody likes for instance british humor.

    Babam ve oglum is as Huseyin mentioned not a comedy, but drama. I did not watch it.

    January 11th, 2007 at 6:18 pm
  3. I’m not Turkish, but I know a bit of the language — and I think those Kemal Sunal movies (Hababam sinifi, Tosun pasa) are really hilarious. I can’t catch every joke but the guy is a natural comedian. There’s not much of a cultural divide. I wonder why they chose that quote in imdb.

    March 26th, 2007 at 7:14 pm
  4. Hello,

    I was searching for My favorite comedy of all time – Hababam sinifi – and I found this page. I am Turkish, but I will be objective. I’ve said this before to my friends, Turks can’t make horror movies, but they will dominate in comedies. What makes Turkish comedies so successful is that it is just a reflection of Turkish culture. Turkish comedies are just an extract of everyday Turkish life. Script writers do not have to come up with inappropriate but funny lines to make the audience laugh. They have so much material they can work with just from every-day Turkey. Language is a MAJOR factor. A funny material will sound much funnier if said in a unique way in Turkish (using special accents and such). For instance, if you translate Hababam Sinifi into English, it will lost 95% of its humor. The humor in Inek Saban’s style of talking is impossible to match in any other language. I will recognize a Turk from a mile away. Ok, a little bit of exaggeration, but the point is Turks have many unique characteristics that can be made in a hilarious scenario.

    Hababam Sinifi. Its success is largely due to its amazing cast. Everyone in that movie is a legend, irreplacable. Also, although Hababam sinifi was a comedy, it had very emotional and touching parts. Speaking personally, I get the goosebumps when I think about Hababam Sinifi, because I think of the ones who passed away, extraordinary music, and.. the snap shots of their memories.

    I have wathced many comedy movies from many cultures, but Turkish comedies are, in my opinion, the most natural and successful. If only everyone knew Turkish, so that they could see for themselves…

    Kenan Aydin
    January 8th, 2008 at 9:23 pm
  5. Hello,

    One of the best comedies out of Turkey I recommend seeing is ‘Sekerpare’
    Hilarious, outstanding. I watched it couple of times last week and still not tired of it

    November 4th, 2013 at 11:40 pm

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