Life in Stand-by Mode

An increasing number of young German-born Turks are exploring their origins and identity as stand-up comedians and finding a large public in the process. Fatih Cevikkollu is one of them. Petra Tabeling met up with him

Fatih Cevikkollu: "The fact that the Turk is not being seen as the hero of the nation, but rather as its doormat, is an image problem"

​​Kaya Yanar and his television show "Was guckst du?" (What are you lookin' at?) have made German-Turkish comedy popular. Where do you fit in?

Fatih Cevikkollu: Kaya Yanar's show has contributed to an image of the Turk as the doorman who can't speak German properly, not exactly the brightest of all people. I don't think Kaya can speak a single word of Turkish.

In Turkey we say "bir lisan bir insan", a language is a person. When you can speak a language, you know the attitude towards life in that nation. If this skill is lacking, you are simply not culturally connected. Culture is cuisine, music, life. And when you can't speak the language, then you don't have this very elementary key - the means to access this culture - at your disposal.

My experience is that the many Turks I know who have watched the program find it insulting and discriminatory.

You studied at the Ernst Busch School for Performing Arts in Berlin and spent many years working in theatre. Do you now feel as if you have found your place in political cabaret?

Cevikkollu: Looking back from where I am now, I feel that it was a logical development. I also got to know theatre as a type of machine where everyone has their function. I then said to myself, "Thank you very much, that was all well and good." There are plenty of other things to say, personal statements, for example. I maintain that every Turk who lives in this country and is in the public eye has to be political.

When a foreigner, a Turk, someone from the margins of society, makes a public appearance, he is always compared to the image that is produced – per se. The fact that the Turk is not being seen as the hero of the nation, but rather as its doormat, is an image problem. To appear in public and find one's place under these conditions is very difficult, but important nonetheless.

I want to present myself as an example of Germany at this point in time, a kind of taking stock of the current state of affairs, as it were, far removed from the images that usually pass for reality.

Your parents have since moved back to Turkey. You have described the life of your family in Cologne as "life in stand-by mode."

Cevikkollu: The basic idea of my show is to provide my own viewpoint of the fatherland - hence the name "Fatihland" - to show that it is only natural that we live and are staying here. Both sides made a number of mistakes on the way to getting to this point, like the integration policy that never happened, and so on. This history has caused a great deal of anxiety and frustration.

What do you think went wrong with German policy?

Cevikkollu: The guest worker arrangement was a temporary measure. The agreement was that we would come, stay, and then leave. Everything had a time limit, but the limit was never set.

Then there was the position of the German government: you have your dormitory, your job, and, afterwards, you can return home to wherever you came from. You don't need to speak the language. There was never any plan for socialization, never a thought to integrating foreigners into society.

Your jokes about your friend, the Brazilian Caio, and an Italian always go down well with German audiences. Is this also a form of muted criticism of a "positive racism" in Germany?

Cevikkollu: Yes, you could put it that way.

What plans do you have for the future? What comes after "Fatihland," your current show?

Cevikkollu: My biggest plan is just to perform "Fatihland" and to produce a Turkish version, as my audience is predominantly German.

There are hardly any Turks who grew up in Germany and have gone on stage in Turkey to tell the people there our history. I would like to start this experiment and perform the show in Turkish here in Germany.

Interview conducted by Petra Tabeling

© 2007

Translated from the German by John Bergeron

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