UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Weaponized humor : the cultural politics of Turkish-German ethno-comedy Hoellering, Tim


My thesis aims to show how the humor of Turkish-German ethno-comedians fulfills a double purpose of entertaining its audience while advancing a cultural political agenda that Kathrin Bower called “transnational humanism.” It includes notions of human rights consensus, critical self-reflection, respect, tolerance, and openness to cultural diversity. Promoting these values through comedy, the artists hope to contribute to abating prejudice and discrimination in Germany’s multi-ethnic society. Fusing the traditional theatrical principle of “prodesse et delectare” with contemporary cultural politics, these comedians produce something of political relevance: making their audience aware of its conceptions of “self” and “other” and fostering a sense of community across diverse cultural identifications. My thesis builds mainly on the works of Kathrin Bower, Maha El Hissy, Erol Boran, Deniz Göktürk, and Christie Davies. Whereas Davies denies humor’s potential for cultural impact, Göktürk elucidates its destabilizing power in immigrant films. Boran elaborates this function for Turkish-German Kabarett. El Hissy connects Kabarett, film, and theater of polycultural artists and ties them to Bakhtin’s concept of the carnivalesque and the medieval jester. Bower published several essays on the works of ethno-comedians as humorous catalysts for advancing a multiethnic Germany. I hope to continue and substantiate this line of research. Following the assumption that humor can have a significant social impact, I focus on the question of how exactly ethno-comedy promotes its cultural political agenda. Three survey chapters examine the cultural history of German-Turkish relations including the sources and nature of ethnic stereotypes as the main material of today’s ethno-comedians, the origins and development of the comedians’ social role in the jester tradition, and humor theory. Drawing on Freud, Bhabha, and Bakhtin’s works my subsequent case studies elucidate the specific conditions which govern the artists’ performative space and turn their distinct humor into an integrative tool in culturally diverse demographics. My contribution to the field of Turkish-German studies lies in suggesting a more specific definition of ethno-comedy as a performative paradigm, identifying typical strategies of fighting ignorance with laughter, and illustrating this aesthetic model with two representative, complementary case studies on performances by Bülent Ceylan and Serdar Somuncu.

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