Reading Watching, Listening #9
A comedy duo + Bülent Ecevit
This week I’m reviewing a comedy show, and for paid subscribers, a biography of the leftist politician Bülent Ecevit.
This is a miniseries on Gain, a Turkish streaming platform. It’s a surreal comedy show about two low-level goons/errand guys. I realize that’s an inelegant way of describing someone’s occupation, but that’s the point. The name “Ayak İşleri” literally translates to “foot work.” Drivers for powerful people often end up being a de-facto errand man as well, and if that person is a slightly mafia-like figure, they also end up being an enforcer of sorts. Think John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson’s characters in Pulp Fiction.
The first episode is available on YouTube for free (above). Here, Vedat and Evren, brilliantly portrayed by Çağlar Çorumlu and Vedat Murat Akpınar, are about to beat up a small shop owner for neglecting to pay the boss. Vedat is the veteran who just wants to go about the job, but Evren, who’s younger and new to the operation, has concerns. They’re sitting in the car and Evren has all these questions for Vedat. Is it really fair to beat up a guy if he owes money? Also, “how is the guy going to know which creditor is having him beaten up?”
“Oh he’ll know,” says Vedat.
Awkward silence. Will he really?
Evren suggests that the guy probably owes money to a few different people. Mentioning the boss’ name won’t do, they say, but perhaps they could cite the exact amount he owes. Could Vedat call someone and ask for the exact number?
It goes on like that.
The dialogue cracks and pops beautifully. Vedat is one of those people who has a gift for cursing, and Evren keeps badgering him about the sexism inherent in those curses.
This is a surreal comedy, so the plotline is pretty erratic, but it works out for the most part. There’s an episode where Evren’s old philosophy professor dies, and his last wish is to be cremated and for his ashes to be scattered in the Menderes river. The problem is that there’s no crematoriums in Turkey (it’s true, we checked), so the duo tries to burn his corpse in a stone oven at a pide restaurant, which of course, goes horribly wrong. In another episode, Vedat and Evren are driving their boss’ wife to a soothsayer, who’s basically the Oracle from The Matrix. There are a few episodes where they think their boss is trying to kill them, they decide to kill him back, and it’s funny at first, but it got so incoherent after a while that we skipped a few episodes. There’s a few other episodes that fall flat, but they’re 20 minutes long anyways, so it’s easy to be forgiving when you find yourself in one of those.
It occurs to me that this sort of comic duo is a genre in and of itself. There’s Hacivat and Karagöz of course, but also Laurel and Hardy, Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie, Beavis and Butt-head, Harold and Kumar. Here is also a pretty good list of comedy duos in Turkey. Now in its third season, Ayak İşleri follows in that tradition and does so rather well.
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