1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

An Ottoman without an empire

Sertan Sanderson, Edinburgh
September 4, 2016

Naz Osmanoglu makes crowds roar with laughter on Britain's comedy circuit. But not everyone realizes that he is an Ottoman prince. Sertan Sanderson reports from Edinburgh.

Naz Osmanoglu
Image: Privat

You don't get to meet a royal everyday - much less a prince who speaks candidly about the more dissolute episodes of his life. But that's precisely what you get during an encounter with Naz Osmanoglu, Imperial Prince of the Ottoman Empire and an up-and-coming British comedian.

As you might perhaps expect of a prince, Osmanoglu comes across as larger than life but it's his comedy that carries that persona - one that builds heavily on the kind of hilarity that only the wit and grit of British humor can convey.

In fact, everything about His Imperial Highness The Prince Nazim Ziyaeddin Nazim Osmanoglu - to give his full name - strikes the unsuspecting observer as quintessentially British; the Imperial Prince has never been to the land of his ancestors, Turkey, "because of the family history." He doesn't speak Turkish either, having grown up in Dubai and later going to boarding school in England from the tender age of 11.

"I feel a bit embarrassed about not speaking Turkish. But I haven't really grown up as a Turk in many respects, which is a shame. My dad is very proud of his family, and proud of being a Turk. I feel it in a different way - I feel it through my dad," Osmanoglu told DW in Edinburgh.

In the shadow of his father

Many of Naz Osmanoglu's references are in fact about his father, both on and off stage. He talks in great length about the antics of the family patriarch, who - as fifth in line to the Ottoman throne (abolished in 1922) - always seemed to carry the weight of the entire family history on his shoulders.

"My father experiences a deep sense of loss because of all that happened. He feels hurt and angry. He was a prince, and I really wasn't. I carry it with me and I know it's there. Every now and again I quite like flaunting it, or reminding myself that I have this rich history that I'm a part of, but it feels more like a dream to me than reality," he said.

Naz Osmanoglu himself occupies the 17th place in line to the throne, which is not an insignificant spot: compared with the British monarchy, if Queen Elizabeth's sister Princess Margaret, Countess of Snowdon, was still alive today she would occupy the same position in terms of line of succession to the British throne. This parallel, however, is absolute news to Osmanoglu. Beyond the realm of his imagination, little of his daily life appears to be dictated by his royal background:

"I never grew up with the trappings of that life or understanding what it meant. I never felt that it was taken away, while my father and certainly my grandfather did. They had a home, and they were kicked out of their home during the revolution. We were not allowed back in the country until 1984. That was just before I was born in 1985."

Mixed feelings on Turkey

His relationship with Turkey - the country that expelled his forefathers - seems to be conflicted, to say the least. On the one hand, there is the issue of the exile of his family, by now affecting generations of his relatives; on the other hand, he is grateful for Turkey's recent review of its Ottoman past.

Naz Osmanoglu in Edinburgh
Osmanoglu reveals all in his show "Exposure"Image: DW/S. Sanderson

"The current Turkish government is supportive of my family, and I'm thankful to them for that. They are quite keen on having a Turkish royal family presence because of the interest that younger generations have in Ottoman history. At the same time, there's lots of trouble going on there right now, and I don't know how happy everyone is. Turks are affected in a much greater way than I am," he said, remarking that recent portrayals of Turkey in the press had taken on a decidedly negative dimension in his view.

"It's easy from a Western perspective, especially in the media, to only see the country for all its troubles. I don't like that. I'm not too political on this issue either way, but I think these are strange times and what's happening in Turkey is upsetting enough already without having to bang on about it. But I want to go and see Turkey for myself: if all goes well, I will get to go later this year and perform a gig in Istanbul. That's quite a big deal for me," Osmanoglu explained.

Confessions of a prince

His comments on Turkey's political landscape come across as unexpectedly diplomatic, considering that his comedy routine is anything but subtle. In his latest act called "Exposure," Osmanoglu examines personal experiences from the past year, which he refers to as "a bit of a bender" following the separation from his girlfriend.

"I've betrayed people and lived quite a hedonistic lifestyle in the last year. I was lying to myself, and to others, constantly. So I gave up lying - that was a conscious decision, which meant I couldn't lie on stage. So, all the stuff that's in my show is all real. From the meat juices dripping from takeout burgers that I suck out of the delivery box to dating the married woman, who always brought me nice jackets, it all actually happened," Osmanoglu disclosed.

Edinburgh Fringe Festival
Up against steep competition at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Osmanoglu performed regularly in sold-out venuesImage: DW/S. Sanderson

Crossing boundaries

Whether he can perform all those lewd jokes at his upcoming gig in Turkey's more conservative performing arts landscape is yet to be seen, as Osmanoglu details everything from unsavory sexual acts to the pitfalls of living by himself in the course of his comedy show.

"I mention in the show that I hit a real low point when I accidentally found myself at a gay sex party. I remember being in the toilet there and having a bit of a meltdown, missing my girlfriend. I thought: 'I'm literally all alone at a party where everyone is having sex with each other. They are so not alone. And I am.'"

But beyond taking inventory of his own life he says that his biggest motivator in showbiz is to make people laugh:

"Growing up, I noticed that sometimes when I spoke people laughed. And other times they didn't. And I much preferred it when they laughed. So I tried repeating that, and that's how I fell into comedy."