This Pint-Size Bully Is Turkey’s Biggest Meme
The ‘poison dwarf’ takes no prisoners.
A small man in a suit stands on a nondescript street corner in Eastern Europe, holding a broom.
Another man walks up and tries to take the broom.
The small man erupts in a wild frenzy of fisticuffs against the opponent twice his size, as whoever is holding the camera erupts in laughter, as do numerous bystanders.
The video gets over four million views.
Welcome to the world of Köksal Baba, perhaps the most unlikely viral video star in the world.
Baba (full name Köksal Bektaşoğlu) is a 41-year-old man from Trabzon, a city on the Black Sea coast of northern Turkey. Baba means “father” in Turkish, so it’s sort of an honorific for the little dude.
According to his official website, he was a Turkish junior boxing champion from 1995 to 1998. But then things went wrong. And I quote:
“In 2010, he left boxing and joined the underground world and became a bully and got the nickname of Köksal Baba.”
How exactly a dude who stands four feet tall can be a bully is a question quickly answered by watching a few of his videos. Baba swings hard at pretty much anybody who messes with him, and his cameraman is always there to capture the fireworks.
Baba’s bullying nature is a big part of his appeal. His diminutive stature contrasted with his take-no-shit attitude gives his videos an electric charge.
He probably would have remained undiscovered were it not for Süleyman Köse, Baba’s closest friend and frequent videographer. According to this Turkish article, the first time Köse met Baba, the two got in a fistfight, but they soon bonded and started documenting Baba’s adventures.
Baba and Köse have received numerous requests for the little man to appear on TV and in movies, but so far are turning them down. Baba doesn’t want the videos to “lose their naturalism,” which is a good choice. When you watch the situations Köksal Baba gets himself in, they don’t seem scripted or calculated, like so many American viral videos. His very presence makes stuff go crazy.
The interesting thing about Köksal Baba’s underground world is that it’s not just nonstop dwarf violence. More than half of the videos on his YouTube channel show Baba just hanging out with locals, singing songs and generally being a relaxed and chill dude. He gets a straight razor shave or drives around in a child-size RC car.
But it’s the fights that get the clicks. What is so appealing about watching an angry little dude throw down?
There’s a German word, “giftzwerg,” that roughly translates as “poison dwarf.” It was coined in the 1960s to describe the members of the Scottish Rifles battalion that was stationed in Midden after the war.
The Rifles were, for some reason, short in stature compared to the Midden locals, and they’d get into lots of scraps at the local beer halls. The meaning of “giftzwerg” ended up expanding to define anybody who was short in stature and unpleasant to be around.
American pop culture has had its own poison dwarves — remember Hank The Angry Drunken Dwarf, a member of Howard Stern’s “Wack Pack”?
Henry Joseph Nasiff Jr. was a 4'1" man from Boston who would get hammered and hurl abuse at any target in his path. Toting his trademark Sprite bottle with vodka poured in it, he was a frequent Stern guest until his death in 2001.
He was also beloved by the masses, easily winning a write-in poll for People Magazine’s World’s Most Beautiful issue in 1998.
But Köksal Baba doesn’t quite fit that formula, either. In many of his videos, he just seems like a regular dude trying to go about his business until some insult, real or imagined, sends him into a frenzy.
Most of the time, despite his self-admitted bullying nature, Köksal Baba just hangs out in Trabzon drinking tea at Köse’s cafe and shooting the breeze with his friends. Everybody in town knows he’s internet famous, but it doesn’t seem to make much of a difference in his day-to-day life.
Köksal Baba’s fame didn’t happen overnight. Köse has been sharing his friend on Facebook for nearly a decade. But the West just started to catch on in the last few years. He was mentioned on an episode of popular Dirtbag Leftist podcast Chapo Trap House and several message boards have threads devoted to his videos.
As his fame has grown, Baba and Köse have been using it for good. At Köksal Baba’s 41st birthday party, the duo raised money for a number of charitable causes. And Köse talks constantly in interviews about helping the differently abled, like his friend. Indeed, Baba seems to be living the best life he can possibly live.
It’s interesting that Turkey was also the birthplace of one of the internet’s first real memes, a man with some similarities to Köksal Baba.
In 1999, a personal homepage for a man named Mahir Cagri was uploaded to Xoom.com. This was nothing surprising — the late 1990s was the era of vanity webpages as far as the eye could see. But Cagri’s site, full of hilarious broken English like “I Kiss You!!!” struck a chord.
It wasn’t long before it was being shared wildly via email, newsgroups and popular websites of the day. The hit counter at the bottom of Mahir’s page spun wildly, racking up millions of visitors.
What made Mahir so popular? A lot of it could be chalked up to the earnestness of everything. This was a dude who looked like Gabe Kaplan in “Welcome Back, Kotter” putting it all out there on the web in a red Speedo, telling the world he liked playing “musicenstrumans” and having sex.
And even after the world discovered him and mocked him (his fame rose to “Late Night With David Letterman” levels), Mahir didn’t care. He kept on doing himself, eventually inspiring Sacha Baron Cohen’s Borat character.
That same earnestness is a big part of Köksal Baba’s appeal. His shtick isn’t calculated pandering to Western sensibilities (especially if you don’t speak Turkish), and that makes his videos refreshing.
We don’t see any English comedians putting together a bit based on Köksal Baba anytime soon. He’s too chaotic, too wild. The little bully of Trabzon is a singular figure, for better or for worse.
Keep punching, little dude. We’re with you all the way.