Interview with the professional comedian whose smile never fades away.
‘Pharaoh Kufu is looking for slaves. Building pyramids are required.’ – sounded one of his first jokes. I asked Zoltán Maksa, the well-known Hungarian humorist of the former TV programme, ‘Szeszélyes évszakok’.
You are not likely to have born with the idea that once you will be a humorist. What was your first dream job in your childhood?
I wanted to be an engine-turner. On hearing this, it could sound quite stupid. But when I attended primary school, we took a guided trip to a then working factory in Budapest with my class. There was such an enormous hall I have never seen before. In the middle of it, there was a rounded construction with lots of tracks from one end to the other on its top and many platforms on its sides. When an engine arrived to one of the platforms, it stood on this wheel, it was turned and then practically the engine went on towards a totally different direction. This process fascinated me so much that I wanted to become the operator of this machine.
Later on, I wanted to become an archaeologist. I even started to dig up the backyard but apart from a pig’s lower jaw, I did not find anything. Afterwards, when chemistry was started to be taught in elementary school, I went in for chemistry. It remained an unbroken desire because I graduated as a chemist and I had even worked in this field for three years.
Among these circumstances when did the feeling arise: ‘I am going to be a humorist.’?
It is very interesting because life directed me towards culture all the time. I flirted with the idea of working as an engineer but somehow God did not let me follow that path.
There was a time when I thought that I would become a musician; I founded a humour-duo with a guy, who was as silly as me, in secondary school. We entertained the audience by singing to the guitar whether they wanted it or not. Our reputation slowly went around and we had a pleasant run of luck so we performed in every school event; moreover, teachers from other schools invited us to participate in their school programmes too.
I continued the stupidity in the factory as well. I was the showman of the company parties and when the Humour Festival was announced by the Hungarian Radio in 1981 the whole collective shouted that ‘Maksa, your place is there, take your chance!’
I entered the competition as an author – and not as a performer – so my writings were read out aloud by actors. I left the festival with a special prize. As a performer, András Nagybandó discovered me. Actually, the skill that I can speak in front of an audience is due to him.
I heard that you used to have a stage fright. How could you struggle with it?
I grew out of it in time. Especially before performing in television I was terribly nervous. Later, as you get some experience it turns into a difficult waiting. But undoubtedly it was quite a big step for me to stand up and speak.
It started in May 1991 and met with complete success. It started by the invitation of the Hungarian Television due to my first place I achieved in the Humour Festival in the ’90s. The editor asked me what I could do. I gave him a videotape which was made earlier just for fun by a friend of mine. After a week the editor called me back and suggested to work on the sketch of the news in details and make a well-rounded programme out of it. I was lucky I got into the programme ‘Szeszélyes évszakok’. At that time this meant to be the most widely watched cabaret in television, thus I soon became well-known.
When other commercial TV channels became popular, our viewing figures reduced. The last episode of the news was broadcasted in 2004.
You are a permanent lead presenter of Kossuth Radio. Is working in radio easier for you compared to television?
Well, working in a radio is more freely. For instance, if I take in a piece of writing, the executive editor will check whether it contains loaded expressions or something that is not allowed to declare in a live show but he does not interfere in my business. I can give more of myself and I do not need to stick to the script that much than in TV.
What would you consider the peak of your career?
The Elizabeth Prize which I got in 1994. It was founded by an actress, Spéter Erzsébet, who dispensed some money among Merited Artists every year. I was very pleased to win because it was voted purely by the audience.
You have two daughters. Did they inherit the sense of humour from you?
Completely. There is a kind story about that. I was waiting in the clinic, which always takes 800 hours. Once, I wrote a text message to my daughter, it sounded like the following: ‘Here is dad. I’m sitting in the clinic. Where are you?’ The answer arrived: ‘Somewhere else.’
My other daughter – the younger one –, Bogi has started being funny even earlier. She was around 4 years old when she was randomly drawing at the table. At once, she slid down from the chair, pushed herself through under the table and came out on its other side when she said: ‘I printed out myself.’
You have mentioned you performed songs with your duo. Do you still have any closer connection with music?
Definitely. I have started to play the drums in my primary school age. We even founded a rock band with my mates but please do not search for it in your memories; our band was popular as far as we were heard.
Ok, seriously, one of my big loves in my life – besides my daughters – is music. I built up a mini studio at home with synthesizers and electronic drums, where my brain can rest and my soul can fly. I believe there are thoughts for which music is the best way of expression.
Recently, I have founded a new band again; it is called ‘Mediace’ because its members work in media and we all are ace – just modestly like that.
What kind of plans do you have for the future? Are you working on any project at the moment?
In spite of my age I have plans, plenty of plans. I finished writing my third book three years ago and I also came out with two CDs. At the moment I am working on a rock opera. I have already started writing it and later I also would like to compose the music to the scenes. I strongly hope it will be put on stage one day.