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Géza Hofi (born Géza Hoffmann, July 2, 1936 in Budapest; died April 10, 2002 in Budapest) was a Hungarian actor and comedian. He is probably the most popular Hungarian parodist and had strong influence on Hungarian cabaret.
Hofi Géza was for many years the highlight of Hungarian cabaret. He never followed any pattern nor trend, he was always following his own trail. His unique performances made him the most popular comedian of his time in Hungary. His death created an enormous vacuum in Hungarian comedy, and it is a common consensus among people who witnessed his performances that there may never be another comedian like him. His style as a comedian was unique. It couldn't exactly be categorised as stand-up comedy, though it didn't fit any other category either. There are no current comedians in Hungary who would try to emulate his style - his legacy on Hungarian humour is somewhat analogous to that of Beethoven's on German music in the 1800s. His theatre shows were sold out many months in advance, and there was rarely an empty seat in the house.
Being a "stand-up" comedian in a totalitarian regime was never going to be an easy state of affairs. Hofi was walking on thin ice as he never passed up an opportunity to ridicule the obvious absurdities of the communist government. However, there are indications that his shows were viewed by those in power as a safe way to discharge the people's frustration with the system. In the decades following the anti-communist uprising of 1956 the government was cautious not to shut down the voice of the people (Hofi) but rather to let them laugh - and in particular to laugh at those in power. Hofi however never held back and on numerous occasions spent a few nights in prison.
Hofi's historical significance - beyond his obvious merits as a comedian - was that he maintained his identity and dignity in a totalitarian regime where most others would have bailed. He can never be compared to those stand-up comedians who were making fun of politicians while living under a democratic government. Hofi often parodized János Kádár the communist leader of Hungary at the time - and in doing so it wasn't his impeccable match of Kádár's speech patterns that left those in the audience gasping for air, but rather the incisive critique of the contemporary politics.
He inherited his sense of criticism from his father, and he also claimed to have inherited his musicality from his mother. Géza Hoffmann, as he was then known, applied for placement at the Academy of Theatrical Arts, but he was not admitted. So instead he went to work as a worker at a porcelain factory. He signed up to the theatrical school directed by Kálmán Rózsahegyi, where amongst others he met József Sas and István Sztankay, who were later both his colleagues and good friends. Whilst working in the factory, he joined the theatrical circle led by András Jászai. He has already been painting porcelain for five years when in 1960, József Szendrő, a well-known theatrical director of the time spotted his talent. He was offered a contract with the Csokonai theatre of Debrecen in September, 1960. Whilst an actor here, he was keen to parodise the performances with his friends. He became so good at this, that by 1963 he has decided to move back to his native Budapest, and with the permission of the National Directing Agency, under his stage name of Hofi, was now allowed to perform.
He became famous when on New Year's Eve of 1968 he performed his brilliant song-contest parody, on the Hungarian Radio. He signed a contract with Mikroszkóp Theatre in 1969, where he remained until 1982. His director here was János Komlós. In 1983 Ottó Ádám convinced him to move to Madách Kamara, where he entertained the public with his own scripts and dramaturgy. His show Hofélia was played more than 500 times, and his new show My Life's Worth was played some 1400 times, from October, 1987. His performances were released on LP records several times, many of them have sold hundreds of thousands of copies. He recorded a song with János Koós, called Cowardly Cats, which was a smash hit. This was also made into an animated film.
Hofi carried on playing after the changeover in 1989, his style, provocative humour, and the tone of his performances remained unchanged. He suffered a heart-attack in the early 1990-s, and was also operated on his eye several times. He had been ridden with ill health during the early 2000-s, and he returned to the stage for the last time in February, 2002, where he performed for another two months. He died in his sleep on April 10, 2002. He is resting among famous Hungarian celebrities in the Farkasréti Cemetery.
Hofi was probably one of the greatest stars of the Radio Cabaret, and his performance in the New Year's Eve programmes was a guarantee for success. His recording of the song Relax! remains popular and often sung even today.
During Hungarian communist rule that lasted through 1989, Géza Hofi was closely monitored, in large part due to his criticisms of the political system. He alluded to this several times during his performances via jokingly addressing members of the Party, secret agents and government snitches is the audience. He was even monitored by the Czechoslovakian Secret Services. Even though he was critical about the government, and even parodied the head-of-state of the time, János Kádár, the latter is said to have appreciated and understood Hofi's performances to a certain extent. (After all Hofi never spent substantial time in prison.)
Awards and prizes
Géza Hofi was presented with awards several times, receiving some more than once.
- Jászai Mari Prize for Actors (1970, 1973)
- Merited Performer Award (1977)
- Excellent Performer Award (1988)
- Déryné Prize for Actors, a prize only for female performers, that Hofi gained alone as a male comedian so far (1995)
- Officer's Cross of the Order of the Republic of Hungary (1996)
- The Kossuth Prize, the highest award for a performer (1998)
- Pro Cultura Urbis prize, presented by the Assembly of Budapest (2002)
Although it is not an award, it is worth mentioning that the statue called "Theatre", sculpted by Géza Stremeny, which was erected in front of the main entrance of Mikroszkóp Theatre, was modelled after Hofi. This statue is popularly referred to as "the Hofi-statue", although many feel that it would be appropriate for him to receive another, more conventional statue.