by Linda Burlingame
It’s good to see Yakov again! He’s back at his Yakov Smirnoff Theater for shows through November 24. Yakov’s show has always been a charming mix of comedy, nostalgia, and eye-opening observations about America. I think his show entertains, inspires, and puts a fresh and often hilarious perspective on what it means to be an American. Yakov loves this country; his stories range from poignant tales of the kindness experienced when he and his parents came to New York in 1977, to observations like, “Here police fire warning shots. What a country!” One minute the tears well up and the next I’m laughing out loud.
Chelsea Arnold, runner-up to Miss Missouri and now Miss Branson, opens the show with our national anthem. In a later appearance, she asks the audience, “What do Yakov and Irving Berlin have in common?” Yes, both are Russian immigrants. She sings Irving Berlin’s classic God Bless America. Another special appearance in the show is “Boris” the horse … Yakov rides around the stage on Boris, while singing From Red to Redneck, a wonderfully clever song Yakov wrote. Later you’ll enjoy the presidential press conference, too!
Some of the funniest bits, of course, are his literal observations on American language. Waiter, “How do you like your steak?” Yakov, “I don’t know, you haven’t brought it yet.” And then Yakov’s now classic, “Bet you never thought of it that way!” Audiences also enjoy the video clips shown throughout the show, including an introduction by Bob Hope, an appearance on the Johnny Carson Show, as well as a video of the July 4, 1986, ceremony at Ellis Island, when Yakov became an American citizen.
Yakov’s extraordinary powers of observation are the trademark of his comedy and of his success. Yakov has a 2006 master’s degree in psychology from the University of Pennsylvania. In May of 2019 he’ll receive his PhD. His dissertation? “LOL — The Law of Laughter.” Some of his psychological insights are funny — for instance, he talks about the “bridge” between our left brain and our right brain. Women? It’s a four-lane highway. Men? A winding country lane!
As I said, it’s good to have Yakov back in Branson, even if it’s just for a limited number of shows. For many years he played a major role in the lineup of live Branson shows. But Yakov stays busy! The multi-talented entertainer is also a published author, and in 2003 he had a critically acclaimed one-man show on Broadway, As Long As We Both Shall Laugh. His movie credits include Moscow on the Hudson with Robin Williams; Heartburn with Meryl Streep and Jack Nicholson; and The Money Pit with Tom Hanks. Yakov is an accomplished artist. He taught art in Odessa, Russia, where he went to college. His art is at once whimsical and touching; much of it is on display in the theater. His painting after 9/11, a heart-shaped flag, was made into a banner that hung over Ground Zero for 18 months. The inscription was, “The human spirit is not measured by the size of the act but by the size of the heart.”
Yakov Smirnoff is out to “Make America Laugh Again.” (You can buy the cap!) He certainly makes audiences do that. Go see Yakov Smirnoff, Famous Russian Comedian. Don’t miss the chance to be entertained, to laugh… and to be reminded what it is to be an American, “What a Country!”