Yakov Smirnoff Happily Ever Laughter

When Yakov Maumovich Pokhis emigrated to the United Stated from the Soviet Union, he took jobs bartending at resorts in the Catskills. When he decided to do stand-up comedy, he took his American name from the vodka popular at the resort. Yakov Smirnoff returns with comedy about the very messy business of being human.

Smirnoff is a bit of a Renaissance man. He got his start in stand-up in the late 1970s and was a roommate of comedian Andrew Dice Clay. He began to work in films, appearing in Moscow on the Hudson. In addition to a small role, he helped Robin Williams with his Russian dialogue. He was also in The Money Pit with Tom Hanks and Heartburn with Meryl Streep and Jack Nicholson. He appeared in several other movies, on the sitcom Night Court, and on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. He had his own show, What a Country, named after his well-known tag line.

In 1992, Smirnoff bought a theater in Branson, Missouri and performed there until 2015, where he entertained more than four million people. He appeared on Broadway in a one-man show, As Long as We Both Shall Laugh, and gives advice in a column for AARP Magazine.

Advice? What kind of advice?

Here’s where the Renaissance man part comes in. Smirnoff was fascinated by the nature of happiness and of relationships. In 2006, he got a master’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania in positive psychology and he is an adjunct professor at Missouri Sate University, where he teaches a course on happiness and laughter. He is also a painter and after the attacks of September 11, he designed a mural that hung anonymously near Ground Zero until it was removed because of storm damage. The mural was a tribute to the country that took in a family of Ukrainian Jews and allowed a boy who spoke no English to become a star. Smirnoff became a citizen on July 4, 1986.

What a country!