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Yakov Smirnoff      

Soviet-Born American Comedian, Actor, & Writer

Smirnoff began doing stand-up comedy in the US in the late 1970s. He chose the last name "Smirnoff" after trying to think of a name that Americans would be familiar with; he had learned about Smirnoff vodka in his bartending days.

In the early 1980s, he moved to Los Angeles to further pursue his stand-up comedy career. There he was roommates with two other aspiring comedians, Andrew Dice Clay and Thomas F. Wilson. He appeared often at renowned L.A. club The Comedy Store. After achieving some level of fame, Smirnoff got his first break with a small role in the 1984 film Moscow on the Hudson; on the set, he helped star Robin Williams with his Russian dialogue. He subsequently appeared in several other motion pictures, including Buckaroo Banzai, Brewster's Millions and The Money Pit. Among his numerous appearances on television, he was featured many times on the sitcom Night Court as "Yakov Korolenko", and appeared as a comedian and guest on The Tonight Show hosted by Johnny Carson.

Smirnoff at a Hands Across America promotional event in 1986 He had a starring role in the 1986–87 television sitcom What a Country! In that show, he played a Russian cab driver studying for the U.S. citizenship test. In the late 1980s, Smirnoff was commissioned by ABC to provide educational bumper segments for Saturday morning cartoons, punctuated with a joke and Smirnoff's signature laugh. In 1988, Smirnoff was the featured entertainer at the annual White House Correspondents' Dinner.

From 1992-2015, he performed hundreds of times a year at his own 2,000-seat theater in Branson, Missouri, featuring comedy acts and Russian dance performances.

In 2003, he appeared on Broadway in a one-man show, As Long As We Both Shall Laugh. He is a featured writer for AARP Magazine and gives readers advice in his column, "Happily Ever Laughter". He guests at the Skinny Improv in Springfield, Missouri on occasion.

After a successful career in television, movies and Broadway, Smirnoff turned his mind to understanding the mysteries of happiness. In May 2006, he received a master's degree in positive psychology from the University of Pennsylvania. He has taught classes at Drury University along with Missouri State University on this topic. He also gives seminars and self-help workshops on the topic of improving relationships.


Yakov Smirnoff on Vimeo
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Yakov Smirnoff on Broadway - YouTube
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