Yakov Smirnoff filling up an entire Broadway stage with his one-man show (at the American Airlines Theatre on Sunday and Monday nights through the end of May.) And Smirnoff has the confidence to do it. This Russian-born Jew has become something of a phenomenon, arriving penniless on these shores with his parents in 1977and going on to fame and fortune.
Smirnoff initially made his mark as a stand-up comic, commenting on our mores and customs from an immigrant's viewpoint. He went on to appear in a number of films with the likes of Robin Williams, Jack Nicholson, Tom Hanks, Meryl Streep-and in his own television appearances on "The Tonight Show" and HBO and Showtime comedy specials.
What is his appeal? Watching his current Broadway show, "As Long As We Both Shall Laugh," we were struck by the easy-going gentle quality of his humor. This is no Jackie-Mason-take-no-prisoners approach, with every one devastated in the wreckage. Smirnoff has a sweet endearing style, quite painless, and a humor that goes down as easily as coffee ice cream.
Smirnoff is the butt of his own jokes: his difficulties with the new language, his struggle to understand American ways. In this new show, however, he concentrates on male-female relations and comments that women provide another foreign land through which he must navigate. He focuses on his own marriage and divorce. But it is all quite painless for the viewer. An example of his shtick: on meeting his prospective father-in-law (a WASP from Oregon), the man asks Smirnoff, "Do you golf? What is your handicap?" "Well, I don't speak English too well," Smirnoff replies. Or words to that effect.
We who seek a more sardonic, dark, biting wit, better suited to our cynical age, found the Smirnoff routine disappointing. As he lauds America as the great land of freedom, his comments come off as over-sentimental and lacking in perception. It is, understandably, the viewpoint of many Russian immigrants (my own father, for example).
Yet Smirnoff is indeed multi-talented--and may be a better artist than performer. Blow-up copies of his many fine paintings adorn the stage. He is a graduate of the prestigious Pedagogical Art Institute in Russia. He seriously considered art as a profession before he turned to entertainment and in fact has taught art professionally. His artwork was featured in New York at the International Expo and his painting "America's Heart" is displayed as a mural at Ground Zero.
Whatever we may think, America has taken Smirnoff to its heart. And indeed he is amiable, likeable, amusing--and, above all, an incarnation of the American dream.
Contact :Irene Backalenick E-mail IreneBack@aol.com
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