by VICTORIA HENLEY
Starring iconic Russian-born comic Yakov Smirnoff, the Yakov stand up special was a limited time, seasonal comedy spectacular, which is housed in the comedian’s illustrious 2,000 seat theatre in Branson, Mo. and is arguably one of the city’s most sought after shows.
Following his upbringing in the tumultuous, frighteningly stringent landscape of communist Russia, Yakov and his parents fled the land of his birth to seek a life filled with freedom and opportunity when the esteemed comic was in his mid-20s.
Always exhibiting a penchant for making people laugh, Yakov began performing stand up comedy, paying his dues in small clubs and at stand-up comedy nights before landing what arguably became a defining moment in his career: a recurring gig at The Comedy Store, a prestigious outlet that has spearheaded the careers of some of the most dominating forces in the comedic genre, including Rosanne Barr, Whoopi Goldberg, Jim Carrey and David Letterman.
Smirnoff’s equally charming, candid, whip smart, and keenly self-aware aesthetic and pitch perfect delivery quickly skyrocketed him to success of meteoric proportions.
Before long, he was starring and appearing in blockbuster Hollywood films, including “Moscow on the Hudson” (with the beloved late, great, Robin Williams), “Heartburn” with Academy Award Winner, Meryl Streep and the uproarious comedy “The Money Pit” with Tom Hanks and Shelley Long. He also had countless acclaimed appearances in televised comedy stand up specials and recurring sitcom roles.
Eager to reach more people and further expand his brand, Yakov took a massive leap of faith and opened his own 2,000 seat theater in Branson, Mo., an exquisite, luxurious production space that has housed a myriad of stand-up comedy specials, featuring Smirnoff as well as touring artists and variety acts.
A household name within the comedy circuit, this acclaimed comic travels the world for touring stand up shows, lectures and cruise appearances and then commutes back to his “home base” of Branson around Table Rock Lake, where he resides with his stunning wife, Olivia and he delights audiences seasonally at his own theater’s residency.
Backstage Pass on IHeart Radio/CT Magazine was afforded an exclusive opportunity to visit Yakov’s theater on opening night of his show for the 2022 season, and the comic delivered all the razor sharp wit, superb comedic timing, and undeniably intelligent, yet outrageously hilarious, content you’d expect from a Yakov special.
The packed house brimmed with excitement as Yakov took the stage for this season’s debut. He opened the show by speaking humorously, yet candidly, about the stifling experience of his formative years growing up in the Soviet Union. His Russian roots and staunch patriotism resulting from his starkly different experiences in communist Russia versus America. These are an integral part of his comedy, and his acerbic, yet highly approachable perspective and delivery are one of the many reasons his ardent supporters return to his shows and projects time and time again.
Smirnoff entertains with intensely intriguing stories about his experience on “The Tonight Show” with Johnny Carson, the current tumultuous Russian climate, performing in front of President Reagan’s Cabinet, advising the aforementioned leader on ways to infuse some humor into his meeting with Gorbachev, and the sage, albeit unconventional, advice Yakov provided played an undeniable role in the eventual demolition of the Berlin Wall.
Smirnoff regularly discusses some of the more serious elements of life, including global, political, and race relations, a highly intriguing and copiously studied-and often laugh out loud hilarious- analysis of gender roles, as well the impact-fulness and importance of infusing marriages and relationships with laughter. Yakov speaks nostalgically of the heartwarming, messy, and often cringeworthy experience of raising children and hysterical hijinx skiing with his first wife.
Following his heartbreaking divorce with his first wife, the beloved comic set out on a quest for knowledge to educate himself in regards to why most marriages end in divorce, and what, if anything, might be done to improve his fortune the second time around.
Hungry for answers, Yakov’s extensive amounts of research led him to earn his master’s degree in Psychology from the University of Pennsylvania, followed by a doctorate degree.
Since then, Yakov met and married Olivia, the love of his life. They now share a happy union, filled with adventure and laughter.
He now speaks to couples globally about relationship dynamics and will even headline his own couples retreat cruise. Smirnoff also holds an impromptu “contest” during his award-winning two hour set, where guests are afforded the opportunity to tell their very best jokes into the microphone, and a show of applause by the audience determines what joke was, indeed, the best. The winner of this unofficial competition is allowed to join Yakov onstage as the host of a Branson-themed talk show. There, the comic and audience member exchange entertaining and very funny banter about a wide variety of topics.
The grand finale of the show features a special patriotic song performed by Yakov as he expresses his love for the United States, and a real life “Lady Liberty” (an exquisitely adorned replica of the Statue of Liberty) is unveiled to close out an epic grand finale to a hilarious, heartwarming and distinctively unique comedy extravaganza, that dives far beneath the surface of your typical standard comedy special.
Displaying a genuine love for his fellow human beings and his country that is just as big and infectious as his mega-watt smile, Yakov offers guests the opportunity to enjoy world class, clean comedy from a world renowned superstar, deep in the heart of the Ozarks.
PHONE NUMBER : (417) 336-3838
Be sure to listen in to Victoria Henley’s exclusive interview with Yakov Smirnoff, recorded on location at his theater for Backstage Pass on IHeart Radio/FCB radio. You can find the interview by searching for the show by name on www.IHeartradio.com or wherever you get your podcasts.