1. Yakov Naumovich Pokhis, better known as Yakov Smirnoff , is a Soviet-born American comedian, actor and writer.
2. After emigrating to the United States in 1977, Smirnoff began performing as a stand-up comic.
3. He eventually gained fame, and he reached his biggest successes in the mid-to-late 1980s, when he also appeared in several films and television shows, including his own 1986-87 sitcom, What a Country!.
4. His comic persona was of a naive immigrant from the Soviet Union who was perpetually confused and delighted by life in the United States.
5. In 1992, he bought his own theater in Branson, Missouri, where he performed his last show on December 3rd 2015.
6. In the late 1990s, prompted by his own divorce, he retooled his stand-up act to focus on the differences between men and women, and on solving problems within relationships.
7. Smirnoff is also a professor at Missouri State University and Drury University where he teaches a course titled “The Business of Laughter.”
8. Smirnoff was born Yakov Naumovich Pokhis in Odessa, Ukraine, then part of the Soviet Union.
9. He is Jewish. He was an art teacher in Odessa, as well as a comedian.
10. As a comedian, he entertained occasionally on ships in the Black Sea, where he came into contact with Americans who described life in the United States to him.
11. That was when he first considered leaving the country. After two years of attempting to leave, he came to the United States with his parents in 1977, arriving in New York City.
12. His family was allowed to come to America because of an agreement between the USSR and America to exchange wheat for Soviet citizens who wished to defect.
13. Smirnoff spent a portion of his early days in the United States working as a busboy and bartender at Grossingers Hotel in the Catskill Mountains of New York and living in the employee dormitory.
14. Smirnoff began doing stand-up comedy in the US in the late 1970s.
15. 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.
16. In the early 1980s, he moved to Los Angeles to further pursue his stand-up comedy career.
17. There he was roommates with two other aspiring comedians, Andrew Dice Clay and Thomas F. Wilson.
18. 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 .
19. 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.