Our Comedy Radar is going off because …
Who: Russian comedian Yakov Smirnoff.
What: His one man show, “Happily Ever Laughter,” has been extended through Sept. 28 at the ACME Comedy Theater in Hollywood.
The Punchline: Forget Mikhail Gorbachev and Ronald Reagan -- or any other political superpowers of the 1980s, for that matter. Comedian Yakov Smirnoff says his '80s-era “sidesplitting stand-up” was partly responsible for ending the Cold War.
He’s not joking.
Smirnoff met Ronald and Nancy Reagan at a dinner party in Washington in the mid-1980s. He was eventually brought on by then-speech writer, now-U.S. Rep. Dana Rorbacher, to spice up a speech the president was to give at the Kremlin in Moscow.
“I added some jokes. It was pretty amazing to watch the president deliver them,” he says. “I think it helped Reagan and Gorbachev connect; seriously.”
Now Smirnoff is turning his comic peacemaking efforts toward ending a different war, “the Cold War in the Bedroom.” Laughter, he says, is the glue that keeps couples together.
“When people are connected the right way, laughter happens continuously. I’m interested in how to sustain it.”
Toward that end, Smirnoff went back to school and in 2006 earned a masters in positive psychology from the University of Pennsylvania. He now teaches a class, Happily Ever Laughter, at Missouri State University.
“I wanted to see if there was a scientific side to this. It’s kind of what Edison did with the lightbulb – he saw a spark between plus and minus and started experimenting to see if you could sustain it as light. I’m doing the same thing with laughter. Call it the laughbulb!”
This story, and others, are what make up his show at the ACME where, he says, “I smuggle in the science between laughs.” The weekly Saturday night show has sold out 12 weeks in a row since late June. The ACME has added three more shows to meet the demand.
“Laughter is the gage of a healthy relationship,” he says. “When people come into my show, they’re busy and disconnected. Then I see, by the time they leave, a lot of couples are holding hands.”