Russian-born comedian Yakov Smirnoff stumbles over his words while stating the expression, "Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day; teach him to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime," but he exercises its message with articulate enthusiasm.
By inviting the audiences of his comedic one-man show As Long As We Both Shall Laugh to a post-show workshop, Smirnoff hopes to teach the importance of laughter in relationships, inspired by occurrences from his own life.
Moving from the Soviet Union to America in 1977, Smirnoff formed his cut-up act around comparing life in a communist society to life in the United States, where he says he thought baby-changing tables in bathrooms were places you could drop off your old baby and get a new one.
Initially embraced by the media, critics eventually grew bored of Smirnoff's act, calling it "predictable" and "well past its sell date." Beyond the negative response to his work, he was also face to face with a failing marriage that ended in divorce.
"It was because I didn't know my role that my marriage failed," Smirnoff said. "When I said, 'I do,' I didn't, because I didn't know what to do."
As time passed, Smirnoff says, rather than be afraid of the differences between men and women, he began to celebrate them and derive humor from the trials and tribulations of love, marriage and parenting.
With a new outlook, Smirnoff created As Long As We Both Shall Laugh, which premiered on Broadway in April 2003, aiming to teach larger audiences what he has learned, while sharing his journey from confused Soviet to comedic Casanova.
Of course the "new" Yakov wasn't about to leave it at that and decided to offer willing spectators an interactive tutorial that gives couples the tools to use humor in their lives.
"It's the Home Depot of comedy," he said.
Smirnoff says that in every successful comedy routine there should be an initiation of laughter, and appreciation for it, an element of surprise and good timing. The same formula, he says, applies for love, a formula he strictly followed after meeting his girlfriend Tara, a yoga instructor in Springfield, Mo.
"She is very self-sufficient," Smirnoff said. "But that doesn't mean she doesn't like to be surprised with flowers every now and then, or have doors opened for her."
Besides in loving relationships, Smirnoff says, the same principles should be followed with friends and co-workers, even when looking for a companion.
"This is my contribution," he said. "To take my audience on a journey that's not just about punch lines, ... to teach about love and joy and see the effect it has."
"As Long As We Both Shall Laugh" is at 8 p.m. Saturday at the Morris A. Mechanic Theatre, 25 Hopkins Plaza. Tickets are $40-$46; available at the Mechanic Box Office and through Ticketmaster, www.ticketmaster.com or 410-481-SEAT.
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