Yakov Smirnoff is a Cold War comic who's been forced to come in from the cold.
He left Russia for the United States in 1977, and his humor - which basically contrasted American affluence with Soviet penury - went down well in his adopted homeland, as did his catch phrase, "What a country!"
He was a regular on the "Tonight Show," made movies and TV specials, and even had his own TV sitcom called - you guessed it - "What a Country!"
But with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, the ice in Smirnoff's cocktail melted and he no longer had his twist.
Gags about gulags had become dated overnight.
So Smirnoff regrouped, leaving his $2.5 million Pacific Palisades home in 1992 and settling in Branson, Miss., where he owns the 1,400-seat Yakov Smirnoff Theater.
What a country!
He also got divorced - which apparently caused him to reassess his life and times, and resulted in his present one-man show, "As Long as We Both Shall Laugh."
Smirnoff has an easy grin and an enormously likable personality. He also has a comedian's eye and ear for the absurd, and his jokes are always well observed and gently funny.
Unfortunately, he has but two jokes.
This isn't as bad as it sounds - no comedian has more than four, and comic geniuses like Jack Benny have gotten along quite nicely with one.
But for ordinary mortals, two is pushing it.
Smirnoff's first joke is a perfectly acceptable variation on the "What a country!" shtick, and he gets some laughs from his Russian accent and various Russian/American misunderstandings.
Nowadays, most comedians are autobiographers in search of a word processor, so after Smirnoff has mined his travels and travails, he comes to Joke No. 2, a variation (inspired by his divorce) on "Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus."
Running through the show is a readily expressed love for his new country (he became a U.S. citizen in 1986), his two children, his ex-wife and his parents.
If he wants some advice, I would suggest an opening act, and cutting his own material by half.
And perhaps getting another joke.
Love of adopted country comes wrapped in laughter at the American Airlines Theater, where the Russian émigré comic Yakov Smirnoff is performing on Sunday and Monday nights through May 26.
In his one-man, two-act show, ''As Long as We Both Shall Laugh,'' Mr. Smirnoff displays his talents as comedian, actor and artist as he weaves the story of his personal American dream with humorous strands of memory about his youth in the Soviet Union; his parents; his early struggles as a poor immigrant in the United States; his marriage, children and divorce; and the effort involved in understanding women.
Sometimes splendidly funny, sometimes poignant, the bearded, boyish Mr. Smirnoff, whose career has taken him to films, television, the White House and ownership of a 1,400-seat theater bearing his name in Branson, Mo., is eager to please and almost always entertaining. With only one reference to current politics (France) and a slight decline in material in the second act, ''As Long as We Both Shall Laugh'' remains a generous display of warmhearted, high-quality humor that provides a welcome respite from wartime tensions.
A small sample: When his golf-playing, prospective father-in-law asks his handicap, Mr. Smirnoff replies, ''I don't speak English very well.''
The cold-war Soviet Union of Mr. Smirnoff's childhood, where the words of Emma Lazarus (''Give me your tired, your poor''), heard on a Voice of America broadcast, inspired his journey to a rendezvous with liberty, provides some of his best material.
In the repressive Communist society, Mr. Smirnoff's impudent humorous spirit manifested itself early, and though he studied art, he was determined to become a comedian. Mr. Smirnoff, who arrived in the United States with his parents in 1977 and became a citizen in ceremonies on Ellis Island on July 4, 1986, is also delightful in recounting his early encounters with the pitfalls of literal interpretation of English-language advertising (''Big Sale -- Last Week''), signs and labels.
He is touching in his reminiscence of the neighbors who helped his family with money, food and other necessities when they first found an apartment in New York, and in his memories of his love for the Russian woman who could not join him in his journey to freedom.
Casually dressed, Mr. Smirnoff, who created and wrote the show, recounts his adventures on a set furnished for the most part like a sitting room with an easy chair and easel that enables him to display sketches and a painting of his children. High on the wall behind are colorful panels that fade from time to time to reveal projections of photographs and other images of Mr. Smirnoff, his parents and friends.
On either side of the stage stands the figure that motivates Mr. Smirnoff's life story and colors his charming light humor with deeper meaning: the Statue of Liberty.