Raised in Russia, Yakov played the "class clown" all throughout his school and University years. After tormenting countless teachers, he finally took the advice he had been hearing for years, "become a professional comedian." During the cold war years, however, comedians in the Soviet Union were censored by "The Department of Jokes," (and that's no joke). Creatively stifled by the persistent censorship, Yakov made the decision to endure the arduous and intimidating process of applying for an exit visa. Two years later the visa was granted and he immigrated to the U.S.
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By 1979 he had found his way to Los Angeles to establish himself in comedy. He got his first big break when he stepped onto the stage during an open mike night at the world famous Comedy Store. Recognizing his talent, club owner Mitzi Shore hired him to perform three or four times a week as well as work as the club's doorman. Thereafter, his career skyrocketed as audiences were resoundingly attracted to Yakov's amiable personality and perceptive comedic insights into Soviet and American life. By 1984, American's made the Russian import a top attraction at comedy clubs throughout the country. As his reputation grew, he gained national attention with his appearances on the "Tonight Show with Johnny Carson" and his role in the critically acclaimed "Moscow On The Hudson" with Robin Williams.
A multi-faceted performer who is equally at home on stage and screen, Yakov's performances in feature films include "Brewster's Millions" with Richard Pryor, "The Money Pit" with Tom Hanks and "Heartburn" with Meryl Streep and Jack Nicholson. In 1986 he starred in the syndicated series "What A Country" which ran for 26 episodes. The following year he published his book "America On Six Rubles A Day." Now in its fifth printing, the book has sold upwards of a quarter of a million copies. In addition, children are drawn to Yakov, inspiring ABC to star him in their informational spots for kids called "Fun Facts."
Yakov's natural warmth and ability has not gone unnoticed by major advertisers such as Chrysler, Amoco, Miller Brewing Company and Best Western Hotels. All of them have engaged Yakov as their spokesman with great success. In fact, the first week the Best Western spots aired, the company received an overwhelming one million phone calls.
Yakov's standards for his performances translate into his personal life as well. Even with a hectic and demanding career, he maintains a strong and close-knit family life. Unabashedly, Yakov thrives on the challenges and joys of fatherhood as he and his wife Linda raise their young children, Natasha and Alexander.
It has been quite a journey for the man who became an American citizen on July 4th, 1986, when he was sworn in by Chief Justice Warren Burger at the Statue of Liberty. The immigrant who landed in this country with his parents and less than $100 in his pocket has grown to become a command performer at the White House, a respected comedic voice, cultural observer and a family man. Since his rebirth in the United States, the comedian continues to maintain his topical edge. As the world evolves, so does Yakov.
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