If there are few laughs in the Soviet Union, Yakov Smirnoff is more than willing to have a few laughs on Mother Russia, from which he orphaned himself five years ago. Smirnoff, who opened a three-night stand at Garvin's Laugh-Inn last night, splits his comedy between the travails of life behind and under the Iron Curtain ("Russian Express-Don't Leave Home!") and the challenges of being a stranger in a strange land ("I looked for Marlboro Country but all I found was Furniture City."). The accent may be unusual, but the punch lines are universal.
Smirnoff treads familiar boards with a cautious extra step born of incautious comedy.
* On childhood: "My father wanted me to be what he was--a suspect"; and, "My mother put an empty plate in front of me and said 'Starve--there are children eating in America."
* On the vagaries of politics: "Nothing's better than real homemade Russiand bread . . . made with Kansas wheat."
* On Russian television: "One Day to Live," "Love Barge," "Bowling for Food" and " 'Wonder Woman'--she looks like a woman but you wonder."
* On the police state: "It's the KGB Motel--people check in but they don't check out."
Once in America ("I flew Aeroflot first class; the advantage is you can sit down"), Smirnoff finds himself prey to language confusions, many of them having to do with sex or old politics ("I went to a restaurant, they asked how many people in your party, I said 2 million"). For the most part, Smirnoff's timing and delivery are agile and on the mark, slowing down only toward the end when there's a dependence on taped music.
Also on the bill is clever New York comedian Rita Rudner, whose cheesy-cheery demeanor and almost casual delivery are a pleasant contrast to the predominant jackhammer comedy of the day. The languid pace is well-suited to Rudner's much-put-upon role. "I used to tip vending machines," she says, and you believe. Her psychiatrist wears a Sony Walkman, and her mother throws her a surprise wedding. "I should get married. I'd make such a wonderful ex-wife."
Also getting in some good lines: Dave Keating, with Emotional Pac-Man and new television shows "Father Knows est" and Planned Parenthood's "Two Is Enough"). His best bits were new lyrics for a 71-year-old Mick Jagger ("Under My Gums") and a preppy Bruce Springsteen ("Born to Be Chauffeured"). The laughs run through Saturday, with Rudner also hosting Sunday's open mike.