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Branson Behind the Curtain: Yakov’s Theatre

A Series by Discover Branson

5 minute read

At Yakov: Laugh Your Yak-Off, guests are guaranteed to get what the show’s name implies: a night marked by uproarious belly laughs. Live in Branson, the renowned Yakov Smirnoff showcases his comedic talents through his trademark observations of the cultural differences between the United States and Ukraine, where he is originally from. Yakov: Laugh Your Yak-Off also features music and dancing by Yakov and his wife, Olivia Kosarieva. Yakov’s robust 2,000 seat theater also boasts an art gallery, in which Yakov’s original artwork is on display for guests to view. As stand-up comedy was not a particularly viable career choice in Ukraine, the United States gave Yakov an unprecedented opportunity to share his talents with the world. He isn’t at all shy about his gratitude for the country that allowed him to realize his dreams, and finding success through uplifting people is something that Yakov considers to be extremely fulfilling. In his show, Yakov extends an infectious enthusiasm to audiences, reminding us all that joy and laughter are truly what make the world go ‘round. 

Yakov Smirnoff has been a beloved figure in American entertainment for decades. Much of Yakov’s material centers around life in communist Soviet Union and how, in search of a better life, he made his escape to the U.S.; his experience learning U.S. customs and social norms; and his enduring belief in the American Dream. As a Ukrainian-American comedian, Yakov makes insightfully funny assertions about life in the United States versus life in communist Soviet Union. Yakov arrived in the U.S. in 1977, bartending at Grossinger’s Catskill Resort in New York while hardly knowing English. As his knowledge of the language improved, he began telling jokes to bar goers and became popular for his unique takes on American culture. Yakov took a chance and moved to Los Angeles, where the legendary Mitzi Shore took him under her wing at The Comedy Store. 

As he continued to garner notoriety, Yakov dazzled on “The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson” and was a regular character on “Night Court.” These achievements led him to starring in his own show, “What a Country!”, aptly named after his iconic catchphrase. Over the course of his successful career, Yakov has received international acclaim for his comedic stylings and his one-of-a-kind perspective. He has performed for 4 U.S. Presidents, has starred in movies with actors such as Tom Hanks and Robin Williams, and, most recently, earned a doctoral degree from Pepperdine University. Currently, Yakov performs at his theater in Branson, appears at performing arts centers internationally, is an educator at Missouri State University, and is in the process of writing a book.

Yakov’s Branson show is an undeniable hit, attracting masses of visitors each year. With any successful show, a large part of what makes a consistent, high-quality production is the work happening behind the scenes. David Cassavitis, who provides sound engineering at Yakov’s Theatre, has worked with Yakov for 4 years. Cassivitis describes the variety of roles in which he functions, saying, “I help him with a ton of things from concepts to marketing to production and helping write and formulate the show…literally everything.” Additionally, Cassavitis is a post-production editor for tv and film. 

The number one song on the pop charts, the narration on a documentary, the sound effects in an action movie: recorded and produced audio can be heard everywhere. Live performance production is one area in which Cassavitis works, while he also edits and produces recorded audio. The means by which music is recorded and produced today is vastly different from the era of traditional brick and mortar recording studios. Advancements in technology have allowed for professional, high-quality recordings to be done entirely from one’s home. Pop artist Billie Eilish, for example, recorded her first album in her brother’s bedroom at their family home. Cassavitis emphasizes this shift in the recording industry, saying, “There are hit records that have been made on an iPad on a bus.” He asserts that if one has the right space, the proper equipment, and can learn how to use and optimize those resources, sophisticated recordings can be created without the use of a commercial recording studio. 

There are high standards for the audio we hear today, with safety and sound quality being key considerations. To meet this level of excellence, sound engineers work long hours involving tedious, meticulous work. When talking about his work in this particular area, Cassivitis says, “I really love the audio part of it. It’s funny because I think [that] when it’s done well, you don’t notice it, so you don’t think about [the technical work] going on. That there are people spending dozens of hours for thirty minutes of actual content.” When something is so commonplace in our society, it’s understandable that its technical aspects can be overlooked. When driving a car, one isn’t likely to ponder the mechanical work that went into its manufacture; the car works, and that is paramount to the consumer. In regard to audio recording and production, not noticing the technical elements of a song or other recorded audio is a triumph; listeners can be free to seamlessly consume the product without distraction. 

When you’re in Branson, you won’t want to miss the chance to see Yakov live on stage. It has been rumored that this could be his final season performing in Branson after entertaining and inspiring audiences for the last 30 years! For the best prices you will find in town, contact our travel experts at Discover Branson to plan your vacation. 

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