Coronavirus pandemic keeps a Branson jewel at home

By David Stoltz, Branson Globe Correspondent

While the Coronavirus pandemic has turned everyone’s life upside down, it’s had one benefit for Branson.


Comedian Yakov Smirnoff has returned home to Branson. (Photo courtesy yakov.com)

It’s kept popular comedian Yakov Smirnoff here!

Yakov is doing his popular show five days a week at the Caravelle Theater at 3446 West Hwy. 76 in Branson. He’ll be performing here Wednesdays through Sundays through Aug. 9, and then he’ll return again Oct. 2 through Dec. 5.

Originally, Yakov had planned only one week of shows in Branson this summer, but the Covid-19 pandemic changed all that.

When the pandemic took hold, Yakov and his wife, Olivia, decided to leave Los Angeles for Branson “because it was a lot safer here. So we got here in early March and went through the quarantine and then we said, ‘well, you know, what if the town opens up, let’s just start doing shows.’ So this thing kind of evolved.”

Because of the pandemic, Yakov’s 2020 tour dates were “pretty much moved to 2021.” He opened his new show on May 22. Along with the new Branson show dates came the show’s new location in the Caravelle Theater, which also houses the ”Liverpool Legends” show.

Yakov had thought of moving the show to “the strip” since the end of last year, and so far he’s satisfied with the result, despite going from an 1,8000-seat theater to 700 seats. His large, smiling face atop the theater greets travelers out front.

“Being in the center of town is beneficial, especially when I’m not doing a full year, the marketing budget is not as big. So then for people to know where you are is a little bit harder as opposed to when they’re here and they’re going up and down the strip where stuff is happening,” he said. And being in close proximity to shows such as the Duttons, Hughes Brothers and Jim Stafford also helps.

“When you have a big theater you’re used to big overhead,” he said. ”This pandemic kind of shrunk everything. It’s kind of like a very small family of people (working here) who are saying, ‘Look, this is desperate times, desperate measures, and then you realize you didn’t really need a lot of other stuff. But downsizing makes you go, ‘Wow, this still works. People are still laughing and they’re still emotional and everybody’s okay and we’re doing that without major overhead.”

Adjusting to the times we live in, Yakov’s show includes a monologue with him dressed in full medical gear with shield, gloves and mask. “And then I do a press conference like (immunologist) Dr. (Anthony) Fauci,” and the audience becomes the media and asks questions. In another segment, audience members tell jokes and the audience gets to pick the winner, who then becomes the talk show host and Yakov becomes the guest.

While Yakov’s theater on Hwy. 248 is now home to the Acrobats of Branson presenting ICircus, plans are one day to convert that land into a retirement community, “Yakov Towers,” including an independent living and assisted living center, a hotel and memory care facility. Prospective investors have shown interest in the project but the Covid-19 pandemic has for now slowed activity on that front.

Escaping Communist Soviet Russia in the 1970s, Yakov has appeared on numerous television programs, performed on “The Tonight Show” with Johnny Carson, and was a regular on the TV show, “Night Court.” He is an accomplished artist whose painting, “America’s Heart,” was displayed as a mural over Ground Zero in New York City following 9/11. Just last year, he earned his doctorate degree in Psychology and Global Leadership from Pepperdine University.

Those who have attended Yakov’s show know of his love for his adopted country. “At the end of the show as you know I’m very patriotic and I think it’s become even more valuable now than it was last year, even though there was tension with Nancy Pelosi and the impeachment hearings and all that,” he said. “But this tension is so much higher, so having been an immigrant, a naturalized citizen to defend America for what it is and how disrespect is happening all over the place to our history and things that I came here for are being dismantled and destroyed, I think people feel even more connected to what I’m talking about.”

“My advice is ‘Come laugh your Yakov,’ and learn and feel proud to be an American. All of those things are part of the show.”

Learn more about Yakov on social media sites or at www.yakov.com.


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