Picks and Pans Review: America on Six Rubles a Day

updated 12/14/1987 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 12/14/1987 AT 01:00 AM EST

by Yakov Smirnoff

Smirnoff, the immigrant comic from the Soviet Union, recalls the day in 1986 when he was sworn in as a U.S. citizen: "After taking the oath, I looked around at the smiling faces of all the immigrants near me, and only one thought came to mind: 'I hate those goddamn foreigners who come over here and take our jobs!' " Such is the often perfect bite of this humor book, an expansion—at times a shameless padding—of the routines that have made Smirnoff a hit almost since he arrived in this country in 1977. He capitalizes on Americans' sympathy for the underdog, on our fear and distrust of the Soviets, on our penchant for self-congratulation and, almost simultaneously, on our smugness and our ability to laugh at ourselves. Occasionally he belabors his shtick: "There were even some American products that were banned in Russia. The government made it illegal for stores to sell Visine because 'it gets the red out' " And he is less effective when he abandons his basic line to do mainstream American comedy. When he's on, though, he can be both funny and pointed: "When I see Americans treating their privilege to vote in such a lighthearted manner, it really gets me mad. Here's what I go through when deciding who gets my vote: First, I learn all about the candidates, then I see how they stand on the issues. I look at their past records and then vote for whoever was the best guest star on Miami Vice." The serious undertone helps. When Smirnoff came to the U.S. he was 26, but he came with his aging mother and father, who had lived in the Soviet Union all their lives. The enormity of the experience was not lost on him. He writes, "I dedicate this book to my parents, who, I'm proud to say, can now read it." (Vintage, paper, $5.95)

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