Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

In Soviet Russia, Yakov Smirnoff’s TV commercials watch you

In the mid-to-late ’80s, Yakov Smirnoff was a popular comedian. Born in the Ukraine under Soviet rule, Smirnoff emigrated to New York in 1977 (at the age of 26) and began studying and performing comedy shortly thereafter (despite not being able to speak English very well). He’s probably best known for his catchphrase “What a country!” when extolling the virtues of the United States in comparison to the less than stellar state of affairs of his Soviet homeland.


He’s also known for the “Russian reversal,” in which he takes a phrase and reverses (“In Soviet Union, road forks you!”)—although apparently that was not really a common occurrence in his act but thanks to Family Guy and other popular culture apocrypha has become associated with the comic. And to be fair, there’s at least one instance of him using the “Russian reversal” in his nationally televised Miller Lite ad from the ’80s:

Smirnoff found more than just quasi-drinkable light beer in America. He also found widespread popularity that eventually led to a sitcom on ABC (titled, yes, What A Country!). Once the Berlin Wall fell and the Soviet Union dissipated, Smirnoff’s act hit a bit of a snag. He eventually relocated to Branson where he focused most of his routine on the hilarious differences between men and women.

But during that heyday in the late ’80s, Smirnoff gained some exposure to an unexpected demographic: young kids watching Saturday morning cartoons. While producing his sitcom, ABC ordered a bunch of educational bumpers starring the comedian called “The Fun Fact.” The set-up was always the same: Open with a joke about cultural misunderstanding than awkwardly segue into an obscure fact that children can absorb. These “Fun Facts” would pop up in between episodes of Pound Puppies and The Real Ghostbusters, and many children would learn the art of the groan inducing pun from them. Here are a few of them, complete with weird stereotypes about Russia and some facts that seem dubious at best:

What a country. What a country, indeed.


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