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In Soviet Russia, Penn Goes To You: Yakov Smirnoff


Thanksgiving's coming up and you know what that means! With your entire family concentrated around one table and your parents’ mouths conveniently stuffed with pumpkin pie, this might very well be the perfect time for English majors to finally come out of the PreMed closet.

To provide the necessary support for such an understandably dramatic lifestyle decision, we at UTB thought it very appropriate to shine a spotlight on Penn alum Yakov Smirnoff.

Not only were Yakov’s parents Russian, but they were Jewish, too—a PreMed double-whammy! Nevertheless, Yakov did not pursue a career in medicine. In fact, he started off as an art teacher in Ukraine. He could not permanently defy nature, however, and after making the transfer to the US (and losing many credits in the process), he pursued the third most popular Jewish trade: comedy. Yakov’s actually the guy responsible for all those “In Soviet Russia, TV watches you”-type jokes that everyone loves so much!

Yakov graduated from Penn in 2006 with a master’s degree, and although this sounds super legit, we should clarify that he studied something called Positive Psychology. Even so, this Penn grad has established quite a name for himself as a comedian, appearing in a number of movies and even teaching a course on the Psychology of Laughter at Missouri State University.

So for those of you now inspired to courageously publically assert yourselves as English, Philosophy, or Positive Psychology majors, congratulations! And for those of you fearing rejection, just remember: it gets better.