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September 02, 1988 - Image 76

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1988-09-02

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

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76

FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 2, 1988

Successful In Russia,
Comedian Struggles In U.S.

MICHAEL ELKIN

Special to The Jewish News

C

omic Albert Pisaren-
kov, for 25 years one
of the Soviet Union's
performers,
leading
discovered abruptly that
when it comes to the Soviets'
`perception of Israel, there is
no clowning around.
"I was one of the best, No.
1. I had everything" says the
47-year-old performer in
halting English. The govern-
ment put a halt to
Pisarenkov's career when he
applied for an exit visa to
Israel in 1979.
"Twenty-five years ago, I
was at bottom of ladder. Then
I got to top rung?' The govern-
ment wrung him out, pushing
him back down; the fall was
a hard one. "I lost my job,
everything," says Pisarenkov.
"I lived a life — how you say
it — underground?'
Pisarenkov has surfaced in
New York.
Back in the USSR, the
refusenik refused to give up.
He may have lost everything,
says Pisarenkov, "but I didn't
lose my sense of humor?'
Not that there was much to
laugh at. "But sense of humor
help me, help me handle it to
leave!'
He had had a handle on suc-
cess, performing for top Soviet
officials. "I performed for
Brezhnev, Gromyko. They
laughed at my jokes. But I no
think they lked me. Because
I no have Soviet sense of
humor?'
They sensed, he says, "I was
too free for them. I was free
inside. They felt it?'
Not that he was free to
criticize the government —
directly. "I never say
anything against govern-
ment. I hinted it. I use Aesop
language — how you say? —
allegory. Yes, allegory."
His performances were fabl-
ed. The audience read bet-
ween the jokes. But that
wasn't enough for an enter-
tainer who entertained
himself a free man.
"Everything forbidden in
Russia," he says, a shrug in
his voice. "But people saw I
was free?'
The Soviets saw to it that
for eight years, from 1979 to
his exit in 1987, Pisarenkov
was persona non grata. "On
the one side, I had everything
in Soviet Union," says the
comic. "Good salary, apart-
ment, travel — only within
country. From other hand, I
have a son, 14, and I thought
about him?'

Albert Pisarenkov left a promising career in Russia for freedom.
is dangerous to be Jew in
What he thought was that
his son should enjoy the
Russia?'
Even with glasnost. Gor-
freedoms denied him. "Life is
only one," says Pisarenkov.
bachev has improved the
plight of Soviet Jews, he says,
And if he had only one life
"but you don't know what
to live, he wanted to enjoy it.
When granted a visa for
happens tomorrow. Maybe
Israel, Pisarenkov was
he's gone, maybe another
man comes!'
delighted — as he and his wife
and son headed for Vienna,
No matter who is in power,
then Rome and, ultimately,
says Pisarenkov, Jews are
this country.
powerless. "Everything is
"This country many oppor-
[viewed as] fault of Jew in
tunities, yes," he says. "I real-
Russia," he bemoans.
ly free here?'
One can't fault Pisarenkov
for wanting to make it as big
Liberty is no laughing mat-
as he can here now "You
ter, but stories can be. "A Rus-
know Yakov Smirnoff?" he
sian Jew man, Chaim, wants
asks about the former
to travel to another country,"
refusenik who has made a
offers the comic. "So he go. He
smash success as a comedian
sends telegram from every
since arriving in this country
country he visit. 'Hello from
years ago. "He made it! He
free Hungary, Chaim, goes
great! I'm an American for six
first one. Then, 'Hello from
months. I hope to make it
free Romania, Chaim: Next,
too!'
`Hello from free Poland,
Is he optimistic? "I'm op-
Chaim! Finally, 'Hello from
timistic! I'm optimistic! I'm
Austria, free Chaim! "
optimistic!"
Pisarenkov is hesitant. Did
But he is also realistic. "I
the listener like the joke? He
want somebody to help me,"
is not as confident as he
he says. "Not money, not
would like to be.
financially. I want to be notic-
Pisarenkov tries another
ed, people should pay atten-
one. "Brezhnev — he was
tion to me. I willing to work
babe in woods in political life
night to night?'
— and Gromyko were talking.
When not on stage,
Brezhnev have to give speech.
Pisarenkov works for a Rus-
So Brezhnev says to Gromyko,
sian newspaper. "I'm driver.
`Listen, I asked you to
I'm looking for job in the
prepare a 20-minute speech.
arts?'
But I read it for a whole hour.
As he looks, he continues to
I'll send you to Siberia.'
learn. "I very experienced
"Gromyko says, 'Wait, it's
man," he says. "I try to im-
not my fault. You read three
prove my language. I learning
copies of the speech: "
all the time.
American life is no carbon
"When I came to this coun-
copy of Pisarenkov's pre-
try, I couldn't say one word."
refusenik days. "It is not easy
And what was the first word
to begin a new life," says
he learned to say? That's
Pisarenkov. But it is safer. "It
easy, he says. "Freedom!"

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