Getting a Laugh Out of Russian Gloom
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Getting a Laugh Out of Russian Gloom

Ben Rosenfeld. Courtesy
Ben Rosenfeld. Courtesy

Ben Rosenfeld, a member of a Soviet émigré family and a denizen of Astoria, Queens, likes to say, “I’m an immigrant. And a nerd. And a Jew. I’m what Fox News would call ‘A Triple Threat.’”

Rosenfeld, who may be the city’s leading Russian-Jewish comedian, makes that observation on his fourth album, “Don’t Shake Your Miracle” (a reference to his 18-month-old daughter), which will be released Feb. 7 on iTunes. His routines translating the sometimes bizarre contours of the Russian émigré experience to American audiences are a combination of personal/observational stories, politics and his Jewish background.

Rosenfeld, 35, who gave up a day job as an economic consultant with a Fortune 500 company 10 years ago to pursue comedy, is a millennial version of Yaakov Smirnoff. The Odessan émigré, who came to the U.S. in the late 1980s, is also a nerd of sorts, having studied at CalTech. He poked fun at his homeland and earned the reputation as the favorite comic of fiercely anti-communist President Ronald Reagan.

Rosenfeld is more personal, less political than Smirnoff. And he is more upfront about his Jewish background and about Jewish stereotypes.

In one routine, he discusses going with his wife to be tested as possible carriers of Jewish genetic diseases. “The doctor takes some blood,” Rosenfeld explains, “sends it to a lab, and you get a bill. And if you don’t argue the bill, you don’t have the disease … because you’re not Jewish.”

At 35, he’s a poster boy for his émigré generation. Born in Leningrad as Boris Rozenfeld, he came to the States with his family at 3. They left their homeland, he says, to escape anti-Semitism and to pursue economic opportunities. “The typical immigrant story.”

He has training in improv and sketch comedy; his resumé lists as a skill, not surprisingly, Russian Accents.

Rosenfeld plays with the stereotype of Russian dourness. His second album is titled (tongue planted firmly in cheek), “The Russian Optimist.” And then there’s his 2015 book, “Russian Optimism: Dark Nursery Rhymes to Cheer You Right Up” (BigBen Comedy), an illustrated coffee-table book offering “thirty of Russia’s most horrifically hysterical nursery rhymes.” Think the Brothers Grimm.

Now, Rosenfeld performs regularly here, sometimes headlining and sometimes opening for more established stand-ups. He’s not yet an A-lister. “A B-minus lister,” he quips, his Russian dourness still intact.

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