Growing up in San Francisco, Russian immigrant Kira Soltanovich remembers feeling embarrassed to bring friends over to her house after school.
“It’s hard when your parents smell of vodka and armpits,” she says. “It was difficult to explain to my friends why the food looks already chewed.”
A touch irreverent? You ain’t heard nothing yet. Today Soltanovich is a fast-rising standup comic with a dual career on stage and television. She made the big move south to Hollywood several years ago but she still thinks of herself as a San Francisco home girl.
Soltanovich will be back in the Bay Area to co-headline this year’s installment of Chopshticks, a night of comedy-and-Chinese-food for (mostly) Jews around Christmastime. Chopshticks plays Dec. 24 and 25 at Ming’s Restaurant in Palo Alto. Also on the bill are Bay Area comic Ross Turner and Steve Mittleman.
“When I’m in San Francisco and I see the Bay Bridge on one side, then walk down the Embarcadero and see Coit Tower, I could burst out crying,” she says. “I just love San Francisco so much.”
Her childhood neighborhoods included the Richmond and Sunset districts. She attended West Portal elementary and MacAtier High. But in terms of developing her wacky sense of humor, Soltanovich was strictly home-schooled.
“When I was 15 my parents asked what I wanted for my birthday,” she recalls. “I said ‘Sneak me into Cobb’s Comedy Club.'”
Soltanovich’s fascination with standup comedy perplexed her parents. But overall, her experience wasn’t all that different from that of other children of immigrants who straddle two cultures.
“I was one of those kids that tried to avoid the Russian community,” she says. “I wanted American friends. But there’s no friend like another Russian immigrant. You know they won’t call social services just because your father walks around in underwear so tight, it’s a sperm tourniquet.”
Like many other Jews from the former Soviet Union, Soltanovich did not get much Jewish religion or culture growing up, other than a brief tenure at the Hebrew Academy. “We wanted to be Americans,” she says. “My parents never pushed [Judaism] on me. I had no bat mitzvah. I’ve never been to Israel. But I did go to Jewish camps and I look like a Jew a mile away.”
She figured out at an early age that making people laugh came easily to her. After graduating from San Diego State University with a degree in theater, Soltanovich relocated to Los Angeles to start the long uphill climb to success as a standup comic.
In addition to working the club circuit around the country, she recently performed at the prestigious Just for Laughs Comedy Festival in Montreal, a standup Olympiad of sorts.
Soltanovich also became one of the misbehaving regulars on the Oxygen Network’s “Girls Behaving Badly,” a kind of “Punk’d”-meets-Tom-Green sketch comedy show in which unsuspecting passersby get pranked big time. The show is now in its fourth season.
She’s also done guest stints on “The Tonight Show,” “E! Network” and “Jimmy Kimmel Live.” In addition, she has written TV pilots and is currently involved in that L.A. contact sport known as “development” with several projects.
But stand-up remains job No. 1 for Soltanovich. And being that she is fluent in Russian, it begs the question: Has she ever performed standup comedy in the language of Tolstoy and Pushkin?
“I’m funny in Russian,” she says, “but for the wrong reasons. I’ll throw around the wrong phrase. I tried to do improv in Russian at a corporate event, and it was my most difficult night of comedy. I thought they would deport me.”
She suspects the reason the jokes
didn’t fly may be that there simply is no tradition of the comedy club back in Russia. Says Soltanovich of her former homeland, “There is no Yakov’s Chuckle Hut.”
“Chopshticks” runs 6:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 24 and 25 at Ming’s Restaurant, 1700 Embarcadero Road, Palo Alto. Tickets: $60. Information: (650) 949-1033 or www.chopshticks.com.