I came across a clip this weekend of pop singer Regina Spektor's appearance on "The Colbert Report," Stephen Colbert's satirical send-up of bloviating talk-show hosts.
Colbert introduces the 32-year-old New Yorker, whose full name is Regina Ilyinichna Spektor, as "a singer, songwriter, and pianist who was born in the Soviet Union."
It's no secret that Spektor, whose classically laced 2004 album was titled "Soviet Kitsch," is Moscow-born.
Still, Colbert pokes fun at Americans' Cold War- and "reset"-era notions of Russians, invoking the long tradition of famous agents, from Angelina Jolie's sleeper agent Evelyn Salt
to Anna Chapman
"I'm not sure whether to trust you," Colbert quips, "literally translating" her name as "Queen Ghost."
"You sound like a sexy Bond villain. And there's...something behind that, you realize, is that you were born in the Soviet Union. OK. How do I know you're not a spy?"
"How do you know I've not come here to take American jobs?" a giggling Spektor fires back at the wise-cracking parody of political conservatism.
But asked about her emigration to the United States, Spektor gets touchingly earnest as she tells her story:
"I was 9 1/2 and we went through immigration with my parents and a bunch of relatives. And it was actually really exciting. Immigration is, I think, traumatic for adults and really exciting for kids.... I would definitely recommend traveling to places where you don't understand anything."
She says she spoke "not a word" of English when she arrived in the United States, and lights up when Colbert asks if she still speaks Russian.
"Yeah. Yeah. Yeah, and I love reading. And I feel really lucky 'cause I get to read all the great literature in the original, and I really love the music, the old bards and everything."
She gets in a plug for the upcoming tour for her new album, "What We Saw From The Cheap Seats," saying that this summer she's "going back for the first time since I've left in 1989."
"You're going back?" Colbert seizes the bait. "So you've gathered enough information. Someone from the old country called you and used the trigger word."
"I am excited. I've always been kind of nervous to go back, but at a certain point it got to where it was just silly. It was like, I have to go back and play for the people. Especially to go as a musician and see who my audience -- even, I don't know, I don't even know if I have one, I hope I have one. And just to have the experience where you get to talk Russian between songs. That's so cool."
You'll have to watch the video to see how she responds to Colbert's request that she curse for him in Russian. (Boys will be boys.) But she humors him a bit, and what comes out is unaccented Russian that makes the normally shameless TV host blush.
"This is a wonderful person. I love him. Thank the Lord that he exists in America and elsewhere in the world," she says, hinting at Colbert's (and other U.S. political satirists') de facto roles as cultural ambassadors.
WATCH: The exchange on Spektor's Russian heritage starts around the 1:30 mark:
So Spektor might well have produced one of the most widely viewed and poignant snippets of unsubtitled Russian in America since "A Fish Called Wanda" (PG-Rated clip here
"Filter Magazine" has suggested
Spektor "may be the best thing Russia has given the world since Vodka." That's a cringeworthy stretch. But let's face it, most Americans don't encounter much Russian-bred talent in their daily lives.
So I want to see Spektor succeed when she takes her socially conscious songs to Russia.
But I also hope to see her Russian counterparts make a splash on the U.S. cultural scene. Anything to counter the less benign impressions of Russia spawned by news and images of hooliganism at Euro 2012
, police raids on activists' homes
in Moscow, and dire predictions for Putin II.
-- Andy Heil