He’s sarcastic and witty but probably couldn’t even beat Jerry Yang in a heads-up poker match.
Joe Stapleton is one of the funniest and most interesting characters in poker. The former host of the PokerStars “Big Game” will show off his sarcastic, and sometimes highly offensive, sense of humor in a performance at The Comedy Store in Los Angeles on May 12.
As he prepares for his upcoming gig, I spoke to Joe to discuss the pressure of performing in such a legendary venue, among other topics, including what he thinks of President Donald Trump’s job performance, and how a non-pro became one of the top poker commentators.
Performing in a Comedy Mecca
The Comedy Store, a comedy club in West Hollywood founded in 1972, is one of the main venues comedians go to get noticed. Nearly every top comedian of the past 30 years has performed there, from John Belushi and Joe Rogan to Rodney Dangerfield and Eddie Murphy. No pressure in performing in such a legendary club in front of an audience that expects the best of the best, right, Joe?
“There’s definitely added pressure whenever there’s a packed house who, between ticket price and a two-drink minimum have spent at least $50 on the night. There is definitely an added thrill and nausea that comes with playing The Comedy Store, yes.”
Joke stealing is no joke. Just ask Joe Rogan, the UFC’s play-by-play announcer, who famously confronted Carlos Mencia on stage at The Comedy Store in 2005 for stealing jokes from other comedians. It’s hard to imagine Stapleton would ever steal jokes, but I was curious to know if he would have been as confrontational as Rogan was if someone copied his routine.
“A comedian did a bit I do, almost word for word, at an open mic and, at first, I was really indignant and pissed off,” he said. “I started thinking about what to do about it and then I realized if I made a stink over a bit, it had better be a really great bit. Like, is this bit even worth making drama over?”
He didn’t think so and conceded that maybe the routine wasn’t stolen, suggesting perhaps the “bit” wasn’t all that great and, therefore, someone else could have easily written the same jokes.
I asked Stapes to give our readers here at CardsChat a preview of the act he has prepared for May 12, but the joke was too offensive to share. Let’s just say it involved skinny jeans and male genitalia and leave it at that. If you’re curious to know where that joke leads, you can check out his performance next week.
CardsChat: What topics should those interested in attending your show expect you to cover?
Joe Stapleton: Sex, dating, cell phones, the English language, drinking, masturbating, and Shakespeare. Okay, that last one is a lie.
Qualified to Provide Poker Commentary?
Stapes has “absolutely no interest whatsoever” in becoming a professional poker player and, in fact, the only reason he competes in the cash game on the new “Poker Night Live” show he hosts is so he can be a “bigger part of the show.”
But he continually gets hired for major commentating roles on popular shows such as Poker Night in America and the World Series of Poker.
How did someone with minimal poker expertise become a poker analyst? A reference from a pair of poker legends certainly didn’t hurt.
“I had been doing stuff in and around poker so long. Blogs, podcasts, videos, etc,” he said. “People like Daniel Negreanu and Barry Greenstein all championed my cause and they persuaded the powers that be to take a chance on me (on the PokerStars ‘Big Game’).”
In 2016, he scored a gig as a lead commentator on Poker Night in America and was recently hired as a player-host on PNIA’s new weekly low-stakes celebrity cash game show, “Poker Night Live,” which airs on CBS Sports Network.
Stapleton competes in and hosts the game, a modest $2-$5 cash game with players who can comfortably afford a steeper buy-in. Some haters have criticized the format, suggesting poker fans won’t be interested in watching unskilled players compete in low-stakes games. Strangely enough, Stapes actually agrees with that prediction.
“This show isn’t aimed at (hardcore poker fans),” he explains. “The poker audience resonates within itself. They’re my bread and butter and, of course, I want to make them happy. But if I had to choose between the niche audience that loves poker or the rest of the world, I’d have to choose the rest of the world. This show is aimed at the rest of the world. If some poker fans enjoy it, f*cking great.”
Norman Chad Junior
I’m not sure if he’ll take this as a compliment but Stapes reminds me a bit of a young Norman Chad, but without the multiple ex-wives and the porn stache. When I interviewed Chad, the long-time co-announcer for the WSOP on ESPN, I was shocked to learn he despises Texas hold’em, which is funny because that is the game he is paid to analyze.
Both commentators come from a comedic background, have facial hair, and admittedly aren’t no-limit Texas hold’em experts. But their commentary, for many years, has resonated with a large audience because they know how to make poker fun to casual fans.
CardsChat: I aced Speech class in high school by just winging it the day I had to give a speech. Are you ballsy enough to show up unprepared on May 12 and crack jokes off the top of your head?
Stapleton: Absolutely not. That sh*t flies in high school when the bar is lower than Verne Troyer’s toilet (RIP). It also flies when you are insanely, ridiculously talented. Neither of those things is the case.
Dating Advice from a Poker Announcer
When Joe meets a lovely lady who is willing to accept his offer for a date, she is likely to ask him what he does for a living? Is he a poker commentator or a comedian?
“I say, ‘I do poker commentary on TV,” he’ll tell a date. “I don’t do comedy for a living, and I don’t believe in lying to get girls. I only believe in lying to get away from girls. I do make sure to include ‘TV’ in the title as I’m always afraid if I say ‘poker commentator,’ they won’t know what it is, but also won’t ask and won’t know I’m on TV.”
“What the f*ck good is being on TV if girls don’t know about it?”
Joe Stapleton: Political Analyst?
Stapes probably won’t be leaving Poker Night in America any time soon to replace Anderson Cooper on CNN, but the poker commentator isn’t bashful on his hatred towards President Donald Trump. He often Tweets anti-Trump jabs and I already knew his opinion of the president, but I felt the need to bait him into a political tirade.
Hey, Joe, what’s your opinion of Trump’s performance 15 months into his presidency?
“I wanted to say it’s the single most embarrassing thing in American history until I remembered Vietnam, drone strikes, rampant meddling in foreign elections, and slavery, so I can’t. But it’s definitely in the top 10.”
But what are the chances The Donald wins re-election in 2020?
“I’d say he’s got no shot, but then again I said that the last time. I’m done underestimating people’s selfishness, stupidity, and meanness. If you don’t believe me, come see my act.”
You won’t hear any anti-Trump bashing from Stapleton if you see his May 12 act. He says political commentary can “divide a room,” and claims people often tell him when he rants about the “current state of our country,” the audience realizes his truthfulness makes them “too sad to laugh.”
Thank you for your time, Joe. Good luck with your upcoming gig at The Comedy Store and your anti-Trump crusade.