Joe Stapleton: Then and Now on the EPT (Part Two)

Joe Stapleton: Then and Now on the EPT (Part Two)

Joe Stapleton: Then and Now on the EPT (Part Two)

The PokerStars European Poker Tour has grown up with poker just like poker has grown up with the EPT. Last time out, we spoke to comedian, writer, and broadcaster Joe Stapleton about his time back then in the comfortable middle seasons of the world’s most famous European poker tournament. But how has the EPT changed to what it has become today?

Society has, of course, changed markedly since the 2013 EPT Monte Carlo Main Event. There was a different U.S. President for one thing. Since then, Donald Trump has taken office, and Stapleton has become a vocal activist on social media in decrying the current regime. He doesn’t, however, take his feelings onto the stage when he’s in stand-up mode.

“It occupies a lot of my time, thinking about it, raging against it, being saddened by it. That’s part of the reason I don’t talk about it on stage. It’s too personal to me; I don’t find it very funny,” says Stapleton, deadly serious. “There are 10,000 Twitter comedians doing Trump material non-stop. It’s easier for me to tackle other subjects.”

He does, however, tackle politics on his social media pages, something he admits has questionable value. But while he doesn’t mind his fans asking him to ‘get back to the jokes,’ he sees a vivid difference between an audience’s preference for comedic material and ostracizing his voice from the discussion entirely.

"You don’t have to be a politician to have an opinion on politics. We’re voters, and it’s a democratically representative government."

“For me, I couldn’t sleep at night not saying, ‘This is wrong.’ We all learned about World War Two at school, and we all raised our hands to say, ‘Why didn’t people do anything, how did this happen?’ I’m not going to be one of those people – speaking up is the first step.”

Speaking up Stapleton does, not just because he cares, but he considers it his duty to do so. Plenty of his fans on social media agree with him, but he gets haters too.

“I’m perfectly fine when people say ‘get back to the jokes.’ They mean ‘We want more of you doing the thing we love’ but if they’re saying get back to the poker because you do not belong in this area… on that, they can fuck off.”

Stapes doesn’t believe people should be compartmentalized; from poker presenters, to players, fans, or anybody.

“You don’t have to be a politician to have an opinion on politics. We’re voters, and it’s a democratically representative government. Saying ‘stick to poker’ is like me asking someone for a glass of water and them replying ‘stick to oxygen.’ It’s reasonable for me to have both things.”

Stapleton lived in London at the time of O’Dwyer’s quads in 2013 but has since moved to New York City and now finds himself in Hollywood, Los Angeles. Just as the EPT has moved on, so has he.

“I knew I didn’t want to live in London for the rest of my life and it was an easy sell to go to New York. I figured I could work at stand-up there, and it would be a quick hop back and forth to London.”

Stapleton did just that, honing his skills on both sides of the pond. His love of stand-up, that rawest of comedic forms, is long-founded.

“Saturday Night Live is the reason I got into comedy in the first place. I still watch it every week, albeit not always live.”

“Saturday Night Live is the reason I got into comedy in the first place. I still watch it every week, albeit not always live.”

Within five or six months of being in New York, Stapleton had a management company in Los Angeles reach out to him. Now he’s on the same books as people like Seth Rogan, artists he admires. He’s recently headed to Phoenix, Arizona to perform stand-up with legendary comedian Norm Macdonald. It’s a reverse situation of the PCA earlier this year when Stapes roped Macdonald into performing at Atlantis.

“I got Norm that gig, but Norm getting me gigs is much more important for my career. He’s an all-time great as far as I’m concerned. Norm’s got the face, the posture, the voice, the cadence; he’s a legend. I cannot think of a comedian who has influenced me more than Norm Macdonald.”

Joe Stapleton hosted a comedy night at this year
Joe Stapleton hosted a comedy night at this year’s PCA with Norm Macdonald headlining

The level of respect Stapleton has for great comedians is clearly what motivates him. It burns within him to make people laugh. He sees the medium as one he has wanted to move towards for many years.

“Stand-up has been a great outlet for me. When I’m on a poker show, I try to inject as much humor as I can, but I have to amplify and accentuate the poker. Understandably, that can be frustrating, but I get it. It’s a poker show; it’s not the Joe Stapleton Comedy Hour.”

When he’s unleashed on stage, Stapleton can be hundred percent himself. It’s a freedom that he embraces, even as recently as in 2015, when he performed in front of Team PokerStars Pros, telling jokes to avoid being hit by tomatoes:

“Stand-up is a lot more of what I want to say. There are certain jokes I can’t pull off; I don’t get political in my act. I feel like there’s so much out there for people who want to listen to jokes about whatever awfulness is going on, that unless I have a really brilliant take on it, I tend to leave it out.”

Stapleton now has a very different career within poker than he has ever had before. Stapleton, however, is looking to branch out beyond poker.

“I want a bigger audience; I want to talk to more people. If I can take a very narrow subject matter of poker, and make people laugh, then I’d love to have a bigger audience and a wider subject. If somebody handed me the keys to a comedy sketch show, I’d be fucking thrilled.”

Stapleton will always be associated with the European Poker Tour. Just as the memory of any comedy show or TV drama is stirred by the biggest characters, it’s impossible to think of the EPT without thinking of Joe Stapleton. But as Stapes himself describes, now he’s in Los Angeles, his business is one of rotation.

“I’m like a plate-spinner at the circus, you’re spinning plates, running back and forth, keep this one going, keep that one going. ‘Oh shit, that one almost fell!’… you do that for as long as you can until something works out.”

In poker, as in comedy, writing and presenting, success can often come when you least expect it. Extremely hard work is an edge that Stapleton has pressed for years. For a man so in tune with his audience for so many years, it seems like only a matter of time before the European Poker Tour becomes one of the many gigs Joe Stapleton has had that keep getting bigger.


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  • Joe Stapleton talks about the most recent EPT and how the brand has changed over the years.

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