For the last decade attendees of the World Series of Poker Main Event in Las Vegas, Nevada have been treated to a complimentary comedy act courtesy of actor Brad Garrett.
The former co-star of Everybody Loves Raymond has become a fixture at poker’s premier tournament since 2006, and while Garrett has yet to make the money in a live poker tournament, his table invariably becomes the most boisterous in town.
Riffing like only a stand-up comic can, and delivering one-liners in a stream of consciousness style, Garrett’s regular appearances at the WSOP have made him a fan favorite among the game’s celebrity contingent. A live update published by PokerNews during the 2006 edition of the WSOP Main Event captured Garrett’s act in action:
Garrett limps into the pot after two other limpers called before him. The button calls as well. The flop comes K-J-10, and Garrett bets out 500 into the 1100 pot. His opponent quickly makes a minimum raise on him. ‘OK, I gotta go eat dinner, I’m all in’ says Garrett, using a classic tell for strength. The button quickly calls and shows K-10 for two pair, in some serious trouble against Garrett’s A-Q for the nut straight. The turn comes an ace and the river a king, filling his opponent up. Garrett is in shock.
He yells to Doyle Brunson, 20 feet away, ‘Doyle, your grandson just knocked me out!’ He whispers to Cyndy Violette, watching from a distance, ‘Cyndy, I played that hand OK, didn’t I? Doyle’s inbred fourth grandson over there took me out.’ Cyndy smiles, and the ESPN cameras motion over to grab the two of them in a shot together.
‘I have a feeling a hooker’s gonna get a black eye tonight,’ says Garrett to the crowd as he exits the room, a standing ovation behind him.
Not many poker layers could pull a stunt like that off after busting out and receive applause for doing so, but Garrett isn’t your ordinary table talker.
Born in Los Angeles, California on April 14th, 1960 as Brad Gerstenfeld, Garrett briefly attended the University of California Los Angeles before dropping out to pursue a comedy career. After working his way up through L.A.’s crowded comedy scene, Garrett’s big break occurred in 1984, when he appeared as a contestant in the comedy category on the Grand Champions episode of Star Search.
Garrett won the televised talent contest and earned a $100,000 prize, with the appearance helping him to land a stand-up spot on Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show.
After touring for a few years as a successful opening act for musical headlines like Diana Ross and Frank Sinatra, Garrett began pursuing television roles in the mid-1980s. At six feet eight inches tall, and blessed with a distinctly deep, booming voice, Garrett had no trouble landing supporting roles and voice work in Hollywood.
In 1996 Garrett accepted the role of “Robert Barone” on the network sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond. Playing the brother and neighbor of protagonist “Ray Barone” – depicted by fellow comic Ray Romano – Garrett quickly became a fan favorite due to his quirky portrayal and deadpan humor. The role of resulted in Garrett garnering five Emmy nominations during the show’s nine-season run, culminating in him winning 2002, 2003 and 2005 Emmy Awards for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series.
A little more than a year after Everybody Loves Raymond aired its series finale, Garrett collaborated in the creation of his own sitcom ‘Til Death. Playing the lead role of Eddie Stark in another marriage-centric show, Garrett attempted to infuse ‘Til Death with a more irreverent sense of humor than that of Everybody Loves Raymond. While the show lasted for four seasons, and successfully showed off Garrett’s raunchy stand-up style to audiences, ‘Til Death was plagued by unexpected casting changes, a Hollywood writer’s strike, and critically negative reviews.
In 2005 Garrett was featured on Season 5 of Celebrity Poker Showdown, a series of televised poker tournaments featuring a revolving cast of celebrity players. After first defeating a lineup consisting of Curt Schilling, Catherine O’Hara, Sara Rue, and Romano, Garrett won the Season 5 championship by outlasting Jason Alexander, Bonnie Hunt, Colin Quinn, and Malcolm-Jamal Warner.
The show helped spark Garrett’s ongoing interest in tournament poker, and the following year he entered the WSOP Main Event along with former co-star and good friend Romano. In 2009 Garrett’s shtick helped him attract the ESPN camera for a bit of airtime, but in 2011 he experienced every poker player’s dream scenario: making it through to Day 3 of the marathon Main Event. That was the “year of the celebrity” at the WSOP, with Garrett joined by The Simpsons co-creator Sam Simon and Seinfeld star Jason Alexander. When ESPN.com sent reporter Gary Wise to check on Garrett’s progress before Day 3 kicked off, the comic responded with typically rapid wit and raunchy rejoinders. As Wise wrote in his July 14th, 2011 report:
Garrett doesn’t pretend to be an expert. He admits to being the inferior player to fellow ‘Everybody Loves Raymond’ star Ray Romano and that he relies on luck as much, or more, than skill in a tournament like this one. Garrett’s here for fun, for the excitement the competition provides. While he’s here, he’s happiest doing what he gets paid to do, entertaining those he’s sitting with and keeping the game part of poker in perspective.
In the years he’s been playing in the WSOP, I’ve never seen Garrett ‘turn it off.’ He’s always in performance mode, giving quick, funny answers to even the most serious questions. That’s why it wasn’t a shock when he didn’t exactly take my questions seriously before the start of the day. ‘Am I achieving goals?’ he wondered aloud. ‘No. That happens on Day 8. There’s only one goal. And to meet a lot of guys. I’m really here to meet guys.
Once I changed the subject, Garrett admitted the butterflies were active.
‘I’m wearing a man diaper, that’s how the nerves are feeling. I’ve taken a lot of vitamins. I’m ready to take my 46 grand [in chips] and quintuple it up. Is that a word?”
In 2015 Garrett repeated his semi-deep run, outlasting more than 5,000 players to take his seat for Day 3 of the WSOP Main Event. Garrett made headlines as the “last celebrity standing” after fellow stars Romano, Jennifer Tilly, James Woods and Aaron Paul all bowed out before him. During a 2012 interview with poker site Checkraze.com, Garrett talked about his poker acumen relative to Romano’s, as well as the continuing interest in poker shown by comedians:
That’s a tough one. He’s definitely more conservative and perhaps a little bit of a better player. But I’m more aggressive, so it probably evens out. Of course, he’ll tell you I suck. I think it depends on the comedian and the poker player. I have met a few poker players who are a lot funnier than many comedians, but not on purpose. There’s a lot less luck involved in becoming a good comedian.
In 2011 Garrett began hosting an annual charity poker tournament, the Maximum Hope Foundation Charity Poker Tournament, in Las Vegas. Comprised of both celebrities and poker pros, the tournament managed to raise more than $100,000 in 2012, and the event has become a fixture for the Las Vegas poker community.