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Joe Stapleton Interview from the Fringe Festival

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Joe Stapleton is an American stand-up comedian and poker commentator who has been entertaining global audiences for a decade.

In his act Joe delivers the type of self-deprecating humour that if a meal in a restaurant, it would arrive at your table with a disclaimer stating any issues with digestion was on you. Through stand-up, Joe generously explores the human experience and what you get from his act is an intimate and consensual performance full of almost, but not quite taboo humour.

In his latest comedy show, the American Apologist, and generally as a TV presenter, Joe adheres to the idea that comedy should never get too comfortable. And don’t underestimate the power of an apology: Joe has so many you’d be forgiven for thinking he’s British. Yes, in the nomadic working life of Joe Stapleton, one that took him from Upstate New York to London and later landed him in Los Angeles, there’s a lot going on.

Love with Performance

To know Joe is to recognise the distinctive voice behind popular poker shows such as PokerStars European Poker Tour, The Big Game and Poker Night in America. Joe’s teeth earned their Hollywood glisten in an industry full of hustlers looking for a fix. And one would imagine he’s good with his association to poker. After all, it’s a people game enjoyed by friends and family over a few drinks and full of personalities.

I remember getting in real trouble for showing my Latin teacher’s daughter how to play poker at the back of a school bus on the way to New York City—it was an interesting ride.

In Joe’s role as TV commentator and presenter on a casino floor, he adopts the position of light-hearted spokesperson, one who guides the viewer through the emotional rollercoaster of a complex card game with observational humour. When the stakes get high his comedy is always present.

My comedy lifestyle is not regular and never boring, challenging and rewarding at the same time. After a live event or performance, I get more into people centred entertainment—I’m here for it.

A Fringe Festival Meeting with the American Apologist

A recent run of shows and kind of comedy bootcamp at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival saw Joe perform nightly 40-minute sets that included a special guest appearance by Modern Family executive producer, Danny Zuker. And it is in Scotland’s fabled capital city one sunshine August day that I meet Joe on the cobble stone of an ancient backstreet before a show.

   ‘Stapes!’ I shout, crossing the road.

   ‘Hey, watch out for the car,’ he says.

   The car gets close enough for a horn toot.

   ‘Nice to meet you, sir.’

   Joe asks my name as I offer a hand, nods when I tell him it’s David and confirm we haven’t met before.

   ‘Okay, cool,’ he says, ‘Joe, nice to meet you.’ 

   My girlfriend crosses the road to join us, shakes her head at me. Joe looks hungover. I tell him I’m a fan and am here to see his friend’s show. Joe apologises for my admiration and introduces himself to my girlfriend. On sharing her name, he repeats it a couple of times until the intonation is spot on. I joke it took me two months to say it right. My girlfriend sighs. We stand for a moment in awkward silence until Joe invites us to join him for a drink.

Sat at a table, I tell him we got tickets to his show and are looking forward to it.

   ‘Come early and we can hang out.’

Show Must Go On

It’s a festive Saturday night atmosphere in Edinburgh. The streets bulge with creative energy as crowds of colourful people move from venue to venue in search of more entertainment. A cabaret show, jugglers with QR codes printed on their t-shirts, a busker who’ll probably never make it beyond on the street. A man stood on stilts with a microphone that’s too loud asks his audience to clap. The smell of cooked meat; the rising sound of excited people who’ve been drinking.

We enter Riddles Court, a small theatre tucked down an ally off the Royal Mile. Joe is stood in the entry tapping away on his phone. He has a rug for a chin, slab of ink black hair, chipmunk cheeks and stocky frame. It’s hard to miss him in a crowd, even if Joe is dressed in mute grey shirt and creaseless trousers.

   ‘You made it,’ he says.                                                                    

   ‘We did, ready for tonight?’ I ask.

   ‘Not yet, but I will be.’

   He is dressed like an English teacher minus the tie. Joe invites us to join his people sat at a bench in a marquee tent. The group is a mixture of old friends and new acquaintances. It feels weird to discuss the subject as you drink with the subject, but Joe doesn’t appear to mind. Despite being due on stage in a matter of minutes, he gracefully makes room for photos until he is called to go on.    

Value in Process

The show is a gut-wrenching, chuckle fest of a success. Joe’s observational humour belongs in the now and has a focus on escapades of everyday human beings. People with too much info and a thirst for their own form of instant gratification pop up throughout his comedy narrative like a jack-in-the-box. If you have dated online (Joe has plenty) or had a few too many on a night out (ditto). Or maybe you’ve spent time down an online rabbit hole (same). This is a show that resonates with those who wish they hadn’t done some many things. The endnote to his act is a series of well-timed anecdotes presented as a list of apologies—feels correct. The American Apologist is accessible and observational humour, complimented further by cheeky on-stage physicality.   

After the show we reconvene in the marquee tent. Joe arrives and orders shots for everyone—tagalongs included. The drinks are unsolicited but appreciated and after toasting to a good night, he makes himself available for a couple more photos. I head outside for a smoke with Danny Zuker and laugh at his retelling of a spat he once had with Trump on Twitter.  

Later I sit with Joe to talk about his career. I want to know what it is about comedy that he loves enough to be willing to stand up on stage in front of strangers.  ‘Growing up, I wasn’t a strong kid emotionally or physically, comedy helped me get noticed,’ he says.

 A Closer  

The night grows long but Joe’s tone remains a consistent blend of boyish enthusiasm and the type of hesitance found in a confession booth. After a few drinks and a live performance an octave is added to his already high-pitched falsetto. I ask if he considers himself to be a people person. ‘Definitely a people person, comedy is derived from interactions between human being’s—I need that.’  

I thank Joe for his time and ask what’s next. Soon he’ll return to his hometown of Los Angeles and look to book a few more live shows once another poker tour is over. A comic book will be published next year. Joe also wants to work on a pilot for television. I ask how he feels about living in Los Angeles.

I love Los Angeles, it’s a welcome distraction from the tough situation we are all living through—there’s tons of interesting interactions in the city, which as a comedian, I think is incredibly important.

David Moran
David Moran
tumbleweedwords.substack.com

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