My Top Pair Home Game Poker Podcast co-host, Bruce Briggs, and I just had the pleasure of interviewing the poker-loving stand-up comedian Avi Liberman. I’ve been a fan of Avi’s for the better part of a decade, attending his bi-annual comedy shows here in Israel that he puts on to help benefit the Koby Mandel Foundation. One of my favorite bits of his, naturally, is his laugh-out-loud take on poker home games. You’ll find it embedded below, so you can watch it for yourselves. Be sure to start that video at the 1:18 mark. I’m positive you’ll absolutely love hearing Avi’s “tales of funny” at the poker tables, whether they were had at home games where he lives in Los Angeles, or alternatively in Las Vegas, Lake Tahoe, or at the many other great places he’s played.
Have a listen to the interview, which begins at the 15:00-minute mark. You can also read the summarized transcript below (but you’ve GOT to listen to hear Avi’s delivery of all the one-liners :-)).
Interview Transcript (Summarized)
Today’s guest is celebrated stand-up comedian Avi Liberman. Avi has performed on CBS’s “Late Late Show” with Craig Ferguson as well as on Comedy Central’s “Premium Blend” and “Make Me Laugh”. His acting credits include spots on “Dave’s World”, “Boston Common” and “Andytown U.S.A.” and he can be seen regularly on the E! Network as one of their frequent guests on their very popular countdown series.
Avi has also been heard on radio stations across the country and seen in commercials for brands like “Mercedes,” “L.A. Cellular,” “Miller Lite” and “Starbucks”. I’m personally familiar with Avi’s great work, having attended a number of stand-up shows that he has arranged here in Israel to benefit the Koby Mandell Foundation.
But – above all – Avi also likes to play POKER!
Here’s a clip from one of Avi’s great routines:
Avi, it’s a real treat to have you on – welcome to the Top Pair Home Game Poker Podcast!
Thanks for having me.
We hope our home poker games aren’t as convoluted as the ones you brought up in your routine.
Well, unfortunately, all of that stuff comes from real-life experience.
So, how did you get into poker in the first place?
I think that more comedians play poker than other professionals. We’re always working in casinos in places like Las Vegas; we’re just in the gambling environment all the time. We like to sit around and talk and schmooze. Half the time you’re just trading money back and forth anyway. It probably comes from a culture of just being around it and liking to sit and yap.
How about growing up? Did you play poker as a teenager? Did your parents play poker?
My stepmother’s parents lived in Vegas for years. My stepmother’s dad was approaches by some buddies, and they said “yeah, we’re investing in something small; maybe you’re interested in giving us a little money for it?” What was it? Caesars Palace.
Disappointments in gambling started generations ago for my family.
Seriously though, Hold’em wasn’t really popular when I was growing up. I mostly started playing A-5 stud. That’s what I remember playing when I was finally old enough to go and start playing in Vegas. I remember my dad’s gift to me when I turned 21 was a trip to Las Vegas.
A fellow comedian, Kyle Dunnigan, a very funny guy, was actually the first person who introduced me to Hold’em. He’s the first person I ever played Hold’em with together; he’s a very good player. He actually won one of the daily Harrah’s tournaments once.
Anyhow, I started playing Hold’em much later than everybody else, but poker itself I started even before I was doing stand-up comedy.
Any home games or was your first exposure in an actual card room?
When I was a little kid, like 9–10 years old, we used to fool around a lot, just trying to learn the rules of poker. But when I first really played a lot was when I spent the year in Israel on Young Judea’s 1-year course. We played so much that the counselor’s outlawed it. That was back when I was about 17 years old. (Ed. note: Avi is just a shade over 40 now).
You live in Los Angeles. Is there a regular group of guys that you play with once in a while?
We used to play too much. It was to a point where we played instead of going out to the clubs and hustling to get onstage, which we should’ve been doing.
A friend of mine, Josh Edding, hosts a game now and then. He’s a producer and knows a lot of the comedians. If I’m in town, I try to attend. It’s a crazy game. We buy in for far too little, and at the end of the night the pots end up pretty huge. You win one of those at the end of the night and you’re in pretty good shape. Crazy games like follow the Queen and Baseball.
There’s also a game called “Ass Rape”, sort of like a Tic Tac Toe board of cards. Hold’em, but you can combine any row. We flop clockwise and the last card is the middle card. So, everyone hangs around to see if they can hook the low or the nut high based on the last card. Usually someone ends up extremely upset or extremely happy at the end of that game.
There’s another crazy game called Woolworths, where you go shopping for cards. The first card is $.50 and the next one is $1, the next one $2. You buy your hand until you have 7 cards, and it’s a hi-low split game. It’s awful and horrendous. There’s GUTS, SCHMUCK, and every possible variation of poker you can possibly fathom.
Is it mainly Dealer’s Choice?
Yup. We’ve also got a game called “Points”, where the dealer has an advantage because he goes last. Face cards are worth 10 or a half point. Every other card is worth face value. You deal the deck until nothing is left, then you just drop a card. The lowest and highest point totals split the pot.
I guess when you play in Vegas, you’re pretty bored then, with no variety like in the home games?
It’s a treat, because the rules are the same for everybody. There isn’t going to be a point, like in our home games, where one guy pipes up “hey, my 4 is wild!” In a way, it’s good in that it’s more real and disciplined. But on the other hand, it’s less nutty.
Do you enjoy all the crazy varieties of poker or are you more comfortable sticking to plain vanilla hold’em?
I play $3/6 limit if I’m bored, then I’ll often realize “hey I’ve just lost a lot of money playing this stupid game”. No limit hold’em makes you pay attention a lot more than limit. $3/6 is like roulette, everyone is chasing everything. You’re not going to scare someone out of the pot for another $3. I’ll play it to pass the time because I think it’s cheaper, but often it ends up costing me more in the long run.
In a good no-limit game, you’ll probably actually end up losing less, because you won’t throw out $80 just to chase your flush or something like that, whereas in limit, you’re always paying to see if you’ll catch.
All in all though, I used to get angrier when I’d lose, but now I just get angry when I play like a bonehead. I’ll call people names sometimes and leave the table in a huff, but I do try to avoid that juvenile behavior.
In the low-limit games, I usually play for fun, am trying to kill some time, and hoping to hit the bad beat jackpot, or something like that.
Being in LA, it’s a hotbed of poker activity, but as a stand-up comic, you get around the United States and the rest of the world quite a bit. What’s your favorite place and room to play poker at in LA and outside of LA, and why?
I’d say Commerce is my favorite. It’s just so vast and overwhelming. You won’t wait long to get into a game there. I have the most experience playing there.
I really enjoy playing in Lake Tahoe, just because I love the environment and I think it’s a great place to be. I work at the Harveys up there. In Vegas, I’d say I usually play the most at the Mirage. It’s right across the street from where I work at Harrah’s. I enjoy the Bellagio because it’s just a beautiful place to play. But at the Mirage I know a lot of the dealers. I’ve met Layla McCarter there, she’s a 5-time world champion boxer; she plays there and I’ll see some cool celebrities there now and then.
The Bellagio is cool because they’ve got that private room where you can see some of the guys you see on TV playing in there sometimes.
With the proliferation of casinos and card rooms around the US, you’re probably never too far away from one when you’re on tour, right?
For sure! I had a gig out in Northern California once, like in Fresno – out in the middle of nowhere. My buddy came over to me and was like “yeah, next door there’s a poker room”, so we went.
In Louisiana, they’ve got those boats, that don’t really leave the docks – you can play there at Harrah’s, I go every time I’m in New Orleans. It’s rare to have too much trouble finding a poker game pretty much anywhere in the country.
Have you got any funny stories to share of you at the poker tables?
Sure. Just recently, Vinny Favorito was playing with me over at the Mirage. He gets up to go to the bathroom. I get totally hosed, having flopped a set and losing to a runner-runner flush (even though he was chasing something else). I get up and leave. Vinny then calls me and asks where I went, and I get all riled up and start cursing out the jack-ass who sucked out on me, and Vinny’s just cracking up.
You usually remember the hand you lose. There was one time I actually remember a hand I won. I had four 9s over at the Mirage. The guy is betting into me heavy. I just remember looking over at the bad beat board and wishing so hard I could lose the hand. I said out loud to him “I rarely say this, but I really hope that you can beat me, even though I know you can’t”. He wasn’t too pleased, because he actually had a full house.
There was one time my dad told me a story where he went to play on Christmas Day and NOBODY at the table was Asian. It’s all white guys and ladies and he’s thinking to himself that they’ve gotta be Jews. Two of the people start talking to each other, one saying he’s from Israel. Another couple guys start kibitzing in Yiddish, the dealer has to stop and say “English only at the table please, because I don’t know what the hell is going on” and the whole table cracks up because, indeed, everyone was Jewish.
One time I was playing and it was Wednesday morning, and the game was A-5 Stud. Really hard to find games like that these days. It was me and a group of senior citizens. Just for fun I asked: “Is Vegas better now, or back in the day when…” …and that’s as far as I got in the sentence. They just kept going on, and on, and on about how it was SO much better back in the day, when the mob ran the town. It’s just fun to hear about that era back then, and I like to hear all those stories from them.
Now the fun part of the show – time for you to plug your upcoming tour dates – where can our listeners go to see you do your stand-up act in person?
Upcoming I will be in New York at the Waldorf Astoria on Sunday February 15th at the Times of Israel Gala honoring Shimon Peres.
I’ll be at Harrah’s in Vegas from February 24–March 1.
Plus, of course, you can check out my stuff on my website Aviliberman.com.
My next tour in Israel will be from May 25–June 2; got a fun group coming along with me; should be great.