This week marks the fifth anniversary of one of poker’s more popular podcasts, Poker in the Ears. The show’s co-hosts, James Hartigan and Joe Stapleton are of course longtime fixtures of PokerStars TV presenting and broadcasting, with the pair having a wonderfully engaging rapport that’s attracted them legions of fans over the years. As per the podcast’s description, Poker in the Ears “brings you a behind-the-scenes look at what it’s like being two regular folks on the international poker circuit” replete with celebrity poker interviews, uncensored hot takes, and fun, friendly games and competitions with the show’s most loyal listeners.
In celebration of their milestone, James and Joe were kind enough to join me for this exclusive interview to reflect upon their half decade hosting Poker in the Ears.
The first episode of Poker in the Ears was published on March 6, 2015. What was the impetus for starting the podcast in the first place?
JOE: I can’t say for sure. Partially because I don’t remember and partially because I don’t think I’m really consulted on the “why” we do anything. Generally, what happens is someone says, “Hey, we’re thinking of doing some more content, do you want to do it?” And I’ll pause for a second and start to ask a question and before I get it out they go, “Yes, you’ll get paid for it”. And then I say yes before I really know what it is.
JAMES: We did it for the fans! There were people, possibly more than fourteen of them, who said they missed us when we weren’t streaming EPTs. So, we created the podcast to fill the void, and to give everyone a glimpse behind the scenes and hear about all the ridiculous stuff that happens on location. Plus, it made sense, considering Joe’s been hosting podcasts since 2006 and I come from a radio background.
JOE: For those reasons and a few others, like how much they help with synergy between TV, live events and online events, it seemed kind of silly to not have a podcast.
To an extent, your show is somewhat of an outgrowth of EPT Live, where you commentate on the featured table happenings during the European Poker Tour events. There’s a noticeable difference, however, perhaps best summed up via the terms “dressed up” vs. “dressed down.” During EPT Live commentary, the broadcast is focused more on the poker play and the players, whereas on Poker in the Ears you both let loose and your personalities shine forth with lots of storytelling about the behind-the-scenes goings on at said events. In what ways does “flipping that switch” affect the rapport between you?
JOE: I don’t think it affects the rapport between us at all. The basic chemistry and structure are the same. I want to share anything and everything and James is there to stop me and keep us on track.
JAMES: I try. Whatever you watch or listen to, you get a (slightly) exaggerated version of our real-life relationship.
Some people may be surprised who your first guest was – NOT a professional poker player by any means, but rather mixed martial artist Tito Ortiz. To be sure, while he loves poker, it’s an interesting choice for the first interviewee on a podcast in the poker genre. How did you guys decide on him in particular?
JOE: Tito had just been flown out to the Bahamas by PokerStars to play the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure and Shark Cage, so it was easy to squeeze an hour on the phone out of him. It ended up being a sign of things to come, since we do focus more heavily on the celebrity and mainstream aspects of poker.
JAMES: I think that was always our intention. Well, it was certainly MY ambition for this to be as much an entertainment podcast as a poker podcast. We’re keen to speak to people from all walks of life who play poker. Especially, the famous ones, because that helps with downloads.
JOE: James and I have little interest in trying to beat the other podcasts at the things they do very well – like talking strategy or controversy – we just want to have fun.
When the show first started out, it was called EPT Not Live. At the outset of 2017 (episode 71), the show got rebranded as Poker in the Ears. Why, and how did you guys come up with the new name?
JAMES: As you know, the EPT went on hiatus for a year, so we took the opportunity to rebrand everything. Poker in the Ears just stuck.
JOE: The new name was crowdsourced. We had a competition and gave something away to the winning suggestion. I remember the suggestions being mostly very, very bad. Of course, that’s not really fair. There were some good, creative suggestions, and I love a good ridiculous title, but unfortunately one of the few things I know is when it comes to naming your POKER PODCAST you should have the word POKER in it, IMO.
I’d imagine that with your credentials and notoriety as veterans of the poker industry, you could pretty much get anyone in the poker world to be a guest on your show. What sort of factors govern your decision-making when it comes to which guests to book?
JOE: Really, it’s about who’s available in the window during which we record. Thankfully, I am allowed to do this show remotely, but that makes scheduling tough. The show needs to be recorded during business hours in London (9am-5pm), which is 1am-9am where I live. Often times, our guests are doing us MASSIVE favors by joining us during those times.
I’ve interviewed you both before, and I know that you both like to go into broadcasts thoroughly prepared. How much preparation do you do prior to each show, and could you give us a couple examples of what interview prep entails?
JOE: I would honestly say that the preparation involved in our interviews for this show is less than I’ve done previously. And that’s mostly just due to the nature of the show. The interviews aren’t very long, and we’re not trying to be hard-hitting. Also, 10 minutes is usually taken up by one of my stupid games which, despite what it often sounds like, I generally do put quite a bit of work into.
JAMES: We map out each episode and make bullet points on topics we want to cover, or specific things we want to say. But this is a show we deliberately DON’T spend too much time preparing for. The format is basically two blokes talking. It’s meant to be a genuine, informal conversation. If it starts sounding rehearsed, forced or scripted, we’ve failed.
Who have been your favorite guests over the years, and why?
JAMES: I really enjoyed talking to Dexter Fletcher during our live show at The Hippodrome, celebrating our 100th episode. Also, Erik Aude’s story (episode #132) was fascinating. That episode is very different to anything else we’ve ever done. Much more serious, as he talks about his three years in Pakistan, but it’s one of our best.
JOE: I tend to be more into the Hollywood interviews we’ve done, given that’s where my heart and mind is still often drawn to. I really loved the interview we did with Josh Malina at the end of 2018. He had great stories about creating and producing Celebrity Poker Showdown. We also had a really fun one with Benny Glaser. Chris Moneymaker is a good guest always, Lex Veldhuis too. Spraggy (Benjamin Spragg) barely even counts as a guest at this point, but I find that guy hilarious.
Sometimes you both happen to be in the same place when you record, but more often than not you’re multiple time zones apart. Plus, I imagine your guests are usually also in a totally different part of the world as well. What are some of the interesting logistical hurdles you’ve had to handle in order to stay on a regular production schedule each week?
JAMES: It’s fine now, but it used to be a bloody nightmare, because Joe was terrible at a) time zone conversions and b) getting up early. The main issue now, as Joe alluded to earlier, is finding guests who are happy to fit into the narrow time window we have each week for recording. Somehow, we make it work.
A staple of your show, from the very first episode, has been the “Super Fan versus Stapes” segment. I fondly recall being said Super Fan on episode 51 and ousting Joe (just barely) in World Series of Poker trivia. Besides my appearance, then, what have been some of the more memorable moments of that segment through the years?
JOE: I’m always torn about this segment. I don’t love being the person standing in the way of one of our fans winning a prize. Yes, they all get a prize no matter what, but the prize is better if they win.
JAMES: I guarantee that if it were Superfan versus Hartigan, I would not be torn. I’d have no remorse about crushing people’s dreams. LET THEM LOSE! Ultimately, I just want it to be a fair fight. The best contests involve subjects Joe actually knows about, or movies that he’s watched hours before the record. I hate it when it’s a landslide.
The poker podcast niche appears to have gotten somewhat crowded over the last few years. Moreover, the Global Poker Awards now give a trophy to the show voted tops each year, in a category that’s perhaps one of the most hotly contested of all. To what degree – if at all – would a nomination and win for your podcast work matter to you guys?
JAMES: To use a well-worn cliché, all publicity is good publicity. So, if something like this resulted in more people listening, great. It’s worth noting that, when we started the podcast, the genre was already crowded. That influenced why we went down a different route in terms of content and style.
JOE: Yeah, and it’s hard to nominate Entertainment Tonight for an award when 60 Minutes is up in the same category.
Any anniversary celebration provides the occasion to reflect upon the past, but also to look towards the future. In closing, how do you foresee Poker in the Ears developing over the next five years, and do you have any sort of “bucket list” type ideas/segments you want to hopefully produce some day?
JOE: James already mentioned our 100th episode – when we did a live version of the show from the London Hippodrome and had a really cool guest, actor and director Dexter Fletcher. It was complete with a standup comedy intro and a poker tournament that followed. It would be fun to be able to do something like that again.
JAMES: Agreed. Also, Joe has been mixing in some interesting social circles recently and has just started working on a REALLY cool project. I fully intend to force him to exploit the relationships he’s forging with Hollywood A-listers to ensure we can get some amazing guests in the coming months.
With the second PSPC on the horizon, the latest episode of Poker in the Ears (#174) is a “Platinum Pass Special” in which the hosts discuss how many Platinum Pass packages have been awarded thus far, how many are still up for grabs, and some of the ways in which they can be won. Plus, a couple recent Platinum Pass winners join the show, Stapes has some major motion picture news, and of course plenty of playful banter, games, and hilarity. Be sure to have a listen, below.