We had to be the only people in the café talking cards. Across the room an aging “90210” alum dished on a “trite” new pilot. To her right, a rapper expressed confusion over green-tea lattes. Sitting outside the Hollywood hullaboo on the establishment’s quietly humble wood-planked side-deck, a casually dressed Dave Foley explained the finer points of “Texas Hold’em” between sips of a dark Mexican beer. Learn how you, too, can become the next host of a TV poker show from one of America's most underrated comedians. A N.Y. Sun Dave Foley interview continues below...
"Would You Take Poker Lessons From This Man?"
NY Sun, Arts & Letters, December 14, 2004
By Adam Baer
"There is, strangely, a narrative to a Texas Hold'em game," said the host of Bravo's zeitgeisty hit series "Celebrity Poker Showdown," Dave Foley. "You become involved with the characters, the dynamic between them, the drama and comedy. Especially when you know what they're holding."
The show, part of the spate of poker programming that has filled the airwaves in recent years - ESPN and other network's have televised Binson's World Series of Poker, and the Travel Channel now regularly features professional players on its highly rated "World Poker Tour"- does exert a strange fascination. But on "Celebrity Poker Showdown," nothing much happens: Stars play poker for charity (and not often well), while Mr. Foley and poker expert Phil Gordon joke and theorize, respectively, about their exploits.
Still, in just three seasons the show has become Bravo's second-highest-rated original series behind the equally surprising reality-challenge phenomenon "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy." In response, the network plans to celebrate the end of its fourth season New
Year's Eve, with a "marathon" showing this fall's tournament winners Matthew Perry and Mekhei Pfeiffer; the fifth season will kick off in January with appearances by Ray Romano, Brad Garrett, and Kurt Schilling.
No one is more mystified by the show - and his own involvement in it - than its host. Mr. Foley, a still-boyish 41-year-old Canadian entertainer, made his name with the 1990s sketch-comedy show "The Kids in the Hall" and later starred in the NBC sitcom "News Radio." "Celebrity Poker" - a reality game show that assembles B-level celebrities in casinos - is, well, a departure for him.
Mr. Foley has been hosting the show for less than a year, though he has not abandoned other projects. Last spring, for instance, Mr. Foley lost out on a "great" potential NBC pilot because of the script's "edginess in a post-Janet Jackson-nipple-exposure environment." He currently performs a variety of film-related projects with a partner, like rewriting sequels to Dreamworks's "Shrek" and the "Cat in the Hat." He has also just wrapped shooting the forthcoming Disney movie "Sky High," and continues to take roles in independent films he admires.
The pursuit of such work would indicate that there aren't many opportunities left for a comedic television actor primed to lead his own sitcom. Mr. Foley doesn't disagree.
"There's just not much comedy on TV anymore," he said. "The sitcom is almost dead, and I think it says a lot that Donald Trump is now the anchor for NBC's Thursday night which has traditionally been the network's biggest comedy showcase. I thought this show would just be something I did for fun, something nobody would notice. Now everywhere I go people shout, 'Yo, Celebrity Poker!'"
He originally took the job because he found the game interesting, though he had not played before a celebrity charity event a couple of years ago. He wound up beating aficionados like Ben Affleck to become the last celebrity standing in a pool of international pros.
According to Mr. Foley, Texas Hold'em - where players use a common pool of cards and the stakes of betting are orderly and obvious ("Celebrity Poker" even posts the percentage chance any player's hand has of winning) - is uniquely suited to television. The best thing about it, he said is that, "you don't have to listen to all those crazy game rules."
"I used to go to poker games and people would say things like, 'We're gonna play a high-low spit pot. Backwards queens are no longer queens,' etcetera. I'd just laugh and forget the rules."
Part of the attraction of the show, of course, is the celebrities. But watching actors like Willie Garson of "Sex and the City" and Maura Tierney of "ER" play poker seems like it should be about as interesting as watching them eat. Mr. Foley has his own theories about why the show is interesting nonetheless.
"The show's a bit like a duck blind," Foley said. "When hunters utilize a duck blind, they sit in an area that's camouflaged; they blend into their environment, and the ducks behave normally. On our show the celebrities sit for a long time with something else to concentrate on other than how they're presenting themselves. That takes them out of that prepared persona, the one who feels a need to be entertaining on talk shows."
He also said he finds being a host, surprisingly, a "freeing" experience compared to following a script or kowtowing to network bottom lines. "Sketch comedy or sitcoms, for that matter, are about working from a script, which you then can refine and embellish," he said. "But there's no starting point here. I show up and start talking and don't stop until the game is over. It's like going back to improv."
Ask him for poker tips, though, and he'll point you to his co-host. "I have a bad short-term memory," he said. "If you ever see me looking down after getting dealt two aces, I'm not pretending that I have a weak hand. I've forgotten that I have two aces."