Kevin Pollak is finally on the phone, delayed several days and coming off "the most intense, exhausting thing I've ever done."
The first call was planned when something suddenly came up for the actor, comedian and impressionist.
One day, Pollak is entering his first World Series of Poker in Las Vegas, and only because he's promoting an online gaming site.
Five days later he's knocked out, a stunning run of conservative play and luck placing 134th in a field of 6,598 — the tournament's best celebrity finish in the modern poker era.
Pollak spent 13 hours daily at the tables, or studying other players' moves during breaks. He earned $52,718 for the effort, and a spotlight in ESPN's taped coverage, to be broadcast in September.
"I apologize for my tardiness," says Pollak, who brings his comedy routine to the Club at Treasure Island on Saturday. "It was really kind of ridiculous and I'm still sort of recovering. As surreal as life gets, actually."
Rather than talk about Pollak's comedy and acting career, we mostly stuck to poker but skimmed The Usual Suspects, A Few Good Men, and his uncanny impersonations of Christopher Walken and Peter Falk. It turns out that being an actor comes in handy in an all-in situation, after loosening up opponents with a joke.
Pollak chats about the heartbreak hand that ended his tournament run, why celebrities are card-shark bait and why poker is like life, in these interview excerpts:
You got knocked out with dueling pairs of queens then the other guy pulled a flush on the river. That's a tough way to go.
The truth is: It's one of the best ways to get busted out. Your fear is that you're going to do something stupid; overplay your hand, call with the wrong hand, bet the wrong odds. So, for the rest of your life your THAT guy. Losing queens-to-queens, everybody instantly felt horrible for me. Which is kind of the perfect reaction, if you have to go.
I'm guessing that hand will provide material for your act.
I'm sure, because comedy is tragedy plus time. I just need a little time and perspective, I think. To be honest, I'm too close to the thrill, the absurd victory of it all, the insane upside of what happened. It's all too positive for me to poke fun at right now.
Does celebrity make you a bigger target at the tables?
Sometimes when they see a famous person everybody wants that notch on their belt: "I knocked out funny boy." So, I'm trying to get inside their head in an entertaining way whether they know it or not.
Every time I sat down at a table, I would immediately break out the Christopher Walken, the Peter Falk and the (William) Shatner, as a way to get everyone laughing because everyone's talking it way too seriously. What I was secretly — or not so — doing was charming them so they might go a little easy on me, instead of trying to kill me.
Learn anything new about poker?
One of the many things I learned is how tournament poker mirrors life: When your time is up it's just up. It has nothing to do with what's right, what's fair, what makes sense. When your luck runs out, you're just out of the tournament. It's one of the reasons I much prefer playing in a cash game.... I always thought: Why does anybody waste their time (with tournaments)? It's just a race to bad luck, a slow death.
Steve Persall can be reached at email@example.com and (727) 893-8365.