Norman Chad

The ESPN commentator talks about the WSOP’s appeal, his TV favorites and the best way to pick NFL winners

Norman Chad doesn’t even play Texas hold ’em, but he’s ingrained himself into the consciousness of poker players and television viewers worldwide with his one-liners and self-deprecating shtick since he first became a World Series of Poker announcer for ESPN in 2003.

When the mustachioed funnyman, who once dabbled in stand-up comedy, is not beating down his alma mater (University of Maryland), cracking jokes about one of his ex-wives, penning his syndicated sports column “Couch Slouch” for The Washington Post or in front of his beloved TV—Chad can be found playing almost every other form of the game he covers for six months out of the year.

“When I’m home in Los Angeles I will go to the Hollywood Park card room a couple of times a week. It’s my greatest form of recreation and relaxation. I’m not a poker player, but I’ve always enjoyed playing on a part-time basis,” says Chad, who cashed out $10,676 with his 12th-place finish in Seven-Card Stud Hi-Low-8 or Better a month ago at the WSOP at the Rio. The WSOP’s Main Event continues this week, and ESPN’s coverage will begin July 26.

After the barbs about TV sports you made in your book Hold On, Honey, I’ll Take You to the Hospital at Halftime: Confessions of a TV Sports Junkie (Atlantic Monthly Press, 1994), how did you trick ESPN into hiring you?

I guess ESPN and myself have an uneasy alliance. I use to take a baseball bat to their knees, and now they give me a paycheck. It’s America.

How disappointed were you with the ban of online poker?

I’ve never played a single hand of online poker, but it’s clearly something that’s illegal. Most anything should be legal if you want to do it in your own home and are not victimizing other people. The fact that the U.S. has had their head in the sand on online poker is amazingly stupefying. It should be legalized, regulated and taxed. Black Friday was a black day for the freedoms of Americans.

With all the online-wagering stuff going on, is there one thing you are looking forward to coming out of this year’s Main Event?

The great thing about the Main Event is people walking out of nowhere and emerging into the final days, into the final 100, into a chance at the final table. I just love the fact that a Jerry Yang, or a Soi Nguyen last year, can come out of nowhere and have a shot at changing their lives. It’s what makes the World Series [so fascinating]—anyone can come, and anyone can win.

You’re the funny guy at the WSOP. So what happened to your brief stand-up career?

That’s painful to remember. I was just abundantly shocked at how mediocre I was as a stand-up comic. I used to joke with my friends that the day I became a stand-up comic was the day I stopped being funny.

You’ve watched a ton of TV in your lifetime, how much do you still average? What’s your all-time favorite show?

I definitely hit the wall on it. I just can’t watch that much anymore. I did watch an incredible amount just for my job as a sports-television columnist. My favorite show of all time is probably The Sopranos. In my book I did a list of the Top 10 sitcoms, and that would even change now. The Larry Sanders Show, which I’m watching right now in rerun, is just better now than it was 20 years ago. The Sopranos is as good as it gets. Before that I loved Hill Street Blues.

Is it true that you made your NFL predictions by flipping a coin?

It’s next to impossible to beat the point spread, and that was the premise of my column—that I could flip a coin and beat actual prognosticators. I did that the first year for The National. We had two sports book guys, two sports writers and me with the coin, and I won. I was five games over .500.

You’re still married to wife No. 3. How’s that going?

Wife No. 3 should be it. If I can’t make this one stick, I deserve to wind up at a TGI Friday’s at the salad bar hitting on someone who is looking suspiciously at the feta cheese. Toni is like an angel dropped from the sky. I’m very happy.