Wednesday, March 2, 2022, 7:00 pm EST at The Lyric Theatre
Comedian Gabe Kaplan wanted to be a professional baseball player and starred on his team at New Utrecht High School in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, a place that would figure prominently in his career. When he didn’t make the roster of a minor league team, he took a job as a bellboy at a New Jersey hotel where many stand-up comics appeared. Kaplan started working with them, learning the trade, and began performing in clubs around New York City.
After several years touring the country with funny tales of his childhood, he landed appearances on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. Producer Alan Sacks, who was working as a producer of Chico and the Man, went to see Kaplan at the Comedy Store in Los Angeles at the urging of Freddie Prinze. They came up with a show that hearkened back to Kaplan’s less-then-stellar academic career at New Utrecht, even using the actual school as the backdrop for the opening credits of the show the two created, Welcome Back, Kotter. Kaplan played Gabe Kotter, who returns to his high school as a teacher of the remedial class, called the Sweathogs. Each of the misfits was someone Kaplan had used in his stand-up as he brought to life real classmates.
Welcome Back, Kotter ran from 1975-1979 and introduced John Travolta, who played Vinnie Barbarino, and the catch phrase, “Up your nose with a rubber hose” to the world. Even the theme song, written by John Sebastian, made the charts.
After Kotter, Kaplan continued doing stand-up and appeared in Lewis and Clark and the movie Fast Break. He did a one-man show portraying Groucho Marx, whom he often impersonated on Kotter. He also discovered poker and became a professional poker player and announcer. He appeared in the World Series of Poker for the first time in 1978 and won the main event at Amarillo Slim’s “Super Bowl of Poker” and in the next five years, made it to the finish of the main event twice. He provided coverage on ESPN for the 2002 World Series of Poker and was a broadcaster for the only outdoor World Series of Poker in 1997 on ESPN. On television, he hosted poker shows, including High Stakes Poker on the Game Show Network, the Intercontinental Poker Championship on CBS and the National Heads-Up Poker Championship on NBC.
Kaplan never strayed far from his roots and his love for stand-up continued even as he succeeded as a poker player. He brings his comedy to The Lyric and all we can say is, “Welcome Back, Kaplan!”