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The unlikely connection between Rounders and a celebrated comedian

Our reader Justine Levy argues that one of the dirtiest poker movies ever is strangely and intimately linked to a famous comedian - can you guess who it is?

As arguably the most straight-shooting poker movie in cinematic history, Rounders (John Dahl, 1998; pictured above) only gets more beloved as the years roll on. Naturally. The production of this cult classic has been picked over by fans throughout the years. One rumour persists about the film and its unlikely connection to an SNL legend.

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The rundown On Rounders

First, it helps to know what Rounders is. If you haven’t seen it, you should. If you’re not sold, here’s a primer. Matt Damon plays Mike McDermott, a promising law student who uses his knack for reading others at the poker table instead. A friend, played by Ed Norton, reintroduces him to the scene and causes him to butt heads with John Malkovich’s villain, armed with a bad Russian accent.

It should be said again that Rounders is very straightforward and stays away from cliché for the most part. It also helped the popularity of card games in the late 90s, as the very early internet started to take form. Now, players can click a mouse and find the best online casino for whatever form of gambling takes their fancy. Mike doesn’t have that luxury yet in the film, playing in private card rooms and public tables. Along the way, we benefit from Damon’s narration; you don’t need to be a card shark to understand the movie.

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Is this the norm?

Most famous for hosting the Weekend Update on SNL, Norm MacDonald was a comedian known for having an understated yet unpredictable comedy style. This helped him light up (and derail) talk shows when he went on them, specifically Conan and The View, even having several viral clips circulating the internet today despite being shot in the 90s.

He was often referred to as a comedian’s comedian – a comedian who tells jokes that are technical, that only other comedians appreciate. One classic example was during the roast of Bob Saget where Norm purposely said old, lame jokes to really mess with him in a way nobody expected.

After passing suddenly in September of 2021, clips and conversations with Norm circulated online in tribute. They painted a picture of someone with a very mysterious private life, to the point where he kept his illness from the world. However, everybody had a Norm story about his love of gambling.

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A rumoured connection

The story goes that Rounders screenplay writers David Levien and Brian Koppelman infiltrated the Mayfair club in New York City. This is true by all accounts. Koppelman was also friends with regular, later owner Ingrid Weber, inspiration for Famke Janssen’s character in the movie, and he even wrote an elegy for the place after it shut down.

However, rumours swirled that Norm MacDonald was also one of the regulars that the duo shadowed while at the Mayfair. This led to Howard Stern asking Norm about it during a radio interview in 2009. Norm laughs it off while Artie Lange explains that Koppelman is a fan of his.

Ultimately, Rounders has already solidified itself as one of the most influential gambling movies ever. The Mayfair connection is interesting enough, a club where many successful poker pros cut their teeth, adding to the authenticity of the movie itself. A possible attachment to a card shark SNL alumni is just a plus. Even with so many stories surrounding Rounders and how it came to be, we still have no idea where John Malkovich got that accent.


By Justine Levy - 23-05-2023

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