Laura Lane Dishes On Celebrities And Poker, Just In Time For Cannes

by SUSANNAH LONG · May 17, 2010

    We sat down with journalist Laura Lane, who covers both professional poker for ESPN and professional fame-seekers for OK! Magazine. The reporter dished on the millions at stake in those increasingly trendy poker tournaments, on cozying up to celebs, and on why Britney Spears had the saddest birthday ever. And no, Laura doesn't work for The Daily Planet. And yes, she's heard that one before.-

    [Photo from LauraLaneOnline]

    So how does one get the enviable position of covering the strange, swanky world of James Bond and dogs wearing little human suits? In Laura's case, she had ample experience from her college sportscasting days at USC, and her lifelong love of sports and casual card games was nourished by a younger brother with a high-stakes online poker habit. "The parents were kind of worried," she says, "But I was like, 'Look, he's got more money saved than my college tuition cost." In fact, when ESPN scouted Laura for their weekly poker show Inside Deal, she was already planning a poker book with the littlest Lane about how young card players can use their age to their advantage. Since starting her hosting gig, however, she confesses that, "I know so much more about poker. I thought I knew a lot before, and then I realized that I didn’t know one tenth of what I know now."

    Glamour and games collide . . . [Photos from LauraLaneOnline]

    Naturally, the first thing we wanted to know was how to tell when someone's bluffing, which we assumed would be useful on first dates. Um, turns out it's not that easy to do with an experienced player (or an experienced Lothario).

    A lot of professional poker players have gone to body language experts. There’s an expert who’s worked for the FBI or the CIA. And it can be so subtle, when you hear these guys talk about what they look for when they look for tells - it can be something as subtle as their breathing changes, or they do a weird eye twitch. And inexperienced poker players may think they’re being super subtle, but they can’t control it. Just the adrenaline in your body when you’re bluffing will make your hand start to shake a little bit.  It can be as little as how long they take to make their call. The things that they look for are similar to what the FBI will use when they’re interviewing a suspect.

    So what's your own poker face?

    I go for a weird smirk if I’m bluffing – I shouldn’t be giving it away! I try to keep a confident smirk throughout my game. I don’t know if that works. I don’t really have my whole poker face down. I don’t wear the sunglasses or the hat or anything.

    Wait, do those sort of techniques really work, or is that just a dick move?

    I don’t know! Sometimes when you see the young guys coming in with their sunglasses and their headphones and they’ve got their hoodies on, it’s just like, “All right, that’s a little too much. You look more like the Unabomber than you do a professional poker player.”

    What's it like being a female sportscaster, or even a woman who plays poker? It's still such a male-dominated card, even though it doesn't rely on physical strength. I'm thinking back to celebrity tournaments, and the only female player I remember is Laura Prepon from That 70s Show.

    Yeah, Laura Prepon plays poker, and Shannon Elizabeth is another celebrity poker player. Jayde Nicole’s gotten really into it.

    Is she good at it?

    She’s been taking lessons from all of these professional poker players as part of this article for Poker magazine. So it definitely helps if you’re taking tips from the best in the poker world.

    Laura Prepon, Shannon Elizabeth, and Jayde Nicole are all bellying up to the poker table.

    Wow, I definitely underestimated Jayde's lust for victory.

    Yeah, it’s a thing they’re teaching her and then she’s going to play in the World Series of Poker and they’ll see how she does. So good luck to her. For me, I always liked being with the guys and playing sports and stuff so I feel at home at a table full of guys. But you definitely stand out a little, whether it’s that they don’t take you seriously or whatever. But if you start off really aggressively and win two hands, then they’re like, “Wait, what’s going on?” There’re a lot of girl poker players who have made big strides. Vanessa Rousso is very hot, she’s a law student and she’s like, “Okay, I can play and I’m really smart”. Annette Obrestrad won at the World Series of Poker when she was 18. I do think online poker has been good for women in poker too, because girls who are a little nervous can play online until they develop their skills.

    Online is so huge now - I imagine it's really different. There's no webcam set-up to see people's tells, right?

    Yeah, I’ve always thought they should do webcam, but I don’t know how’d they’d regulate that in terms of people being, uh, inappropriate on the webcam. Yes, all of the online guys have kind of changed how it’s played at the table, because it’s a quicker game online. So the game’s gotten a lot faster at tournaments. The guy who won the World Series of Poker this year, his name is Joe Cadda and he’s 21 years old, and before that, he’d mostly just played online!

    Watching Laura coax awkward and introverted poker players into discussing their strategies, it's easy to see that online-loving loners need some tv presenter love . . . and that ESPN benefits from the presence of a young journalist who's as at-home in a baseball cap as she is in a designer gown. Of course, poker stars aren't the only notables that Laura rubs elbows with; she also wields her charm as a senior reporter for OK! Magazine, where sports and Hollywood often intersect. One example? The very public courtship of Cameron Diaz and A-Rod, the beginnings of which Laura broke back in November.

    Whether the occasion is athletic or artistic, Laura's on the clock. [Photos from LauraLaneOnline]

    Did you just turn a corner and Cameron and A-Rod were all over each other?

    A friend of mine was at the CAA party at the Superbowl, which is one of the hardest parties to get into, and I was getting texted. All my friends know at this point that if they see a celebrity anywhere, they need to text me or they’re in trouble. So he texted me, Cameron Diaz is giving A-Rod a lapdance and just grinding him. Gooooolden. So I wrote about it and it got a little bit of pickup, and now they’re an actual item. I knew about it first!

    And what are other crazy celeb stories in our fair city?

    Britney Spears’ birthday was really crazy. I was at her tree lighting in Rockefeller Center. And some security guard – this is probably going to sound super creepy.

    No no, you sound like an intrepid girl reporter!

    Yeah, a lot of the celebrity reporter skills are like investigative reporting ones, but it sounds really creepy. So the security guard mentioned they were going to the Rainbow Room to eat after the lighting. I called the Rainbow Room, got a last-minute table. And Britney Spears had to do about 25 takes of the tree lighting, so she was late for her reservation, so I was late going in. And right ahead of me was Britney Spears, her mom, her dad, her whole family. To make a long story short, her kids were crying for their dad the whole time. Britney Spears had this giant cake, and it looked as if we were seated as part of her party because our table was actually closer to her than her security team was, so they gave us a piece of her birthday cake. And I’m texting my boss, “By the way, I’m eating Britney Spears’s birthday cake while her babies are crying for Kevin Federline.” That was a bizarre moment. I got a raise not too long after that.

    Along with a blackberry, connections, and verve, camouflage is another useful tool for tracking celeb prey. [Photo from LauraLaneOnline]

    What's it like to cover such a wide variety of celebs?

    It’s kind of crazy. One day I’ll be interviewing Lindsay Lohan at an event. She can’t really talk. I mean, she can talk, but she’s not the most . . . eloquent of people. And then the next day I’ll be interviewing Elton John. It’s across the board. It is a kind of escapism, going to all these events, interviewing and talking to certain people who years from now will be icons. And even the D-Listers are great. I did a photo shoot recently with Snooki.

    We're obsessed with Snooki. What’s she like up-close?. She must come up to your waist.

    Yeah, a little bit more than your belly button. And she’s just as crazy in person. She has a weird sense of self. She’s like, “I’ve always been like this and I’ve always known I was going to make it.” You made it because someone punched your face in a bar on the show! Even her dad said, “We’re so proud of her. She was always like this, it’s not an act.” And I’m thinking, No, no, you want to say that it is an act. You don’t want to think this is how they are in real life. I mean, people like the show, but you kinda want to feel that there’s something else in real life, a little more depth. But, you know, there’s really not.

    Is that the single most valuable lesson you've learned from the celeb news beat?

    Oh, I think so. We were giving Snooki a make-under. We did her hair at the Plaza Hotel, at the William Jacobi salon. They gave her a red dress, pretty short, really cute. And she starts screaming, “This is a grandma dress! I hate it!” The red, tight, minidress looked like a grandma dress to her because it wasn’t low-cut or skin-tight or leopard print enough.

    Snooki before . . . and after. In between: screaming. [Photos from OK!]

    I was hoping she was secretly a genius.

    People like that are, in a weird way, such a reflection of our culture and of what we’re interested in. So getting to talk to those people is pretty cool. Though I’d like to hope that Snooki’s a weird abstraction of craziness that people look at as escapism and don’t find relatable. With Lauren Conrad, people enjoy watching The Hills because they find her relatable, and I hope that the fascination with Jersey Shore is not the same type of feeling. Pure entertainment value rather than people thinking, “I remember that time I got punched in a bar! Poor Snooki! I’ve totally been there!”

    J Woww is cool, though. I’ve interviewed her before. She was telling me how she wanted to have a fashion line. So if people want to look like J Woww, they may be able to soon. It was at Kim Kardashian’s fashion week party, and Kim is one of J Woww’s role models.

    I wish Kim Kardashian and J Woww had a reality show together.

    I love it! The Kardashians Go To The Shore! They’d have to go do a show on VH1. And now they could so some sort of dating show together. They’re both single. Everybody needs love. I was at the Superbowl this year and I ended up at Snooki’s viewing party. The year before I was actually at the Superbowl, great seats. I went from that to a viewing party with Snooki and her boyfriend. They were fighting and carrying on. He's a little boxy. But he was stroking her hair and they were fighting. She was not in the mood to talk. I wanted to say hi, since I spent the whole day with her at the photo shoot, but I gave Snooki her space.

    This brings it full circle to poker. Know when to bet, know when to keep the cards. Are those even poker terms?

    Yes, absolutely. Know when to approach Snooki, know when to fold.