Gabriel Kaplan is an American actor, comedian, professional poker player, and poker event commentator. He is popularly known for playing the character of ‘Gabe Kotter’ in ‘Welcome Back, Kotter’, an American sitcom created by Kaplan himself along with Alan Sacks. He also appeared in many other television shows and some television movies. Later on, he shifted his focus from acting to become a full-time poker player and poker commentator. Kaplan has won several major poker events including Amarillo Slim's ‘Super Bowl of Poker’ in 1980. He then made it to the finals twice in the next five years. He has made a lot of money from playing poker and is considered one of the elites of the game. He eventually resumed acting and performed comedy at various venues while also serving as a commentator for poker events and televised poker shows.
Career in Acting & Comedy
Gabe Kaplan wanted to become a professional Major League Baseball player when he was young but failed to make it to the roster of a minor league team which forced him to consider different options to make a living. He started his professional life working as a bellman at a renowned hotel in New Jersey. Many stand-up comedians used to perform at the hotel and Kaplan started working with them and learning the trade. He began his own stand-up routine in 1964 and performed at different bars and cafes including the Cafe Tel Aviv in New York City.
He started getting positive feedback and began touring the country with his act, regaling the audiences with his funny childhood stories. By the year 1974, he had already made five appearances on ‘The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson’, an American talk show hosted by Johnny Carson under The Tonight Show franchise. He also recorded various comedy albums including ‘Holes and Mello-Rolls’.
He then helped Alan Sacks and Eric Cohen create the format and the characters of ‘Welcome Back, Kotter’, an American sitcom that marked the television debut of the popular actor John Travolta. Kaplan portrayed the central character of ‘Gabe Kotter’, a wisecracking high school teacher who returns to teach at the school where he had been a student. The show ran successfully from September 9, 1975, to May 17, 1979, and Kaplan made a total of 95 appearances on the show, earning handsomely.
Kaplan released a record with ‘Elektra Records’ titled ‘Up Your Nose’, named after the famous catchphrase ‘Up your nose with a rubber hose!’ from ‘Welcome Back, Kotter’. The record became very popular among the audiences and it ranked at #93 on the Billboard Hot 100 in January 1977. He later appeared on several other television shows and television movies including ‘Fast Break´ as ‘David Greene’, ‘Tulips’ as ‘Leland Irving’, ‘Lewis & Clark’ as ‘Stewart Lewis’, and ‘The Hoboken Chicken Emergency’ as ‘Anthony DePalma’.
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During his acting days, Kaplan grew interested in poker as well as in the financial sector. He appeared in the World Series of Poker in 1978 for the first time. In 1980, he won the main event at Amarillo Slim's ‘Super Bowl of Poker’ and in the next five years he made it to the finals of the Super Bowl's main event twice.
He earned a prize money of more than $250,000, finishing third in the World Poker Tour no-limit ‘Texas hold 'em’ event in 2004. A year later, he won a further $222,515 in the 2005 World Series of Poker $5,000 Limit Hold 'Em event. Reportedly, Kaplan has won around $1,991,248 as of June 2017 through poker.
He continued to play poker and became a commentator for poker games. He also hosted poker shows on television, including the ‘High Stakes Poker’ on GSN, Intercontinental Poker Championship on CBS, and National Heads-Up Poker Championship on NBC.
Gabriel Weston Kaplan was born in Brooklyn, New York, on March 31, 1945 to Charles Kaplan and Dorothy Kaplan. He has not revealed anything about his personal life to the media and has always maintained a private life away from the spotlight. He has a daughter, Rachel Kaplan, but he has not disclosed anything about her mother or him ever being married to anyone.