"I just feel worse." | Joey Ingram at crossroads after Kenney interview

Joey Ingram - poker life podcast
Brad Willis
Posted on: September 07, 2022 05:18 PDT

Joey Ingram can click one button on his computer mouse and have thousands of people listening to him in a matter of minutes. He can disappear just as quickly.

Less than an hour after clicking the button that turned his YouTube channel over to another creator for the night, the podcaster and poker star sat in his office and reflected on the two hours he’d just spent online with accused poker cheater Bryn Kenney.

Ingram could have measured the YouTube broadcast’s success on any number of metrics: how many viewers tuned in live, the speed of the ever-tumbling and often toxic comment stream, or the income he’d make from the sponsors he picked up to support his effort.

But in that first hour after Ingram began his sign-off (while Kenney turned his back to the still-live camera), Ingram did not equivocate about whether the effort had been a success.

“What we really talked about isn’t the truth,” Ingram said.

He could not have put it more plainly, and in that moment, one of poker’s biggest cheerleaders sounded as if the two hours with Kenney were the last he could bear—not with Kenney himself—but the game that made both Kenney and Ingram famous.

“Everybody has their own story. Everything's up. Everything's down. I’ve had enough of this s---. I’ve had enough of these f---ing people,” Ingram said.

You can watch the full two hour video here.

The Birth of BigPapi

Ingram, known also as Chicago Joey and BigPapi, rose to YouTube and poker fame more than a decade ago when he was in his early 20s. The oldest videos on his channel date back to November 2009 and chronicle his time as a young, barechested 20-something kid aiming to break a world record by playing 50,000 hands of online poker in a day.

Over the next 13 years, Ingram built his YouTube follower count to more than 140,000 subscribers and earned a reputation as a hyper and often manic booster for the game. His persona, catchphrases, and prescient understanding of the content creator culture did the one thing every poker operator in the world was spending millions to do:

Ingram made casual fans want more. More content. More ways to play. More Papi. More poker.

Young Joey Ingram

The effort became a career that thousands of upstart content creators and poker players would have given their last chip to achieve. It might have remained that way until Ingram, now 37 years old, got too rich to care.

Instead, on a random Tuesday in September, Ingram talked as if he were actually considering clicking some imaginary button that would take him away from the game forever.

“I think I got it wrong. Maybe I don't understand business clearly. I don't understand how this s--- works,” he said.

Ingram said “business,” but if asked again, he’d admit he was talking more about something else that he can’t stop thinking about. Even as he began interviewing one of poker’s most successful high rollers about serious cheating allegations, Ingram knew in the back of his mind that there was little chance he’d hear anything that made him feel better about his guest or the state of poker.

Why? Because as Ingram saw it, even if every word he heard in the interview were true, it wouldn’t give any new life to his withering passion for an industry he once loved. Though it seemed improbable, Ingram believed that, even if he heard the truth, it would change absolutely nothing.

“No one cares, right? Nobody gives a f--- about any of this stuff. Nobody cares. That’s what I’ve learned. No one cares,” he said.

Poker’s Watchdog

Though not formally trained as an investigative reporter, Ingram’s reputation as a man of the people grew to become something closer to poker’s chief watchdog. When he learned of cheating allegations against a poker player in a well-known live-streamed game, Ingram dedicated his channel and hundreds of hours to analyzing all of the accused cheater’s poker hands. In many minds, Ingram’s efforts in what became known as “ Postlegate” made a damnable case for the player’s guilt and all-but cemented Ingram as not just a man of the people, but the man of poker people. It also got him sued for defamation in a lawsuit that the accused cheater later dropped.

A selection of thumbnails from Ingram's YouTube Channel during Postlegate

So, it was only natural that when the poker community learned about allegations against Kenney, many of Ingram’s fans hoped the watchdog would start barking. His YouTube channel had been largely dark for a year as Ingram toyed with semi-retirement, other social platforms, and other interests in general.

Whether it was the pull of the cheating story, a dedication to his fans, or love of the game, Ingram decided a few weeks back that he would again try to use his YouTube account for good. He worked out the details with Kenney, lined up some sponsorship money, and told the world he was coming back.

At one point during the interview, approximately 2,000 people were watching the live stream at the same time. Fifteen hours later, the two-hour interview had picked up 18,000 views on YouTube.

Big Papi and Brynn Kenney

Most content creators would be elated by those numbers, but in those first minutes after turning off the camera, there wasn’t an ounce of joy in Ingram’s voice. In fact, the only time Ingram’s kid-like glee presented itself that afternoon came when he got to promote a sponsor that makes grooming products for male genitalia.

Kenney, Ingram said, stuck to an already familiar script that obfuscated and deflected responsibility, offering only what Ingram called “a corporate answer” in which Kenney was “only answering to what might be provable.”

“He just doesn't really admit anything. He admitted the ghosting stuff, but clearly he wasn't telling us what was happening,” Ingram said. “A bunch of these guys are all using different accounts. (Kenney) really kind of sidestepped that, which is what's in a lot of those text messages. A lot of text messages to Kenny talk about two accounts, five accounts. It's just exhausting.”

As he went back over the interview in his head, Ingram couldn’t find a single reason to be happy about it.

“I just feel worse about the situation. I think that there's a pretty good chance a lot of this stuff was going down, and there's a lot of people out there who don't really want to be involved in it for obvious reasons. Poker sites included. Players included,” Ingram said, “People have been having a comfortable career now for a while. I think people are trying to do what they’ve got to do to maintain those things.”

“Nothing’s going to stop it.”

Just as Postlegate wasn’t Ingram’s first cheating investigation (there had been several others throughout the years), this also was not the first time Ingram stood at this particular crossroads.

Four years ago, Ingram sat in front of his camera and asked both himself and his viewers if poker had ruined his life. He toyed with other subjects like MMA. He experimented with different formats and platforms. He took long breaks and made triumphant returns. He checked in occasionally via Twitter and gave his near-70,000 followers there a quick glimpse into private moments.

For years, Ingram struggled with whether he could discover some personal truth in finding something real among the lies he heard every day in poker. While he was never poker’s Polyanna, the weight of simultaneously serving as the game's amalgam of Mike Wallace, Joe Rogan, and John Oliver seemed to weigh heavier on Ingram each year. No one forced him to be the gambling world’s Atlas, but by the time he’d finished with Kenney, Ingram seemed ready to equate the entire episode to what he’d been carrying around on his back for years.

“It’s how all of the poker world works. All the companies work this way. I’m not saying there aren’t tournaments where people are winning money. I’m not saying there aren’t people that aren’t professionals. I’m not saying people aren’t having a great time with their lives, but we know what’s really happening out here,” Ingram said. This is what I realized. All these guys are up to something. Are they doing something at the Main Event? No. But there's just a bunch of things going on out there, and when the guy’s got access to the operation of the game, you can do a lot with it.”

If this were the view of a lifetime loser who’d just gotten knocked out of a tournament or a soapbox speech from a grifter with an ulterior motive, the dark view of poker might be easier to ignore. Instead, it was one of poker’s most popular content creators in the middle of what might end up being one of the most important interviews of 2022. It also might have been Ingram’s last.

“Do I want to participate in the game that these guys are playing in? These guys are obviously trying to make a lot of money, and to make a lot of money, you’ve got to do certain things that allow you to make money. So, that's what these guys like to. Nothing’s going to stop it. It's the way it is. If you aren’t doing it, then you're going to lose money,” Ingram said.

Ingram took a moment to muse about whether anything would have been different if he’d jumped on the Kenney interview when the news broke earlier in the year. He could come to no conclusion other than an earlier effort might not have mattered one way or another. As Ingram sees it, even if the poker world never really forgives, it’s very quick to forget even the deadliest of poker sins.

“I find that so fascinating. People were so fired up before, but when no one talks about it for a few months, the same thing is still there, but it's like no one necessarily is really going to care that much about it. Everyone’s just in their own world in poker. Everyone’s got a brand, everyone’s got a company, everyone’s got this, everyone’s got that. And now everyone's making content, everyone's doing games, everyone's doing everything. It’s not the poker world I thought it was it was anymore,” Ingram said.

Just one click

Ingram concedes there are many operators, players, and journalists ostensibly working for the betterment of poker and its community, but because of the past and ongoing scandals, it’s difficult to put full faith in anyone. Moreover, it’s become harder and harder to find the energy to give to a career that he built from the ground up.

“If I want to stay in (poker), I can worry about my own world, put on my content, get a sponsorship with a poker online operator, do an event series, do meet-up games and talk about what's happening. I could do that forever and probably be pretty comfortable and enjoy my life,” Ingram said. “But just having to deal with all these things and these people, you’ve got to accept that this is a pretty shady area to be a part of, and you really have to watch yourself around these people when money gets involved, because people are trying to do whatever it takes to separate you from your money.”

Ingram may have cooled off a few hours later. He may have slept on it and woken up on Wednesday with a brighter world view. If not, Ingram’s two-hour return to YouTube could be the last we see of him there for a while.

For a moment, he considered whether there was anything he could realistically hear at that moment that would make him feel better about continuing his career as he created it.

He could think of nothing.

“It's definitely not the ideal time to be trying to start something new with your life at 37 years old or whatever the hell I am now, but it is what it is,” Ingram said. “I've been studying every day for the past year and praying every day that an opportunity comes that takes me away from whatever the hell is going on here.”

Ingram likely knows by now that nothing is going to carry him away from the game without his permission. He also knows he’s had enough practice at stepping away from poker to make him an expert in that field, too.

All it would take is one click from the mouse in his hand.