Paula Poundstone returns to the Golden State in Monterey.
Thursday, September 10, 2009
Paula Poundstone claims she doesn’t know how to use a computer, but she finds other ways to connect. She’s a national spokesperson for Friends of Libraries U.S.A., the first woman to win a Cable ACE award for comedy and the first woman to perform at the White House Correspondents Dinner. She speaks in an accent that’s hard to place geographically, but you sense, from the lilting drawl, that she’s smirking. Her diction is fast and effortless – like someone born funny rather than practiced.
She envelopes spontaneity into her comedy routines so deftly that people suspect she has plants in the audience. But talking to her, one realizes she doesn’t need them. She wields a brand of comedy that can safely be called fearless, as demonstrated by her recent brush with the criminal courts: “I had a little drinking problem; I don’t know if you heard. It was kept hush-hush. I was court ordered to AA on TV. Blows the hell out of the second A.” One of Comedy Central’s Top 100 Comedians of All Time, smart-ass with a conscience, single parent to three adopted children, 49-year-old grown kid… ladies and gentlemen… Paula Poundstone!
Is your upcoming show at Golden State Theatre part of a tour?
It’s part of an ongoing tour of 30 years. I’m only out a couple days at a time, because when I was young, I did a month and almost offed myself. It was terrible. I come home for a few days, go again, tell my jokes and leave.
When did you decide to go into comedy?
I love the sound of laughter. I happened to be living in Boston. I was 19, bussing tables and delighted to do so. There was a club with comedy night every other Sunday. I went, watched; some of them sucked outrageously. I said, “I could do this.”
What makes you laugh?
I don’t think I’ve ever laughed harder than someone having a napkin stuck on the bottom of their shoe. I heard Bill Maher at an event the other night. [He was] was absolutely brilliant. The night before, my son and I watched The Three Stooges. And I’ve seen them a million times. I like really silly stuff.
What can’t you – or shouldn’t you – make fun of?
Nothing, really. Hey, Jack! My neighbor’s cat just came for a visit. This guy in San Francisco joked about AIDS. There’s a place in comedy for social commentary, but they were bad jokes. I don’t feel like there’s a topic you must summit. Probably somewhere there is a funny AIDS joke, I’m just not the person who’s going to go find it.
What’s it like doing NPR’s Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me?
It’s a blast. It is so much fun. I get to sit in a chair, with some of the smartest, funniest people I know, like a baseball player in a batting cage. We get tossed subjects. I get to pretend I’m on top of things. Some weeks I am, some weeks I’m not. There’s about 12-15 of us panelists, we rotate once a month, maybe twice, if somebody dies. Which is unfortunate, but still. Peter Segal – the host – I think he’s a genius.
Have your kids seen your act?
My kids sometimes see my act. If I do a job just one night and I’m flush with frequent flyer miles, I’ll let them come along. At this point in my life, I couldn’t do movies and TV. My kids are 11, 14 and 18 and they’re only going to be 11, 14 and 18 once.
What if your kids wanted to go into comedy?
The odds are slim on that. But I would encourage them to do anything they want. My daughter said she wanted to be a talk show host and I almost choked from laughter.
How did Robin Williams come to be your “friend and mentor”?
He opened doors for almost everybody of my generation of stand-up. For one thing, he was a little bit ahead of us. By the time I came along, to San Francisco, the scene there was really beginning to catch fire. It was the best comedy scene in the country. He lived there. He was very hot. He could play amphitheaters, but afterwards, would play Uncle Funny’s Yuk Club at 1am. There’s not a comedy club that doesn’t have a picture of Robin. People went out to comedy because maybe they could see Robin, and they saw a couple other comics they liked.
San Francisco had the best audiences. I had a crowd one night, a young guy was emceeing who liked the devil drink. He went next door to get liquor. I talked the whole crowd into going next door and getting him back. They would go with you anywhere. People still come up to me and tell me, “I remember you in San Francisco in the early ’80s.” Without question, Robin is the reason.
Did you mean to break barriers for women comedians?
No. There were some really talented women before me. By the time I came along, being a woman was not a particularly unique calling card. I think women like Joan Rivers were more about the singularity of their field.
Other than live shows, how’s your interaction with fans?
I do Twitter. I’m just about to put up my new website [www.paulapoundstone.com]. I do Facebook. I oddly enjoy all of them. Oh, I have a YouTube channel. How to get there, I’m not really sure. My daughter’s telling me, as I speak… to search my name… and then choose channel request. As if I know what that means.
Who have you met who was unexpectedly funny?
I’ll tell you something. I met the first President Bush. He was not funny. But he was unbelievably charming. I was sheepish about having liked him, like it took away my Democratic stripes – I was not a fan of the Iran-Contra scandal, for example. My congressman friend said, “Paula, we’re all charming or else we wouldn’t get elected.” I bet you can find charming qualities in Strom Thurmond. Doesn’t help us. My guess is Hitler was a good joke teller. I don’t care. He might have been the first guy to notice a nice scent on a woman. I don’t care.
Do you remember the moment when you went off script and started interacting with the audience?
It’s the best part of the night. A good show for me is like a cocktail party. Everyone counts. Safe to say I’m an important player, but it’s the group. A group of people who come out to laugh? What a great group. Not like those town hall meetings.
What do you talk about in your act now?
I talk about raising a houseful of kids and animals, hanging on as a citizen, being somewhat informed. Abraham Lincoln, Frank and Joel Hardy – with equal weight.
PAULA POUNDSTONE performs 8pm Saturday, Sept. 12, at Golden State Theatre, 417 Alvarado St., Monterey. $20, $39, $50. 372-3800, www.goldenstatetheatre.com.