Paula Poundstone riffs on politics and people at Carmel’s Sunset Center.
Thursday, December 15, 2011
Comedian Paula Poundstone dresses in the hip, androgynous shirts, slacks and ties of Diane Keaton in Woody Allen’s Annie Hall. Except on Poundstone it’s not some chic New York thing as much as a reflection of personal style, comfort and asexuality. From her home in Santa Monica, where she raises three foster kids and 16 cats while launching slews of nationwide comedy gigs, she explains.
“Sometimes people come up to me after a show and say ‘Oh boy, we really enjoyed you because you didn’t talk about sex.’ Well, it’s because I don’t have sex.”
She confesses, in her 2006 autobiography, There Is Nothing in this Book That I Meant to Say, that she’s just not good at it. But she is very good at doing impromptu live shows, which she will prove again at Sunset Center this Friday.
“I’m the luckiest performer in the world,” she says in her laconic and boyish drawl. “I consider myself a member of the endorphin production industry. I love being out in front of an audience and telling my little jokes, the big-circle feeling of talking to a crowd and getting a response. I may have felt like a freak at the time, but when they laugh, [I know] they’ve been there. It’s biochemically fun to spend a night on laughter.”
Poundstone is a 52-year-old representative of the kind of old-school stand-up tradition in which a comedian might ask of random audience members: “Where are you from? What do you do?” Don Rickles is a master at it, and so is Poundstone. But she’s blended that with a new-school progressiveness, letting her share a connection to her audience that’s seeded on the stage but blooms elsewhere, like in faithful Twitter updates: “Dec. 10 4:39am I’m waiting for the Super Shuttle, and I’m excited because it’s gonna be super.”
She has her backers, like the teams at NPR’s popular weekly quiz show Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me! and A Prairie Home Companion, both of which she’s been on many times. And in 2004, Comedy Central famously named her among the 100 greatest stand-ups of all time (number 88, to be exact).
But she has detractors, like Maxim magazine, which in 2007 named her among the 12 worst comedians of all time, along with Carlos Mencia and Kathy Griffin. Tellingly, half of Maxim’s list is made up of leading female comedians in a field where men overwhelmingly dominate. A nervous dose of misanthropy slips in describing Poundstone’s entry: “Remember that time Paula Poundstone [in 2001] was busted for getting s***faced and driving her kids to an ice cream parlor? That’s by far the funniest thing she’s ever done.”
Poundstone draws her life and her politics into her standup. The self-avowed Democrat savors irony and absurdity, positing that Republicans are “funnier.”
“The whole Republican field [of presidential candidates] is like watching a front-loading dryer. One is on top, then they’re down and there’s another one. It’s been Romney, then Bachmann, Perry, Cain, and now Gingrich. I assume next week it will be a sock. Cain is fun. What did we get as citizens from Godfather’s Pizza? Bad pizza. We don’t need bad education.”
She continues to be faithful to President Obama, from the time he was a senator and came on as a guest on a segment of Wait Wait called “Not My Job.”
“We tape in Chicago and he came,” she says. “Not surprisingly, he’s charming beyond belief. Everybody, to a man, said, ‘He’s going to be president.’”
Asked what Obama’s done lately, though, and she sighs heavily before saying: “Every time I hear him talk, I’m sold. You know? I think he’s really made an effort to work in a bipartisan way. The unfortunate luck of the draw is that he’s president at a time when, culturally, that’s almost impossible.”
Other things are also occupying Poundstone’s restless mind. In support of the Occupy Movement, she recently Tweeted a mock conversation between a local L.A. news anchor and a field reporter covering the Occupy L.A. camp:
“We are live at the L.A. encampment, where we go to our reporter Bob, who will poke the protesters with a stick.”
In conversation she expounds on a loosely connected web of ideas and observations, from Gandhi (“Every now and then I’ll quote Gandhi and I’ll say I don’t really know if Gandhi said that or not, but Ben Kingsley thinks he did”) to manipulation (“I try to pay attention, but to some degree I think Americans do get lied to a lot, and I don’t know how to break that machine”).
The range reflects her freewheeling, free-association method of finding funny stuff in life. It also hints that her Carmel comedy appearance might go places that will surprise people, including Poundstone herself.
PAULA POUNDSTONE performs 8pm Friday (doors open 7pm) at Sunset Center, San Carlos between Eighth and Ninth, Carmel. $35/advance; $40/day of. 620-2048, www.sunsetcenter.org