By Denny Patterson
As one of the country’s preeminent comedians, Paula Poundstone is known for her smart, observational humor and spontaneous wit. Starting out at open-mic clubs in the late 1970s, her career has ultimately led her to not only being a professional comedian, but also an actress, author, interviewer, and commentator. Paula has performed several one-hour HBO comedy specials, provided backstage commentary during the 1992 presidential election on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, is a popular panelist on NPR, hosts a comedy/advice podcast called “Nobody Listens to Paula Poundstone,” and was the first woman to perform stand-up comedy at a White House Correspondents Dinner. Paula is considered one of the most influential stand-up comedians of our time, and she is making her way to the Coral Springs Center for the Arts on Saturday, February 23, 2019. I had the pleasure of chatting more with Poundstone about her upcoming performance -and her overall passion for making people laugh.
Welcome to fabulous South Florida! Is this your first time performing at Coral Springs?
Thank you. No, it is not my first time. I was there in 2015. Don’t worry, I’m not hurt that you don’t remember!
My apologies! I have only been in the South Florida scene since 2017. What are you looking forward to the most about this performance?
My favorite part of any of my performance is the part where I say stuff, and people laugh. I am counting on that happening in Coral Springs.
What can audiences expect?
Well, there is no crowd surfing, and there’s never been a stampede, so I expect no one will get hurt! I can almost guarantee it will be a night of healing laughter. The kind where you come away, and say, “Oh, my gosh, I haven’t laughed that hard in a long time,” and you remember that you need to. I talk about just getting through life. Raising a house full of kids, and animals, trying to follow the news well enough to cast a decent vote, navigating social awkwardness, really connecting, not stupid social network connecting, the pressures of deciding to reuse your towel in a hotel, etc.
Where did your passion for comedy come from? How did it all begin?
I was alone a lot before I reached the age of kindergarten. My mother was in bed, and my siblings were in school. I had I Love Lucy and The Three Stooges for babysitters. Looking back, I have no complaints. The first sentence of the last paragraph of the summary letter written by my kindergarten teacher said, “I have enjoyed Paula’s humorous comments about our activities.” Making people laugh was joyous to me from the start. I was lucky to be a kid when the show Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In came into being. It was silly, irreverent, and a perfect vehicle to introduce our national treasure, Lily Tomlin, to the broader public. I still remember a bit from that show, and it was on 48 years ago, and I’ve never seen it since. I think I had an entire George Carlin album memorized in the seventh grade. Who doesn’t love funny stuff? It’s a coping mechanism that nature gave us, and I don’t think any other species has it. Except maybe racoons.
I read that Robin Williams saw one of your acts and he encouraged you to move to Los Angeles. Would you say he gave your career the boost it needed?
I would say that every comic of my generation or younger owes Robin Williams a debt of gratitude. He obviously didn’t invent stand-up comedy, but he, almost single handedly reinvigorated audiences’ interest in the form, with his boundless energy, and frenetic style. There was a while in the late 70s, early 80s, where people came out to the clubs hoping to see Robin. They might have too, no matter where they were. He was everywhere. While they waited for Robin, they saw the rest of us, and in lots of cases they liked what they say.
What would you say is your favorite part about touring and performing?
Well, we live in a beautiful country, and I love having some personal history in almost every part of it, which I do, after 39 years of traveling around telling my little jokes. I treasure my connection to audiences all over the country.
What do you do to prepare for a show? Any pre-show rituals?
I slap on some red lipstick, glance at my notebook, suck down another Diet Pepsi, blow my nose, stock my pockets with Kleenex, take an allergy pill, tap dance, and pee – not necessarily in that order!
You do a lot of observational humor. How did you stand out from the several other comedians who do the same type of comedy?
I probably don’t entirely stand out, at all. We all have lots in common, just as we have lots in common with the audience. That’s part of what makes people laugh, that laugh of recognition, that, “Oh my god, that happened to me and thank goodness I’m not the only one.” At the same time, I have spent much of my career in a subtle process of allowing myself to be more and more myself on stage. I am almost there.
What would you say has been one of your most memorable performances?
They are my children. I love them all. Sometimes, however, they are going through a phase, or perhaps I need a nap.
What are some topics you like to touch on the most in your acts?
I talk about everything, I think. Here’s why: my favorite part of the night is just talking to audience members. I do the time honored, “Where are you from? What do you do for a living?” Little biographies of audiences emerge, and I use that from which to set my sails. Sometimes I stumble onto an opportunity to tell an old story, but more often than not, something comes up that is unique to just that night – hasn’t been said before, won’t be said again.
There are some comedians who are trying to steer away from politics, especially the Trump administration, in their acts. Are you one of them?
Yes, I have tried. I can’t.
Do you think there are some topics that should be off limits to comedians? Can a comedian go too far?
I don’t think it’s the topic. It’s the message, the heart, the tone. “Too far” is entirely subjective. There are no maps.
I know you are an avid reader. What are some of your favorite books, and what are you currently reading?
I recently read one of the best books I have ever read. It’s called, “A Deadly Wandering.” It should be required reading. I just finished reading “Russian Roulette,” which is very good. I am currently reading “The Complete Stories” by Flannery O’Connor, who, prior to reading the introduction, I thought was a writer from, or in, Ireland. Just goes to show what I know. I am an incredibly slow reader. By the time I finish reading a current events book, it is history.
What’s next for you? Any upcoming projects we should be on the lookout for?
I don’t know if you would call it a project, but next week, I am going to clean under the litter boxes. Most importantly, I am still hard at work on my comedy/advice podcast, “Nobody Listens to Paula Poundstone.” I am hoping everyone within the sound of this magazine will give it a listen. Listen while you do the dishes. You’ll find yourself looking for more dishes to wash.