Going one-on-one with Paula Poundstone

Paula Poundstone

Paula Poundstone (March 28, 2013)

A: For me a lot of it is still the same. The art — and that may be too highfalutin a term for what I do — but, you know, the quote-unquote art of stand-up comedy was wildly popular in the '80s. Just to keep it all in perspective, our grass was kind of cut by karaoke. So, you know, nothing to brag about there. But so the proliferation of comedy clubs isn't how it used to be at all. I fortunately got out of clubs for the most part a long time ago. I much prefer a theater setting if I can get it.

Q: It does seem that lately there's been a resurgence for stand-up.

A: I look for that show "American Greed." It's often on, I don't even know what night, I don't even know what time. I just know when I get back to my hotel room some nights and I'm packing — I don't even know what station it's on — I just know that if I flip long enough I might find it. So in that process — and it's a grueling process — I am flipping I guess at the time of the evening when "The Tonight Show" is on, and, man, you go through a bunch of guys in suits doing monologues. Like, in a row, as you're pushing buttons. There's so many of those now that there has to be a certain amount of stand-up comics just to fill those holes.

Q: And then there are a lot of people who build through the underground comedy scene and YouTube videos.

A: My YouTube videos will never move out of the underground comedy scene.

Q: I notice you do use Twitter (@paulapoundstone).

A: I only learned to use a computer at all a couple of years ago. But I did take to Twitter. When somebody showed it to me, I felt like Marcia Brady when — I can't remember if it was Davy Jones or Bobby Sherman that kissed her. It really was life changing for me. It just felt like a perfect fit. Because I'm alone a lot with my work, I always was a big postcard writer. A lot of times I'm writing postcards in my head, to the degree that I don't know sometimes if I sent somebody a note or not. This to me is sort of a really fast postcard in your head.

Q: So you've become a regular visitor to Chicago because of the "Wait Wait" relationship. Tell me how that came about.

A: Really just they called me up. I hadn't even heard of the show. I had a nanny who worked for me at the time who, when I happened to mention it to him, he said, "Oh, you should do it." He really liked it.

Q: That was well before the show was what it is now.

A: Yeah. I think it's been on for 15 years now and I probably started about 13 years ago maybe. It's a great fit for me. There's not a day that goes by — and it's often while I'm sifting cat litter, by the way, cause that's really where I do some of my strongest reflecting — I am just the luckiest performer in the world. They kindly sought me out and have truly stuck with me through thick and thin, and it just works so well for me.

For me it's like being a batter in a batting cage. You kind of get lobbed topics and they ask you to say whatever you want. I can't tell you how many settings I've been where I've been specifically asked not to say whatever I wanted. It showcases a really great strength of mine and it develops it as well. It's a really lucky break.

Q: Do you feel like your career has been rebuilt from what you called in the book your "extremely dark tunnel of personal crisis"? Or does the fact that I'm asking you about that say something?

A: Well, probably, yeah. It's taken a different trajectory than it might have otherwise. But it's not No. 1 on my list of challenges. So, you know. Laughing and being in that setting is probably the most mentally healthy thing anybody does for themselves. So I get to be a part of the endorphin production industry, and that is a great and lucky break.

Q: And I think due to the dignity and humility with which you handled that, people who were paying attention were on your side quickly.

A: Oh, thank you. It's certainly a chapter that I regret, but given that it's there, I try to get up every day and figure out how to make things better. And so far so good.

Q: Is it still part of your act?

A: No, largely no. Every now and then, but largely not. And not by design. I think it's just that my act is largely autobiographical and therefore when I first started out, I talked a lot about busing tables and taking public transportation. I don't talk about that very much anymore either. ... I talk about raising a houseful of kids and animals and, you know, trying to make sense of the news well enough to cast a halfway decent vote.

Q: Do any of your kids show any inclination to follow you into comedy or performance?

A: No. My son occasionally does come with me once in a blue moon, and he likes to come on and do his impression of a cat throwing up, which he does better than I do — and that's really saying something.

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