Paula Poundstone likes to make people laugh
November 6, 2012
For 32 years, Paula Poundstone has used her wry humor wit to entertain audiences around the world with her stand-up comedy.
In addition to her live shows, she has appeared on NPR’s weekly new quiz show "Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me," and has done TV specials on HBO, Bravo and ABC.
Poundstone published a book "There’s Nothing in This Book That I Meant to Say" and has released a comedy CD.
The comedian, who takes the stage with her trademark Diet Pepsi, is also known for impromptu interactions with her audiences.
She will give Park City a dose of her award-winning comedy when she performs at the Eccles Center for the Performing Arts on Saturday, Nov. 9.
Poundstone took some time to call The Park Record from her kitchen in Santa Monica, Calif., to talk about her career that started in Boston, Mass.
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"I don’t know if I really pictured how I would end up in the whole scheme of things," Poundstone said. "When I was a kid, I loved Lucille Ball, Carol Burnett, Lilly Tomlin and all those great funny comic actresses, but I wasn’t too familiar with stand-up, because it was sort of a late-night medium when I was little.
"Unless you lived in a city with comedy night clubs, the only time you would see stand-up was on ‘The Tonight Show,’ and my parents didn’t really enjoy my company well enough to have me up that late," she said.
Poundstone says she was at the right place at the right time when she started her career.
"I happened to live in Boston when a couple of guys had the idea to produce a couple of stand-up shows," she said. "What was really weird, is that the idea took hold in a bunch of cities at the same time.
"All of a sudden stand-up began happening, and people got the product with open-mic nights and through that, we, the comics, all got our chances to do this stuff."
Poundstone’s signature banter with the audience developed while she was doing these open-mic shows.
"It wasn’t intentional," she said. "We were all supposed to go on stage and do five minutes."
While she bussed tables at various Boston restaurants at the time, Poundstone would write and time out her jokes and rehearse them constantly.
"Then I would go on stage, and forget what I was supposed to say," she said. "I mean, even when I was in the process of walking to the stage, I’d see something that would distract me and I would say something about it, because I have no self-discipline."
Her colleagues weren’t pleased at all.
"They were touchy about that five-minute slot, because they all wanted to have a chance to go on," she said. "But I kept making that mistake over and over again, and I would keep thinking how bad and unprofessional I was because I couldn’t stay focused on what I wanted to say. Then, sometime, I don’t remember when, but I realized that interacting with the audience was the fun part of the job and it ended up making me so much better."
Another thing Poundstone learned was that she couldn’t make all the people laugh all the time, and that has carried over to her book.
"In writing, just like stand-up, some people will like what you do and some people won’t," she said. "I found you can bend yourself out of shape when you try to fit in everyone’s taste."
So, she shifted her perception regarding the feedback.
"When I write a book or an article and people say, ‘Boy, that sounded just like you,’ then I feel like I did what I wanted to do," Poundstone said. "I want things to be funny, but also honest. So, the more it does sound like me, the better.
"I know that sounds kind of high falutin’, but since I’ve embraced that idea, I feel people responded to my stuff more."
Poundstone got into comedy for two reasons to get attention and to make people laugh.
"It’s true that I like a lot of attention, and once when I was getting down on my daughter about her always wanting attention, it dawned on me that that’s what I do for a living," Poundstone said. "So, I reframed what I said and told her that, actually, there was no harm in getting attention, it’s just what you’re getting attention for."
That’s where the laughter comes in.
"I love the sound of laughter, and not to break what I do down into cold, hard science, laughing is just good for you," Poundstone said.
Laughter also gives people an opportunity to bond with other people, she said.
"My kids and I used to go to the Three Stooges Film Festival in Glendale, California, after Thanksgiving, and as much as I enjoy the Three Stooges, I don’t laugh at them when I watch them at home alone," Poundstone said. "I just enjoy them, but when I watch them with other people, the chemical contagion happens and it’s just great.
"I mean, I’ve seen those shorts many times, but you when you watch them with a crowd of people, you find yourself caught up in waves of laughter, which renews the experience of seeing these films," she said. "That’s why I love what I’m doing."
Poundstone can’t wait to return to Park City.
"I haven’t been to Utah in quite a while, so I’m overdue," she said. "It just keeps getting better and better, and I feel I have the greatest job in the world."
The Park City Performing Arts Foundation will present comedian Paula Poundstone, know for her work on NPR’s "Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me," at the Eccles Center for the Performing Arts, 1750 Kearns Blvd., on Saturday, Nov. 10, at 7:30 p.m. Armed with nothing but a stool, a microphone and a can of Diet Pepsi, Poundstone’s ability to create humor on the spot has become the stuff of legend. Tickets range from $20 to $67 and are available by calling (435) 655-3114 or visiting http://www.ecclescenter.org.