Paula Poundstone was the youngest child in her family growing up, and she still occasionally catches herself falling back into that role. “I still feel I can talk to people who are younger than me, and still feel they have more wisdom or experience than I do,” she confessed. “In fact, I’ve been around for quite a while.”
Indeed. Later this spring, Paula Poundstone will celebrate her 40th anniversary as a stand-up comic. Best-known today for her frequent appearances on NPR’s Wait Wait … Don’t Tell Me!, she will perform January 25 at the Lobero Theatre. “I hope it will be a night of healing laughter,” she said in a telephone interview from her Los Angeles–area home. “Lord knows we need it.”
I was trying to define your comedy, and what I came up with was: It is based in an annoyed befuddlement about the state of the world. Does that sound about right? I don’t know. I have yet to come up with a description of my comedy. It’s like if you do your laundry, but you don’t fold your clothes. You just dump them out, and the stuff on the top is what I wear. That’s sort of what my act is. I do what I’m reminded of in the moment.
I talk about raising a houseful of kids and animals. I pay attention to the news. But my favorite part of the night is when I talk to the audience. “Where are you? What do you do?” Little biographies of audience members emerge, and I use them to set my sails.
Sarcasm is a big part of your comedic arsenal. Have you always had a sarcastic streak? I think I must have. I used to try to avoid it with my children, but I just couldn’t. A sense of humor, whether it comes from a place of sarcasm or not, is one of the few tools we have for coping. I don’t know if any other species has it. I suspect raccoons, but I’m not sure.
On the subject of coping, politics takes up a lot more of our brains these days. It’s true. I watch a lot of MSNBC. I don’t have cable at home, but I watch Rachel Maddow online. She was off during the holidays, and I missed her so much! I think I’ve gotten attached to the stimulation of the god-awful story we’re living through. It’s a little bit like Breaking Bad, where you start watching it and you just can’t stop. The difference is, what Walter White did didn’t affect the world.
How much of your material is political these days? Not that much. I have wrestled with how to handle Trump onstage. I made all these Trump jokes before he was elected because I thought that’s what he was there for. I thought he was a fun sideshow thing. Then, all of the sudden [he had to be taken seriously]. I didn’t want Republican audience members to feel they were targeted. For a while, I would say to myself, “Don’t talk about him!” But the more I did that, the more he was on my mind, and the more I talked about him.
It’s like when my father was teaching me to drive. At one point, there was glass in the middle of the road, and he said, “Don’t drive over that glass!” I put my eyes on the glass, and I drove right over it. I steered where I was looking. He thought I was being rebellious, but in fact it was front and center in my brain, so I steered in that direction.
A vivid analogy. But, widening the conversation a bit: Is comedy a sexist business? Yep. Like almost every other business in the world. I think the percentage of women is the same now as it ever was. It’s just that there are so many comics now. There are tons of women comics because there are tons of comics!
There’s an argument that some women don’t consider comedy a feminine job. I find that hard to believe. It never occurred to me not to do stand-up. I never thought, “Oh, but I’m a woman!” It’s such a great job, and so much fun. Who wouldn’t want to do it?
Paula Poundstone performs Friday, January 25, 8 p.m., at the Lobero Theatre (33 E. Canon Perdido St.). Call 963-0761 or see lobero.org.