Paula Poundstone Lives Her Life In Her Comedy

by Robert Nesti

EDGE National Arts & Entertainment Editor

Wednesday August 21, 2013

When Paula Poundstone started out in comedy some four decades ago, she was busing tables in a Boston restaurant. Since then she has become one of the nation's leading stand-up comics, be it as a part of NPR's hit current events show "Wait, Wait... Don't Tell Me," where she's a regular panelist, or in comedy clubs where she is a leading headliner.

This weekend she returns to close to Boston roots -- Provincetown -- for two shows at the Crown and Anchor. She won't be busing tables, though (unless she wants to.)

"It is always a fantastic crowd," she told EDGE recently. "Provincetown is one of my favorite places to play."

Poundstone plays the Paramount at the Crown on Anchor on Sunday, August 25, 2013. For more information, visit visit the Crown and Anchor website.

Over the years, she has won numerous awards for both her stage and television appearances. She has written a regular magazine column and numerous books, appeared in her own (short-lived) television series, and appeared as a panelist on "Hollywood Squares" and "To Tell the Truth." She's done films and cable television specials, and has made Comedy Central list of the 100 greatest stand-ups of all time. In 2009 she released her first comedy CD, "I Heart Jokes."

Not that her career hasn't been without its difficulties, most notably when she made headlines in 2001 when, according to the New York Times, she "pleaded no contest to one count of felony child endangerment and one misdemeanor count of inflicting injury upon a child, and the other charges were dropped... Ms. Poundstone was placed on five years' probation and in December completed six months in a court-ordered alcohol rehabilitation center."

While such a scandal could have been career-ending for some celebrities, Poundstone faced it head-on, acknowledging her difficulties with alcohol. "I was actually court-ordered to Alcoholics Anonymous on television," she told NPR in 2006. "Pretty much blows the hell out of the second A, don't you think?"

While Poundstone temporarily lost custody of her three foster children and spent time in rehab, she came back stronger than ever. She referenced her experiences in her book "There's Nothing in This Book I Meant to Say," which, according to "Talk of the Nation" host Neal Conan, is "part memoir, part comedy, part history. Somehow, Paula Poundstone manages to draw connections between her own experiences in life -- both the highs and lows -- to the lives of important historical figures, from Joan of Arc to Abraham Lincoln to Beethoven."

EDGE spoke with Poundstone recently about her comedy, family and her great love for libraries.

Takes notes

EDGE: What can audiences expect from your show?

Paula Poundstone: My act is largely autobiographical. I talk a lot about raising a house full of kids and animals, and trying to pay enough attention to what's going on in the world to cast a halfway decent vote. I mostly don't have to write jokes. I just take notes.

EDGE: Do you consider yourself a political comedian, a social critic, or a good old fashioned stand-up comic?

Paula Poundstone: I consider myself a very lucky table busser. That's the job that I am the most qualified for. It's what I used to do for a living, but I turned my back on it to go tell jokes.

I talk politics a lot some nights, because it is on my mind, because it is what I have been paying attention to in my life. I am not an expert, nor a historian. I try to watch what's going on in the world so that I can cast a halfway decent vote. I love being able to talk to the audience about my confusion, frustration, and alien feelings, as a result of trying to follow politics.

Make ’em laugh

EDGE: Do you find much differences in audiences around the country? That is in the divide between the blue and red states?

Paula Poundstone: I don't know the political leanings of all of my audience members. I would hope to entertain a broad range of people. That's all I am there for. I just want people to laugh, feel a connection to the whole, and have a good time. I do quite well in the red states, but I suspect it is because the minority there is a bit starved for company.

EDGE: What has raising three teenagers been like?

Paula Poundstone: Grueling and wonderful, an intolerable nightmare and a dream that I wish I would never wake up from. My kids drive me crazy, and I wish we could start all over, and they could drive me crazy again.

EDGE: Do you ever have issues with them and social networking?

Paula Poundstone: My son has a horrible electronics addiction. He wants to use those stupid computer games, and he is obsessed with trying to. I don't let him near that stuff anymore. Maybe because of his serious problem around computers, or maybe just because it doesn't make sense for kids to sit in front of a screen all day, I have never let my kids engage in social networking.

They are not even allowed to watch television. Well, that's not true. They can watch it. They just can't turn it on. I'm fine with them watching it, though.

A reading obsession

EDGE: Do you feel Facebook and Twitter are necessary evils with being a celebrity today?

Paula Poundstone: Yup. But, having said, "Yup," I will say that I only started on Twitter for the sheer fun of it. I love thinking of funny things and putting them up. I think I started before most. I love thinking up ideas for films to throw up on my website. It's incredibly time consuming, though. It's true; it has become kind of a steam roller that flattens you if you don't stay ahead of it, now.

EDGE: How did you become the spokesperson for ALTAFF -- the Association of Library Trustees, Advocates, Friends and Foundations?

Paula Poundstone: I worked with Friends of The Library at the National Book Convention in D. C. a few years ago. That's what they used to call themselves, and it says it best. Now the name includes other important parts of the organization, but it doesn't exactly roll off the tongue, huh?

EDGE: You call libraries "raucous clubhouses for free speech, controversy and community." That's far from the traditional image of libraries. Could you elaborate?

Paula Poundstone: When I was a kid, our neighbor, Mrs. Ross, would often take us to the library. We would run up a hill beside the building, because there was a rock there that someone said a kid had hit his head on, and we wanted to see the blood. That was the most exciting part of going to the library.

I exaggerate slightly. I did like the books. Libraries now have CDs, DVDs, books on tape, homework rooms, teen clubs, reading groups, computers, computer classes, lecture series, movie nights, periodicals, preschool story times, puppet shows, and, still my favorite -- books. They are the best deal in town.

Gay connection

EDGE: Why do you think you appeal so strongly to gay audiences?

Paula Poundstone: I love them.

EDGE: You're probably one of the best-known asexuals in the world... Could you talk a bit about that?

Paula Poundstone: Well, it is hard to say a lot more about being asexual. I don't like sex. Therefore, I don't have sex. It frees up time, but that's not by design, it's just a bonus.

EDGE: What about your thing for cats and Diet Pepsi?

Paula Poundstone:: Having lots of cats is like having a movie on all of the time. They are fun to watch. They are funny, and they seem to like me.

Diet Pepsi? I am not really brand specific. I'll drink any diet cola. The truth is, I don't even like it that much. I am just desperate for the caffeine. I am a single working woman with sixteen cats, three kids, two dogs, a bearded dragon lizard, a lop ear bunny, and one ant left from my ant farm. If it weren't for caffeine and clumping litter, I couldn't even answer these questions.

Paula Poundstone appears at the Paramount at the Crown and Anchor, Commercial Street, Provincetown, MA on Sunday, August 25, 2013 at 7:30pm & 9:30pm. For more information, visit the Crown and Anchor website.

For further dates in August and September, visit Paula Poundstone's website.

Robert Nesti can be reached at [email protected].