Entertainment » Celebrities

In Bed with Paula Poundstone

by Roger Walker-Dack
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Friday Jul 14, 2017

Paula Poundstone is an award-winning stand-up comedian and humorist with a rapid-fire quick wit that enthralls her audiences, including the ones that she has made part of her act each night. Adored by her many fans for her unscripted approach to comedy which makes Paua a perfect fit as a regular panelist on NPR's #1 show, the screwball weekly news quiz show "Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me!" where she holds the record for game losses. Now embarked on new country-wide Tour, EDGE caught up with hilarious comic resting at home and the very first words to us were "I'm still in bed!"

EDGE: Congratulations on the phenomenal success of your new book "The Totally Unscientific Study of the Search for Human Happiness" topping best seller charts right now. Is this the basis of the new show that you are touring with?

Paula Poundstone: NO! There is no relationship between the two, except it is all me. That's the common thread. It's autobiographical and I talk about raising a house full of children and animals. I also talk about paying attention to the news so that I can cast a halfway decent vote, which we all know can't really be done.

My favorite part of the night is just talking to the audience. I do the time honored "where are you from, what do you do for a living" and in this way little biographies of audience members emerge. And I use that from which to set my sails.

EDGE: So how much of the show is prepared then?

Paula Poundstone: It depends what you consider prepared. On any given night, probably a third of what I say is unique to just that night and is ...... (a 'ping' is heard) ..... Oh oh, there's a fax coming in. I should have explained that this is very high tech office/bedroom. It's likely it's one of those unsolicited faxes from people who sell things like travel and stuff by faxing people who haven't asked them too. When you call the number and say please don't fax me anymore, it only adds to their delight.

What's wrong?

EDGE: You do a lot of this audience participation, has it ever backfired on you?

Paula Poundstone: I suppose, a handful of times maybe, but it quickly passes. My favorite thing is to ask people what they do for a living. In recent years I get a lot of "I'm a software designer." Before I glaze over completely I add, "and what do you do in your free time?" Other times I casually move to someone else. I think it is somewhat seamless, except now I've told you and so everyone will know.

EDGE: So you're quite random? You don't go for a type to pick out?

Paula Poundstone: No, but I will say that it depends on the lighting in the theater. However, when I can see someone who looks like they are not enjoying themselves, I am attracted to them. I want to know what their problem is : what's wrong, what's missing for them. I often think it is a man that maybe he and his wife have reluctantly made some sort of deal that if he will come with her to my show, then she will watch football the next night.

EDGE:I was looking at your tour schedule and got quite dizzy as you go back and forth across the country.

Paula Poundstone: I don't believe in routing! I work in a constant state of exhaustion, but fortunately, I have this kind of a job that always energizes me.

EDGE: You have a Podcast coming out "Live from Poundstone Institution." What is that all about?

Paula Poundstone: I've worked on NPR's "Wait Wait Don't Tell Me" for many, many years, and one of the things that happens on that show is my boss, the host Peter Sagal, will have some sort of research. He'll mention a study, that is like a done deal. For example, he'll say "well they find that cats are the only animals that don't forgive." Who says that? And he'll say "Stanford University." But I will ask, "how can you tell if a rhino has forgiven you?" I need more information about how anyone arrived at this. Peter sometimes knows the answer but sometimes he doesn't, and the truth is it is fun asking about it.

So my new Podcast's number one job it to be funny, but the backbone is talking to those scientists who do that research. When you get them talking you often find there actually really is a good reason to do that study, it just seems silly on the outside. There's a little bit of real information given, that is not just made up for jokes, but the fun part is making fun of it at the same time.

A visual person

EDGE: It's strange to me that your participation in "Wait Wait Don't Tell Me" is your big, big success, but you are actually a very visual person, so I wonder how you first adjusted to radio?

Paula Poundstone: Actually my hardest adjustment to doing "Wait Wait Don't Tell Me" was when I first started doing that show we didn't use a live audience. We were all connected via wire - I was in the studio in L.A., Peter was in the studio in Chicago, Carl was in D.C., Adam was in N.Y. etc. and the show really lacked the energy it has with a live audience obviously. However when we first were in front of an audience my tendency was to play to them, and the producer was always saying to me the most important thing is the listener at home. These people have come to watch a radio game made so they are really not the people we are playing too, which is sort of like having a guest in your house and not talking to them. I find that a really odd dynamic.

One of the things about "Live from The Poundstone Institute" is that we have a small live and lively audience, and I try as much as possible to include them and ask them questions just like in my act. I find out about some of them and they become characters in my show but I guess we will just have to wait and see how it plays over the podcast and if it is really possible to broker those parties between the listening and the live audience.

Edge: So the podcasts are available now on iTunes and all the usual places?

Paula Poundstone: That's what they say but I don't know what "all the usual places are" by the way! I wrote to the executive producer and told him I have no idea of how to find my podcast and I'm guessing that most of my audience are the same way. So I said what do I tell them and his response in an email was just Tell them they can get it on iTunes or wherever they get their podcasts from, so I'm still stumped.

EDGE: I'm based in Ptown and I've been slightly shocked by the reactions when I mentioned I was interviewing you to discover that you have a MASSIVE following in the LGBT community. Are you aware of that?

Paula Poundstone: I am, and it makes me SO happy. As a community (as I can't speak for the individuals) they are wonderful audience members. The added delight in the last couple of years has been when I am talking to a guy in the audience and I say who is that person beside you, and they reply, my husband. Every single time I hear it I feel like Happy Birthday America. We are in many ways a very backward place and we don't always move forwards ... It's one step forward and sometimes two step backwards... but by golly that one we finally pulled off and I'd delighted for those people.

Although there are those people in Mississippi who said, fine if the Supreme Court says so they can get married but they are not having any fucking cake...

Edge: You've had a very long and exciting career, is they any particular highlight you are proud of most?

Paula Poundstone: I would hope to never to have to choose one highlight, but years ago when there was a fundraiser Rally for Bill Clinton's second term. It was held in what was once Harold Lloyds back yard in this lovely Manor estate and packed with big time movers & shakers. Tom Hanks hosted it and it had Barbra Streisand, The Eagles and I forget who all else, but I was in way over my head. I went on stage completely terrified and I had one of the best sets of my life. Usually, the L.A. high money celebrity crowd are NO fun to play to at all, sometimes they don't even feel the need to listen to you because they are whoever they are. However on this particular night, for whatever reason, I happen to capture their attention, and I had so much fun. Then when Clinton wrapped things up with a speech he said 'wasn't that Paula Poundstone on fire tonight!.. and I was in HEAVEN.

Edge: What happens after your Tour, do you get a rest?

Paula Poundstone: Well, as I told you, I'm still in bed. I sleep on the floor because I don't have a real bed. If I had an actual bed I'm afraid I would NEVER get out of it. So I don't like to offer myself too many comforts when I'm sleeping. I'm still in my night attire of a NASA t-shirt and highly boxers shorts, as when I saw that I had to do an interview early this morning I thought there is no way in hell that I can do anything that looks good, I'm just going to stay in bed.

Paula Poundstone appears at Jonathan's Ogunquit, Ogunquit, ME on July 15 and 16. For a complete list of her upcoming dates, visit Paula Poundstone's website.

Roger Walker-Dack, a passionate cinephile, is a freelance writer, critic and broadcaster and the author/editor of three blogs. He divides his time between Miami Beach and Provincetown.


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