Award-winning comedian returns to Bay Street Theater Thursday, September 22.
By: Patrick Christiano
Paula Poundstone legendary for her spontaneous wit and spot on humor is returning to Bay Street Theater in Sag Harbor for another of her unscripted evenings of laughter on Thursday, September 22 at 8pm. I enjoyed a brief telephone chat with the popular comedian in hopes of uncovering what makes her tick and came away realizing there is no formula for just being yourself and enjoying life’s outrageous dichotomies.
Paula said the first person to acknowledge her humor was Mrs. Bump, her kindergarten teacher in 1965, who wrote on her report card how much she enjoyed the 6-year old’s comments. Her mother kept Paula’s report cards in the kitchen and Paula read the teacher’s remarks. The adult’s approval was important to the young girl, because she knew she was being witty. “What’s not to love about laughter…it’s emotionally healthy,” she said.
A depressed teen she dropped out of high school and began busing tables in a restaurant before embarking on a career in comedy. In 1979 she started doing stand-up on open-mic nights at the comedy clubs in Boston, which was a male dominated culture that became her launching pad.
With only a five-minute set, she attempted to write jokes and learn her material, however, because of nerves she said “I can’t memorize a set to save my life.” And soon discovered “The accidents were more funny than her scripted material. It’s a funny job, you learn by doing.”
In the early 1980’s she began touring the country by bus hitting comedy clubs all over the western states. She would buy a $150 America pass blank ticket that was good for a month and go wherever she wanted. To get 8 hours of sleep she would often book round-trips to a particular city insuring her 8 hours of rest. She said “I loved looking out the windows. We live in a beautiful country.”
Along the way, she met Robin Williams in San Francisco. He became a friend and a fan, giving her a spot on SNL when he hosted in 1984. Back then she said “Robin was almost addicted to stand-up. He would go all night long until there was only one person in the room.” And she stayed friends with him until his untimely passing saying “Robin’s death was a loss to the world.”
Beginning in the late 1980s, she performed a series of one-hour HBO comedy specials, which really propelled her career, and she provided backstage commentary during the 1992 presidential election on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.
Encouraged to give me her views on the current state of our political arena she remarked “We all are going to be in the exhausted voter basket. Truth, we don’t want to hear. We shoot the messenger.”
When Paula was in the 6th grade she ran for President of her class promising the students she would get them a soda machine, but her teacher told her you can’t say that because you can’t do that. “Now candidates aren’t compelled to be truthful.”
Today Poundstone tours extensively performing Stand-Up comedy in theaters and performing arts centers across the United States making more than 90 stops a year. And she still loves the view from the window, although today it’s more frequently from an airplane window. Keeping up with all the dates, three children, two sons aged 25 and 18, a middle daughter aged 22 in college, two German Shepherds, and 14 cats can be daunting. She commented, “I feel like a char woman for pets.”
Unequaled for her spontaneity while interacting with an audience, Paula remains curious and her continually perplexed attitude allows her to be aggressive without becoming threatening. She is known for never doing the same show twice. “I have 37 years of material rattling in my head,” she shared. “If something is trending on twitter, someone is dead or said something stupid.”
Indeed, if laughter is the best medicine, Paula will be at Bay Street Theater in Sag Harbor Thursday, September 22 sharing too much information and dispensing doses of her unpredictable humor for whatever ails you.
Poundstone’s book There is Nothing In This Book That I Meant To Say was published by Crown in 2006. Algonquin is set to publish her second book May of 2017.