Paula Poundstone brings her smart, spontaneous humor to Jamestown

Oct 17, 2019

Paula Poundstone will light up the Reg Lenna Center for the Arts in Jamestown Saturday with her unique brand of humor. The award-winning comedienne, author, actress, podcaster and panelist on NPR's "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me" is celebrating 40 years in the business and still does 85 shows a year - despite years of therapy, children who come running when she pulls out her checkbook and a house full of 13 cats.

It's safe to say an evening with Paula Poundstone is not typical comedy. How would you describe it to someone who hasn't seen one of your performances before?

"Well, I've been doing this for 40 years, so somewhere in my head there's 40 years of material floating around up there. I always figured that the inside of my head must look something like one of those arcade games, where you step into a glass booth and they blow the paper money around, and whatever you can grab you can keep. Whatever jokes I can grab, I can keep.

"But 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 myself. So, by its very nature, no two shows are the same. I don't know when I'm gonna say what."

What do you think has been the key to longevity, especially in an industry that's been male dominated for decades?

"I never paid too much attention to that fact. It's true, but I never paid much attention to that. I'm not really certain, honesty. I think I just love it so much, I just won't stop doing it. It is truly the greatest job in the entire world. I consider myself a proud member of the endorphin production industry. And now more than ever, we do need to be able to laugh."

How have you been enjoying being a panelist on NPR's "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me?"

Credit Paula Poundstone

"Oh, gee. Well, I hold the record for losses. In fact, It's always good to be able to talk about 'Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me' in public because I like to correct the misconception, which is, yes, I'm trying to win. A lot of people think I throw the match. I don't. The others are just better informed than me, that's all. I am trying to win. I'm in there pitching. Maybe there's cheating, I don't know. Maybe there's steroids.

"It's a really fun job, that job. Part of what's great about it is that they allow all of us just to jump in whenever we want. For the panelists, it's unscripted. That's really a great form for me, to hear the question and say whatever I want to say. Very fun."

It must be, because it's expanded into podcasts, "Nobody Listens to Paula Poundstone," with your "Wait, Wait" colleague Adam Felber.

"That's right. It's obviously a comedy podcast. The guests that we have usually bare some sort of expertise or information or something you need to function in the adult world. My original idea was, how do you move out of your parents' house? You know, what's the stuff that you need to know in order to function in adulthood - and most of it, I still don't know."

During a performance earlier this year, an audience member asked if you were happy, but you couldn't say you were, despite all you've accomplished. What role in your life brings you closest to happiness?

"You know, I think just being a fellow human being. I like people. When I walk down the street, I say hello to people. Somewhere in my day, I just have interactions with people and when you have those connections, I guess it kind of reminds you that you're a human being and you have stuff in common with other people and it's just uplifting. Sometimes it's uplifting because it's a connection that was helpful to someone else. That's probably when I'm happiest.

"And by the way, the tech industry tried to take over words like 'connection' and 'friend.' Those are not connections. What you're doing on your computer is not connections. So you need to put that down for a while. Put it aside for a while and go be with other human beings, because it really is the best thing in the world for you."

I guess that's why you love performing.

"Yeah, it is. I love being in a room full of people who have come out to laugh for the night. It's extraordinary. I'm lucky that I get to do that and I've worked hard to sustain that and to be able to do that. And not everyone's gonna do that, but everyone can find connections in the world."

You're very candid about the years of therapy you've had, so I thought we might try a little Word Association that therapists like to use. What do you think of when I say "cats?"

"Time and financial loss."


"Same thing. Time and financial loss. And daggers through your heart!"

Social media?

"Time and financial loss! Maybe not financial loss, but sure time loss. Oh my God, all these issues are great time sucks."

Airport security?

"Aaah. Great theater, not a lot of reality. They say that when they test the TSA, I think it's something like a 95% failure record. That's extraordinary. And the idea that we don't do antyhing about it, it's just sort of there. I don't know. I usually purposely carry metal because I enjoy the patdown."

Donald Trump?

"Ohhh. When I think of Donald Trump.... Donald Trump is a salted caramel. It's a mixture of the end of the world and some funny jokes. Like many people I've spent the last few years trying to figure out how we got in this mess. As near as I can tell, electing Trump is to America what beaching themselves is to whales. The only difference is that we don't have another species to shove us back in the water."