Live and in Person at The Victoria Theater December 12
Funny isn’t funny until you’ve seen Paula Poundstone live and in person. Luckily she will be headlining at The Victoria Theater this Saturday, December 12, at 1 Center Street in Newark, New Jersey.
One of America’s queens of comedy, Poundstone can be heard on NPR’s news quiz show “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me,” via the Internet. She has also recently portrayed the voice of the character Forgetter Paula in the Disney Pixar film “Inside Out.”
Constantly touring, Poundstone never does the same show twice, nor is she mean when interacting with the audience.
Poundstone has also starred in comedy specials on HBO and Bravo, has received an Emmy, was the official correspondent for “The Tonight Show” during the 1992 presidential race, is a published author and has won an American Comedy Award for Best Female Standup Comic. She has also been voted into the Comedy Hall of Fame.
Get Out! was fortunate to have been able to speak with Poundstone about her upcoming show on Saturday, and various other topics. I found her one of the most well spoken people I have ever interviewed. She was brilliant, and of course very funny as well!
So you’re going to be at The Victoria Theater in New Jersey this Saturday evening. What can your fans expect?
I can’t wait for this weekend! I talk about raising a house full of kids and animals. I talk about trying to pay attention to the news well enough to cast a halfway decent vote, which we all know is not an easy trick at all. And my favorite part of the night: 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 emerge, and I use that to set my sails. So no shows are the same, because not the same people are in front of me.
Do you have a set theme for each show, an idea of what you are going to say or talk about, or is everything just spontaneous?
No, I have jokes. I’ve been doing this job for 36 years now, so I have 36 years worth of material rattling around in my head. I sort of have a giant Rolodex somewhere in my head. Sometimes I say things that I’ve never said before, and I will never say again, and then a lot of times I just jumble up 36 years of material based on the conversation that comes up. My act is largely autobiographical, so I tell stories about whatever comes up, like raising my kids. I usually begin laying out who the players are. Some of that material is written down, but a lot of it isn’t. I used to keep such careful notes, but now it’s like—you know when you used to fold your clothes, and now you just throw them into a box.
So you were in Fire Island a few years ago.
I was. I had a great time that night. I just remember thinking while I was standing in the back of the place that I worked in, before you go on, there’s no dressing room. You’re just standing in the back of the club with the canned goods and the cleaning supplies. I was thinking, Liza Minnelli was standing here. But she loves it there.
That’s true, she was there. Do you plan to return?
Oh, I’d love to!
What is your favorite thing about doing comedy?
The sound of laughter. There so many cruel aspects of nature: wrinkles, testosterone, slow metabolisms. But I will say somehow human beings have been given this great thing, which is a sense of humor and laughter. The most healing thing. It’s so much fun, but the other thing is it’s lasting. There is something about spending a night laughing with other people. I remember when I was a kid, my mother would have friends over, and she would make us all go to bed. You could hear them laughing downstairs, the sound of the ladies laughter coming up through the floor. I just loved it. I think the other kids thought it was annoying.
You have been doing this for a while. Did you ever have a time where no one laughed?
What do you do?
That possibility looms in every show. Just a few weeks ago I was doing a benefit. The evening was to benefit an organization that helps disabled people working out. There was just something about the evening that wasn’t rolling along the way it should. You just keep working. You just keep trying the next thing, and the next thing, and the next thing. You would think that after 36 years that I would never have that problem again.
Do you have a favorite comedian?
Bob and Ray, the old radio team, are my favorite. I don’t know what years they would’ve been in their prime, maybe the ‘50s. I became familiar with them in the ‘70s, and they had put out a book of their stuff. I just think that they are the funniest that there is, although I like lots and lots of comics.
Is there anyone or anything that inspires you?
For a couple of years in a row I was able to make it to the Three Stooges Film Festival in Glendale, California. They would show their shorts up on the big screen. It was so much fun to watch with other Stooges fans. I’ve seen their shorts hundreds of times, but I don’t see them with the crowd. I watch them by myself. The truth is, as many times as people type “lol,” they rarely do. When you are by yourself, you don’t tend to laugh. You acknowledge in your head that you find something amusing, but it’s not the same thing. When I went to the film festival, it was a huge theater with all these people that loved The Three Stooges. You get caught in the waves of laughter, with people laughing at them. They usually have some sort of event, something that you couldn’t see anywhere else. One time they played on what was like the super eight film of Larry Fine. It was like an old home movie camera type thing. He was quite elderly at this point, and he was being interviewed at the old actor’s home. He had kind of snaggle teeth, kind of balding. Well, I guess he was always kind of balding, and he talked about being a Stooge so lovingly. He said he was so pleased that so many people have enjoyed them, and was able to enjoy them all those years. It wasn’t like a bragging thing, and I was surprised by it. He said that he had received 150 letters a week. He answered every one, because he didn’t want anyone to feel left out. I just loved that this guy, quite elderly at the time, answered all those letters. It was inspiring. It made me love my work even more than I already did.
What made you choose comedy anyway? Were you just born naturally funny?
The first sentence of the last paragraph of my kindergarten teacher’s summary that she wrote about me, which they wrote in the lieu of a report card back then, said, “I’ve enjoyed many of Paula’s humorous comments of our activities.” So Mrs. Bump thought I was funny. Is that the best kindergarten teacher’s name you’ve ever heard?
So you’re a published author, comedian, a Disney character, a mama and so many other things. Is there anything that you wish to accomplish that you haven’t yet?
Well, there’s two things. I would like to work in some form of comedy as an ensemble. I would like to do a movie or a show where you work off of people in that way. I would like to write a screenplay. But most importantly I would like to be a part of an activist group that gets computers out of our schools.
Yeah, because they are bad for the developing brain. They are bad for any brains, is the honest truth. Screens, iPads, iPhones—all of it’s not good. It belongs absolutely nowhere near an elementary school, and I would argue not even near the middle school. You know, high school, I think it would be fine to have tech classes, but not take the computers with them. People [need to] get back to looking at one another eye to eye.
So then how do you feel about social media?
Well, I mess around with it. It’s not like there’s not some fun stuff to do, but at the same time I think the problem is, well, it kills me that social media keeps stealing words from us. You know, the word “friend” is so misused on Facebook. The word “connected”—people think that they are connected when you’re on the computer, but that’s not connected. It’s like hiding in your mother’s basement. When they’re out, they need to put those silly things away.
The Internet, Facebook and Twitter should help you as an entertainer to get things out there—for example, the show this Saturday.
I do use it for promotional stuff, but the truth is people have performed for years and years and years, and so did I, without these silly machines. I think in a cost-benefit analysis, the costs blow the benefits out of the water. It’s not a coincidence that ISIS hunts for people via the Internet, because there are a lot of disenfranchised people who don’t feel connected to their communities or perhaps their families. They don’t feel like they’re a part of the mainstream world. And so they’re hiding out somewhere, and they are easily recruited.
Point well taken.
You know, it was a shiny new toy. It’s not that there are not some good aspects, but I would say it’s a bit too much of a good thing.
How do you split your time between your career and your children?
It’s not very easy, quite honestly. I mostly worked weekends when the kids were little. I would try to keep it to Friday and Saturday. Some weekends I didn’t work at all. It was always a balancing act. When I was home I was able to bring them to school and pick them up from school, all that stuff, because I’m not a 9-to-5er. I went to most school events, I went to lots of sporting events, but I didn’t catch everything. I had the same nanny for 21 years, and that was helpful.
Tell me a little bit about “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me.”
It’s a weekly news quiz show that’s made by NPR, and I’m one of the panelists. I’m not on every week. There’s about 15 of us that rotate in no particular order. We answer questions about the week’s news, and also people call in and answer questions about the week’s news. We work in front of a live audience. It’s really a lot of fun. We are based out of Chicago, although the show also travels.
What was it like to be a Disney star?
Well, star is a strong word. I was lucky enough to get to be a part of the Disney Pixar movie “Inside Out,” which came out this summer. It was really, really a wonderful film. I’m a huge fan of both Pixar and Disney, so it was particularly exciting in that way. It’s a story about a girl, but it’s mostly the story of the inner life of an 11-year-old girl. The main characters are in her brain; the main characters are her emotions. I was a character in her brain. I was one of a team of two in charge of forgetting. We worked in her memory. And it was all about typecasting, because, gosh, I can’t remember a thing anymore.
Is there anything else you’d like to say or promote for yourself?
I always tell people to follow me on Twitter, which sounds somewhat hypocritical after what I’ve said. Follow me some, but not every minute of your day. How about that?