Paula Poundstone Submitted photo

This week’s artist is one of the comedians I’ve interviewed the most over the years (four times since 2013) and every chat is as unique and quirky as the artist herself: Paula Poundstone. In fact, all four (counting this one) were promoting her appearances at the Waterville Opera House (the one before this was back in 2019). This new show is coming up on Friday, Sept. 30, at that venerable venue so I emailed her publicist to see if she would be willing to talk with me again. I was very pleased when Poundstone agreed and so I set out to prepare for our upcoming conversation by listening to one of her podcasts — “Nobody Listens to Paula Poundstone” — and watching a few of her comedy videos. I called the stand-up comedian at her Santa Monica, California, home for this column.

Poundstone: Hello!

Q: Paula?
Poundstone: Yeah, how are ya?!

Q: Lucky Clark here.
Poundstone: Yea! Yeah, I’m expecting you — you’re right on time!

Q: Well, I’m prompt if nothing else.
Poundstone: There you go, you don’t see a lot of that in life anymore because so many people are web designers (chuckle) and web designers are never prompt. So, where am I going? I’m going to Waterville, Maine — terrific!

Q: (Laugh) That is correct, and I believe you have performed there before.
Poundstone: I have.

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Q: In preparing for this chat, I listened to one of your podcasts and watched a performance on your website, what I saw made me appreciate the way you connect with an audience.
Poundstone: Well, you know, the truth is that audiences are made up, so far, of human beings, and I like human beings; they’re pretty easy to talk to (chuckle). There are performers that don’t like their audience, I know of some very successful performers who don’t like their audience. I can’t imagine that…

Q: No, I can’t either.
Poundstone: … because my audience, and I’m sure that every therapist in the world would clear up some time for me in their schedules if they heard me say this: my audience is my best friend. It’s not like we go and do stuff together but still, spending that time with people and laughing together is special. And I do that time-honored ‘Where are you from?’ and ‘What do you do for a living?’ —talking to individuals in the crowd — and within a few seconds you find somebody who is really fascinating.

Q: And that reaching out, the connectivity that you create, is like a closed tape-loop that happens with you and the audience, where you feed off each other, is a wonderful thing.
Poundstone: Thank you. I’m a big believer in that whatever the audience gives you is good enough.

Q: Now your other creative outlet is a podcast, how long have you been doing that?
Poundstone: I think three years now, something like that, but it turned a profit months ago (laughter). Podcasting is very much, I think, like gold mining, the people who made the money during the gold rush were the people who sold the picks and shovels (laughter). I mean, I have a podcast because I’m a human being and we all have podcasts now, it’s part of our scientific description: that we have fur on our bodies, we don’t eat our young, and we breathe oxygen, and we have a podcast. (Laughter on both ends of the conversation) But {a podcast} is a big steam engine that you shovel coal into, for sure. The people who came into it early on made a lot of money but the people who got on three years ago don’t make a lot of money; but I’ll tell you what we do have are some real nice sponsor products.

Q: I’m not sure what those are.
Poundstone: (Laughter) The companies, especially with things that are sold on the internet, have glommed onto podcasting as a way to do their advertising. They want you to say that you use their product and it’s terrific so they send you their product. So every couple of days, I swear, something comes to the house and my oldest daughter will go, “What is this?!” and I’ll go, “I have no idea!”

Q: What can folks expect from your show at the Waterville Opera House?
Poundstone: Well, let’s see, I talk about raising a housefull of animals, sometimes I still talk about raising my kids even though they’re young adults now. I talk about trying to pay attention to the news well enough to cast a half-way decent vote. My favorite part of the night, as we mentioned earlier, is just talking to the audience. I also talk about life during COVID, about life during the stay-at-home order, but I don’t really know what I’m going to entirely talk about on a given night because (pause) I think that the inside of my head looks a little bit like one of those arcade games where you step into a glass booth and they blow paper money around and whatever you can catch you can keep? That’s sort of the inside of my head: I say what I can remember to say and what somebody else says, or perhaps what I just said, often reminds me of another thing that I would like to say, but it’s not written down and it’s not linear, but it generally works. I started in ’79, when I was 19, so I have 43 years of material rattling around somewhere in my head, I probably don’t remember all of it anymore. So (my show) is a mixture of stuff I’ve told before, stuff I thought of in the airplane on the way there, and probably a third of any given night is unique just to that night and won’t be repeated anywhere, just like you were hanging out with friends.

Q: And, let’s face it, that’s really what you are doing.
Poundstone: Yes, when I’m at my best, I think it is.

Q: Is there anything, Paula that you’d like me to pass on to the folks reading this article?
Poundstone: Just that laughter’s important and they ought to come laugh at me, but not to be self-serving, they should make it part of their life somewhere because we need the healing power of laughter, as much as we can get it (pause). But if the only place they can get it is coming to my show then definitely they should come!

Lucky Clark, a 2018 “Keeping the Blues Alive” Award winner, has spent more than 50 years writing about good music and the people who make it. He can be reached at [email protected] if you have any questions, comments or suggestions.

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