Comedian returns to Lyric

Friday, April 8, 2016

April 8, 2016
Shelley Koppel
Staff writer

STUART – Paula Poundstone is a Lyric favorite. The comedian, storyteller, radio game show panelist and booster of libraries returns to the theater April 16 for two shows.

Poundstone began her career at open mic nights in Boston. She traveled across the country by Greyhound bus, ending up in San Francisco, where she was seen by Robin Williams, who encouraged her to come to Los Angeles. Her career took off and she was the first woman to perform at the White House Correspondents Dinner. She has won two Cable ACE awards and was named to Comedy Central’s 2004 list of the 100 greatest stand-ups of all time. In 2010, she was voted into the Comedy Hall of Fame.

When we spoke three years ago, Poundstone noted that hosting an open mic night was greattraining. In fact, she called it the “Thigh-Master of stand-up.”

“At the time, I only had a few minutes of material,” she said. “I was hosting a show that began at 7 and ran until 1. While the audience might rotate, it was long. I could have gotten away introducing the acts, but the idea of hosting was that some people were pretty bad and you had to get the crowd back.

“It was on-stage training, the only way to do stand-up. Classes are snake oil. You have to have a real audience. An open mic is the only way to start. You’re working with an audience for five minutes. More would be torture for the audience and the comic. What job do you get to practice a few minutes at a time? You get a lot of rejection. I was fairly well-versed.”

Poundstone said that she learned early on that she had to be herself. When she entered competitions and lost, she knew she had to entertain as Paula Poundstone.

“I still have to be myself,” she said. “Over the years, it’s the only thing I’ve considerably worked at, becoming more and more myself. I react as myself and trust my own instincts. Otherwise, I’m serving too many masters. I’m not everyone’s cup of tea, but the crowds that come to see me, they’ve already predetermined (they want to see me) or there’s a connection. Then we have agreat time.”

She mentioned a recent show in Atlanta where she asked a woman what sort of work she did. The woman said she was a hospice nurse. Rough terrain for comedy, you might think, especially as the woman added that she wanted to work with babies that were dying.

“The crowd and the woman had a hoot,” Poundstone said. “It was dark and we enjoyed the heck out of it because the audience enjoyed seeing me in that position. For those people who have bought into being entertained by Paula Poundstone, I already feel confidence.”

Poundstone said that her shows are autobiographical and are full of stories about a house full of animals and kids. She said that no topic is out-of-bounds, but some things just don’t come up.

“I don’t sit around, trying to come up with jokes on controversial tropics,” she said. “I think there’s something funny in everything, A sense of humor was provided (to us) as a coping mechanism.”

One topic she doesn’t talk about frequently is sex, but that’s because the show is autobiographical and she doesn’t talk about things she doesn’t do.

When I had the opportunity to interview Poundstone three years ago, the comedian talked about her spot as a panelist on the popular NPR radio quiz show, “Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me.” The program has a segment in which a famous person is asked questions outside their field. At that time, she said that the show got great guests and the panelists could never figure out why they were willing to appear. Some of her favorites were Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer and primatologist Jane Goodall. I asked her who had impressed her lately.

“We were in Atlanta a couple of months ago,” she said. “It’s always fun to find out who the guest is. Most are via telephone, and often, it’s somebody I’m excited about. They said Tricia Yearwood and I wouldn’t know her if I tripped over her. I didn’t know the degree to which she was a star and she was coming to be on stage.

“I expected flashy and out walks this woman who seemed so comfortable and confident. She was not arrogant or coy and she was so funny. She was totally into being on the show. We had such a good time with her. We also had the Surgeon-General. He’s very young and incredibly handsome. Everyone we’ve had in the cabinet or government has a passion for what they’re doing.”

Poundstone is passionate about public libraries and believes they are more important than ever.

“The truth is, I worried about my buddies, the libraries, but reading on a screen is not as satisfying as holding a book. Libraries are places of community. They’re just as important as they ever were.”

Paula Poundstone comes to the Lyric Theatre, 59 S.W. Flagler Ave., Stuart April 16 at 6 and 8:30 p.m. Tickets are $40. Call the box office at (772) 286-7827 or order online at