Paula Poundstone began her career at open mic nights in Boston. Hosting open mic nights was great training.
“It’s the Thigh-Master of stand-up,” she said. “At the time, I only had a few minutes of material. “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. You have to have a real audience. You’re working with them for five minutes. More would be torture for the audience and the comic. What job do you get to practice for a few minutes at a time? You get a lot of rejection. I was pretty well-versed.”
Poundstone traveled across the country by Greyhound bus and ended up in San Francisco, where Robin Williams saw her and 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 was also the first woman to win a CableACE Award (she has two) and was named to Comedy Central’s 2004 list of the 100 greatest stand-up comedians of all time. In 2010, she was voted into the Comedy Hall of Fame. She is also a fixture on NPR’s comedy quiz show, Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me, where she holds the record for game losses and probably for strange answers. “The others cheat,” she said. “You wouldn’t think NPR would put up with that.”
Poundstone said that she learned early on that she had to be herself. “Over the years, it’s the only thing I’ve consistently 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 (that they want to see me) or there’s a connection. Then we have a great time.”
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 topics,” she said. “I think there’s something funny in everything. A sense of humor was provided as a coping mechanism.”
She doesn’t talk much about sex because the show is autobiographical and she doesn’t talk about that which she doesn’t do. (She said it.)
In 2017, Poundstone released her second book, The Totally Unscientific Study of the Search for Human Happiness, in which she offered herself as a guinea pig in a series of unscientific experiments. The book debuted at #1 on the Amazon Bestsellers List in Humor and the audiobook was one of five finalists for 2018 Audio Book of the year. It was also a semi-finalist for the Thurber Prize for American Humor, the highest recognition of the art of humor writing in the U.S. In 2019, her stand-up special, Cats, Cops and Stuff, was named by Time magazine as one of the five funniest stand-up specials ever.
Come see what all the fun’s about. Don’t “Wait Wait.”