Paula Poundstone the stand-up has returned. Poundstone's legions of fans will follow her anywhere, just to hear Paula in raconteur mode, messing with audience members at her shows or making life difficult for Peter Sagal as a panelist on NPR’s Wait Wait…Don't Tell Me! Related Poundstone in our 2012 interview: "I make it a personal goal when working with him to throw him off his game. Nothing gives me more joy that to see that look of 'Why are you saying that?' on his face. And trust me, I get that look a lot."
Poundstone opened her Saturday show at the Dallas City Performance Hall with a solid 10 minutes of routines, harkening back to the ‘90s Poundstone when she was pulling down comedy awards. The well-crafted set wove stand-up sections with audience interaction and ended with a most remarkable bit on atheism.
Dressed in a hot pink zoot suit, black and white patent spats, and a huge and wildly colorful tie, thinking of her as a mother is a brain-busting thing. Yet much of her material was tales of raising three adopted children who are now 16, 20 and 24. It was a delightfully incongruous sight.
The theme of acceptance threads Poundstone’s humor. She accepts herself as an overly talkative, cat loving, asexual, atheist comedian with ADD. She accepts the hormone-addled, spacey brains of her children. She accepts others as they are, even as she makes fun of them with nary a drop of meanness.
A core moment in the show capsulized Poundstone. She’d been kibitzing off and on with a fellow in the narrow, elevated side rows of the performance hall, when she discovered he was a Presbyterian pastor. After some lovely interaction, she launched into this bit:
“The Poundstones are atheists. We still go to church; we’re not heathens. But at ours, cripples testify they’re still crippled. You’ll never find me on your doorstep on a Saturday morning. What would we do? ‘I just dropped by to tell you we have no Word, just a blank book we want to tell you about’.”
The pastor and the rest of the audience laughed heartily. Poundstone’s fandom is solid; she is not just popular but loved as well. The early show sold out quickly, prompting a second late show. Poundstone audiences are diverse with lots of middle-aged women (rare for comedy shows), a mix of gays and straights, and a wide age range. There was even a fellow who brought his mom, a fan, which touched Poundstone greatly. The commonality was that most seemed to be NPR listeners. She related in our 2012 interview:
"Even when I go to a place that is well known for being populated with arch conservatives, there are still people who really like me. That means when they come to see me, they're very happy to be with others, like the little people who played the Munchkins when they made The Wizard of Oz. They'd never seen so much of their kind together in one place.”
Men thinking about sex every 13 minutes: “And who knows how long they think about it. It could be five, ten, minutes each time. That’s most of an hour! Why have we not had a woman president yet?”
Raising a 16-year-old boy: “He’s so argumentative. I go into my bedroom at night so I can complete my sentences.”
Having OCD: “My kind is that I can’t stop talking. I’ve turned it into a job and feel good about it. Everything reminds me of something else. But no one is happy to get a phone call from me.”
An honestly curious person, in her crowd work Poundstone queried an accountant (who also brought her mom), razzed an engineer’s exacting way of answering her questions, and discussed Rick Perry’s legal woes with a half-dozen people. She made fun of the foodie movement, pondered what her eulogy might be, described her dreadful drivers license test, lamented the brain-numbing superficiality of PowerPoint presentations, and empathized with Mickey Mouse regarding the Disneyland measles outbreak (“How can he scratch? He’s only got three fat fingers”).
A stand-up comedian can be rated on their callbacks, a term for taking a key bit and weaving repeated references through the act. It’s usually the mark of a well-written and crafted set. Poundstone is a master of it because she does it on the fly with improvised material, mostly gleaned from audience interaction, weaving a plentitude of tangents and linkages into her set. It’s a beautiful brain to watch in action.
» Video: One minute of prime Paula Poundstone from Bravo's Funny Girls series, showing her quirky stage behavior and astounding amount of supremely silly tangents in less than 60 seconds, while putting a profound yet accepting spotlight on an aspect of human behavior.