Dallas — There was once a wild and young Paula Poundstone, the one that honed her craft and covered her homelessness by taking buses cross country to do open mics and sleeping on the road in between. There was groundbreaking, highly polished Poundstone who breached barriers as the first woman to perform at the White House Correspondents Dinner and the first woman to win the cable ACE award for Best Standup Comedy Special. The celebrity Poundstone who starred in several HBO specials and had her own series on ABC and HBO. The fallen Poundstone, in trouble with the law for drinking too much with children in tow.
But what was on stage at the Majestic Theater on Friday was the real Poundstone. Not the sweet, tame Poundstone beloved by NPR Prairie Home Companion (Keillor era) and Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me! listeners, but the Poundstone she’s aimed to be all along. The one whose humor has bite and who loves to curse (as attendees of her home ping-pong matches will attest). The one that is unafraid to wade into controversy. The one that's getting high praises from top comedians.
Always a tender soul, Poundstone flourishes in concert halls, rather than comedy clubs, where she can wield her quirky authority in safety from a proscenium stage. Subjecting a front-row customer to a bit of jovial yet probing crowd work questioning, he pleaded for her to go on to someone else. Her reply? “No.” (Seriously, why do you buy a front row ticket if not game for this?) And then she went on to ridicule his line of work for five minutes. She’s like Don Rickles’ sweeter sister.
Poundstone could easily do an improvisational crowd-work show and it would be funny — Wait Wait has honed her into a world-class quipster, and she is the queen of comedic tangents. The news consumption required to participate in the NPR quiz show has unleashed her inner Will Rogers. Terrific routine on the MSNBC echo chamber and lots of light Trump jabs: “Me, being of average intelligence, heck even I know that running a large country and crafting health care legislation is complicated,” done with Poundstone’s skeptical drawl.
A promising new comedic avenue is Poundstone’s return to her childhood roots. Though raised in Massachusetts, she is Alabama-born with plentiful southern kin. A snuff-chewing female relative was a hilarious homespun impression. Shared Poundstone: “I know all about the two kinds of “Bless your heart’.” But to her credit, she pushed it deeper. With genuine concern in her voice, she spoke of West Virginia relatives played for fools by Trump’s empty promises to bring back coal mining jobs permanently lost to natural gas. Then she made a fart joke.
Poundstone ranted about kale, gluten, and veganism, Methodists’ love of crafts, and the futility of her trying to ride in a train’s quiet car. She pondered on what it would be like if breasts got unauthorized erections. A favorite topic is the brain-sucking quality of Google whose engineers “listed as their rivals Instagram, Facebook, and sleep." As an outspoken atheist, a philosophy she shares with her brood, she says “We still go to church. We’re not heathens.”
When it comes to her 26-year-old son: “It’s not that that ship has sailed, actually it’s stuck on a sandbar offshore.” She marveled that “The frontal lobe of the male brain doesn’t fully develop until a 25 to 30. I read that men think about sex every 13 minutes. Now, some of those thoughts can be 12 minutes long. [pause] How have we not had a female president yet?”
Poundstone’s latest book is The Totally Unscientific Study of the Search for Human Happiness, wittily exploring in each chapter a different get-happy method, including physical fitness, race-car driving, communing with nature, group dancing, volunteering, movie marathons, and hugathons.
Even at 57, Poundstone in an indefatiguable performer. Though she still does shorter tours, so she’s more accessible for her children, she works long days. Friday included a fundraising event and preshow book signing, and after the show were more book signing and photos with fans. Most comedians barely work an hour a day. But take care of that cough, Paula, it’s been going on too long and we need you now more than ever.
VIDEO The extended interview version of Poundstone’s recent appearance on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert: “Paula Poundstone went on so many tangents that some of them couldn't fit into the show. Luckily the Internet knows no limitations!"