The best part of Paula Poundstone’s stand-up routine is that it isn’t really a routine at all.
Sure, she’ll come up with a skeleton for her act — really just the bare bones, she says — but fleshes it out with improvisational humor throughout the night, moving from one topic to the next with ease. One minute she’ll aim her observational wit at the current political climate, the next she’ll tell an amusing, off-the-cuff tale from the home front, most likely about her kids or her cats.
Fans of intelligent humor always look forward to a visit by Poundstone, who takes the stage at the Straz Center’s Ferguson Hall on Saturday night. Having toured relentlessly during her formative days, she’s certainly passed through Tampa before. What she remembers the most about her time here? Sweating, apparently. “It’s bloody hot and humid. I don’t know how you all do it,” she said.
Expect no topic to be off limits during her act, from daily minutiae to harrowing details from her less-than-finer moments. “We’re not all as unique as we’d like to think,” she said. “Sharing personal information for the sake of telling jokes certainly makes me feel less lonely, and I think it makes the audience feel the same way.” Though she’s quick to add, “I haven’t been to the ob-gyn in years, but if I had been recently, I probably wouldn’t detail it unless something really funny happened.”
Her favorite part of each show, though, is when she gets personal with the audience. She’ll ask audience members questions about themselves — where they’re from, what they do for a living — and create amusing on-the-spot bios. “The energy is amazing during these segments,” Poundstone said. “It’s kind of magical.”
Poundstone’s off-kilter humor and spontaneous wit make her a perfect match for her gig as regular panelist for the NPR show Wait, Wait… Don’t Tell Me! “You get lobbed topics and you have to say funny stuff about them,” she said. “It’s great. Of course, nobody ever talks about the cheating and the steroids [on the show].”
She’s been with Wait, Wait… for around 12 years now and recalls a time before the show began taping in front of a live audience. “We’d all call in from around the country, wherever we were living,” she said; panelists would head to their nearest local NPR stations for each week’s recording. But the show changed when they came together in front of an audience for the first time for a fundraiser. “We saw how having the crowd in front of us was a tremendous asset, and we feed off the energy.”
Growing up in Massachusetts, Poundstone got her start on the Boston comedy circuit in the late ’70s and eventually found her way to Los Angeles. Her first HBO comedy special, Cats, Cops and Stuff, made her the first woman to receive the Cable ACE award for best stand-up comedy special. Following a gig on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno in 1992, during which she provided memorable field commentary on that year’s presidential elections, ABC launched The Paula Poundstone Show. She also holds the distinction of being the first woman to perform at the White House Correspondents’ dinner.
Poundstone has evolved from dingy comedy clubs to prestigious performing arts centers and theatres. She’s also become a mother to three now-teenage children (in addition to 13 cats), which affects her ability to put in as much time on the road as she has in the past. However, motherhood and the struggles of parenting have inspired lots of new material. “I try not to ask [my kids] if they mind,” she said. “I suppose they might someday and maybe they’ll sue.”
She’s also become an unexpected anti-celebrity Twitter celebrity — with more than 65,000 followers — embracing social media to expand the audience for her brand of humor. Most tweets play off the news or are autobiographical she says, though “I take pride in never having written one in the shower.”
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