Comedian Paula Poundstone is known for her droll wit and quirky perspective on the absurdities of everyday life. Whether comically sparring on late-night television with Craig Ferguson or holding her own with the sharpest minds in the news and entertainment world as a panelist on NPR’s weekly quiz show Wait, Wait… Don’t Tell Me, Poundstone has built an enduring career based on her quick-witted intelligence. She spends much of her time on the road, taking her live show to towns all over the country, where her ability to improvise with audience members is legendary. Recently she chatted with Almanac Weekly’s Sharyn Flanagan by telephone from the Los Angeles area, where she lives, about her upcoming show at the Bearsville Theater in Woodstock on Sunday, August 18.
Do you prepare for your performances in advance, or do you count on it all just kicking in when you get there?
I think of jokes and write them down all the time. Some of them stick in my head and therefore I share them with the crowd, and some of them I just never seem to get to. But you know, I have 34 years of material. It’s sort of like a stack of laundry on the floor: You tend to use what’s on the top. And even though every now and then you take a minute and find something that you haven’t done in a long time, it’s 34 years’ worth, so it’s quite a heap there.
Is there ever a time when you feel like nobody in the audience is giving you anything to work off? Is that when you sort of grab one of the tee-shirts on top?
I have tons of material. Everyone can rest assured that it’ll go smoothly, no matter what they say! I just find the real magic of the night is more in the people that have come out and the things that’ll never be repeated.
Do you find that the shows are different in different parts of the country?
No, there’s no one place, I think, that holds the monopoly on fun audience members. I’ll be going to a place like Kansas, and my manager will make a big deal of it – “It’s a Red State, it’s very conservative” – and the truth is, the people that come out to see me in Kansas are fantastic! I think, for one thing, they’re a little bit like the Munchkins in Wizard of Oz. I think they’re not together as a force that often, and so to meet other people that are kind of like themselves is joyous for them.
Looking at your website, I see that it’s not so much that you’re on tour – you’re basically on the road all year, aren’t you?
Which is the good news and the bad news! [The airplane is] terrible for your spine. I think it just eats your bones, too, I’m pretty sure. I get off the plane feeling about 100 years older, so I’m like millions of years old now. But then there’s also the nice part, because, for example, I do know some people in Woodstock, so I can see them, and that part is great. I’m from Massachusetts originally, and so I actually get back there through work pretty regularly. And as you get older, everybody you know spreads out all over the country, and so I’m in contact with a lot of people without Facebook. And anything that can be done without Facebook is, by definition, a joyous thing.