Paula Poundstone: Happy

What Makes Paula Poundstone Happy

The comedian, who’s at the Lakewood Theater this weekend, on cats, Pop Tarts and Peter Sagal.

published Monday, May 28, 2012

A Paula Poundstone show is like a meander through a very fun forest laced with trails that cross and parallel, sometimes dead end, and occasionally pass through a sunny clearing of clarity, before getting delightfully lost on the trails again.

There are jokes, for sure. After all, her appearance Saturday, June 2, at the Lakewood Theater is part of her I Heart Jokes tour to promote her first comedy CD of the same title. But mainly, fans pay to see the Poundstone mind at work, her compassionate yet quirky stream-of-consciousness tour of PaulaWorld. She’s sort of like a non-hyper Robin Williams with better stories and no sound effects.

Poundstone’s role as a panelist on Wait Wait…Dont Tell Me!, the humorous NPR news quiz show, has gained her a large public-radio following since starting with them in 2001. Many fans recall the day the notoriously non-topical Poundstone won the quiz after a multitude of attempts, much to her amazement. “One of my proudest moments,” she said on the show.

Poundstone fans are eclectic NPR-on-the-town people whose brains are curious, active and left leaning. “Even when I go to a place that is well known for being populated with arch conservatives,” said Poundstone, “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. They went crazy.” The scene at the Lakewood this Saturday could be eggheads gone wild.

Fans stuck with Poundstone during her rough period starting in 2001 when she was caught taking children for a ride after a few too many mini-bottles of wine. Many knew of Poundstone’s long history of fostering and even adopting hard-to-place and disabled children. Juggling single motherhood with a career was overwhelming, but the pain of temporarily losing custody of her children was even worse, creating some of the most heartbreaking passages in her 2007 book There Is Nothing in this Book That I Meant to Say. Rehab was the remedy and she was granted full custody, although she no longer fosters.

When asked who stood by her besides fans when things were at their roughest, Poundstone’s answer was quick and emphatic: “Many!” She went on to cite “My friend Robin Williams, he has been a really kind supporter. Wait Wait… Dont Tell Me! has beennothing but supportive. Garrison Keillor, Craig Ferguson…” Poundstone, who is a friend to many, has many friends.

Poundstone’s delightful enthusiasm for the things she is passionate about, such as cats and children, ping pong and pop tarts, is a core part of her endearing appeal. No tour of PaulaWorld would be complete without a detailing what she loves and why.

Things That Paula Loves:

People: “I love talking to the audience, it is my favorite part of the night. I do the time-honored “Where are you from?” [or] “What do you do for a living?’ I love engaging in conversation… My goal for the night is for everyone to have a good time… On a really good night, and part of the reason that it’s really good, is that shared experience of laughing. It just isn’t the same by yourself.”

Children: Poundstone talks frequently about her three adopted children, aged from 14 to 22. Successful comedians stay on the road much of the time. That’s not acceptable to Poundstone, who makes occasional forays out for a few days and then zips back to her kids in Santa Monica. When it comes to peak, even transcendent, experiences, hers is “singing with my children. I can’t say that it happens often but on the occasions that it has I think how lucky I am.”

Cats: Poundstone has 11. Her first special, a CableACE Award winner, was titled Cats, Cops, and Stuff. A favorite charity is Alley Cat Allies. She has a series of cat video on YouTube. Nuff said.

Books & Libraries: Poundstone is the national spokesperson for Association of Library Trustees Advocates Friends & Foundations, often doing fundraisers for the group. A discussion of libraries launched a long funny story of taking her kids to see Woody the Clown at a local library, as much for her enjoyment as theirs. She derided the idea of libraries as dusty stacks of books hovered over by biddies in hair buns.

Oxytocin: “There’s a lot of research now about the science of feeling good, the science of community. I heard the author of The Moral Molecule on NPR the other day. Fascinating. He said that when we do things that strengthen the species, like taking care of each other, generosity, contact, your brain rewards you with a hit of oxytocin. It’s the ‘do the right thing’ kind of molecule.” When asked if she was an oxytocin junkie, she replied, “I hope so!”

Ping Pong: “I love ping pong. We have ping-pong parties five or six times a year for the last 20 years. Any possible reason to get people together to play ping-pong. It’s a fun game with a fun name.” She sets up an antique scoreboard for the soirees and invites friends like Ed Begley because “he makes the best eggplant dish.”

Pop Tarts: Poundstone’s love of toaster pastries was such a staple of her comedy routines in the ’90s that Kellogg’s sponsored a series of television comedy specials which she hosted. Here’s her famous Pop-Tarts routine, which evokes the OCD in all of us: “Inside there are three pouches of two. This is what happens to me: I open the first pouch, and I eat one tart, and I enjoy it very much, as naturally I would. And then I feel, Well, I have to eat the second one or it will go stale. Well, now I’ve eaten two, and it’s no longer just a snack, it’s a meal. I figure I may as well eat two more. And then finally I’m just like, Well hell, I dont just want two pop tarts hangin out in a box. I eat the last two just to tidy up, really.”

Peter Sagal: “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. That’s what the listening audience is missing are the looks that Peter throws my way.”

Neckties: Poundstone’s sartorial trademarks are relaxed business suits and colorful ties. When asked if she’d ever thought of creating her own line of neckties, she replied “That’s a great idea! I’ll have to put my son on that.” A line of ties depicting things Paula loves? Now that would be a hit indeed.


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