Paula Poundstone talks 37 years in the business, audience interaction, and the tough stuff

The Love of Laughs


Paula Poundstone, a comedian best known for her work in the 1980s and ’90s, has a familiar origin story. Every article written about her mentions it, and we’d be remiss not to do so ourselves: 37 years ago Poundstone got on a Greyhound bus and to ured the country, doing stand-up gigs wherever she could find them. Today, Poundstone is a stalwart in the world of female comedians, mainly because she was one of the female pioneers.

“I work around the country every weekend and I tell my little jokes,” she says. This Saturday Poundstone will tell her “little jokes” at the Charleston Music Hall. When asked if she has been to Charleston before, she answers with, “I don’t know,” explaining that she often travels in the dark of night or early, so cities run together for her.

Such was the case with San Juan. “It was so hard to find and my daughter asked if I’d been there before and I said, ‘Hell no, I’ve never been here,’” laughs Poundstone. “I get there and there’s an 8x10 cutout of me that I’ve signed. And then there’s another one. And then there’s a third. I know I didn’t sign three!” Needless to say, we won’t take it personally if Poundstone forgets our little city.

“It takes a long time to develop a body of work,” says Poundstone of her years in the biz. “It’s not like being a musician where you can practice in your room. You have to have an audience.” And Poundstone relies heavily on audience interaction, engaging with the people in front of her at every show. “The act isn’t set in stone — it changes depending on the night,” she says.

As a regular panelist on NPR’s Wait Wait ... Don’t Tell Me!, a weekly news quiz show, Poundstone gets to perform in front of a live audience all of the time. “It has a little life of its own,” she says.

Her comedy has evolved, allowing her to do both stand-up and live radio shows, but that doesn’t mean Poundstone is telling radical new jokes — she’s just observant. “Everywhere I am, I think, ‘How do I retell this?’ I’ve always been a letter writer, I’m always framing some story,” she says.

And Poundstone’s comedy isn’t just observational — she wants to open the eyes of her audience members too. “The issue of race — we keep stepping in it. We can’t clean ourselves of the residue,” she says. “It’s not as good as it should be.” So, she incorporates race into her show saying, “Comedy is such a great way of dealing with things that are hard. Human beings are so lucky. We have a sense of humor.”

Check out Poundstone at CMH this Sat. from 7:30-11 p.m. 

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