Comedian Paula Poundstone on politics and her best friend, the audience
Over the past three decades, Paula Poundstone has worked as a standup comedian, political correspondent, television-show creator, cartoon-voice actor and columnist. And during that time, Poundstone has decided that the best place to be is the stage -- alone with a microphone and no one else on the bill. The comic's unique conversational ease with her audience makes her hardly a stand-up traditionalist, making her two-hour shows seem more like off-the-cuff conversations with a friend.
In advance of her appearance at the Newman Center this Friday, November 9, Westword spoke to Poundstone about the election, California's confusing proposition system and how she became a reoccurring panelist for National Public Radio's Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me!
Westword: You're a regular on the radio quiz show Wait Wait...Don't Tell Me! How did you get into that?
Paula Poundstone: Well, I got into it in the most boring of ways, which is, they called me up and asked me. I happened to have a nanny at the time who was familiar with it, and I was not. In fairness to me, it was not in my market at that point. When I first did the show, they didn't work in front of an audience -- we were all hooked up via wire. It was still fun to do, but it is definitely much more fun with an audience in front of us, which is how we do it now.
What's great about it for me, is I'm actually asked to do what I like to do -- which is say stuff. Hold on, someone's at my door. (Leaves conversation.)
(Returns) That was my neighbor, Fred, who was supposed to come to a party at my house last night, but he has relatives in New Jersey and Philadelphia, so he was on his cell phone all night [with family, dealing with Hurricane Sandy].
Oh, no. I'm so sorry. That's terrifying.
I know. But you know what? I'll tell you something: I'm sorry so many bad things have happened to New York, but they are so goddamned good at taking care of it. If it happened here (California)? We are the intellectual armpit of the world! And I certainly include myself in that group -- I don't know where the shut-off valves are. I don't know anything!
I lived in New York for a brief period, and I found that people are very helpful. They aren't rude, you just have to stop them and ask for help.
I find that to be the case. They put California to shame. They live in such close quarters, and you are absolutely right, you talk to anyone and they are happy to help you. I have a fantasy of retiring to New Jersey.
Anyway, back to Wait Wait...Don't Tell Me! What I was saying was that they allow me to do what I like to do. I just say stuff when it occurs to me to say it, and in so many settings, people want me not to do that. For me, it's not only really, really fun, but sort of a big sigh of relief.
I like that it's a show about news, but makes it fun to know current events by putting it in a quiz format.
You would be surprised how many whole families come up to us after the show at live tapings. You know, they bring up little Dylan who's, say, ten, and say, "He loves your show!" It always fills me with a little bit of hope that little Dylan is paying attention. I always say to little Dylan, thank goodness, because we are so going to depend on you. I see a surprising number of little kids paying attention. I didn't focus on the world outside of myself until I was, I don't know, 23, 24? I don't know if I was aware that there was anything else out there.
The other thing is, the other [Wait Wait Don't Tell Me!] panelists, generally speaking -- well, it is worth a college credit just to talk to them. They are really smart and I trust them. I mean, we do have our resident Republican, but he's also really smart. I think we may disagree here and there, but I feel confident that he looks at things in a thoughtful way. I'm sure he's right lots and lots and lots of the time. So much of it is presentation, in terms of how we address the ideas, even though now it's become a sort of schoolyard game.
But someone like P.J. O'Rourke is really a smart man who sort of looks at things from a different, I don't know, perspective? At this point, Lord knows what's right. In terms of the economy, I don't know. I think the guy who's working on it now should probably have more time, otherwise, you're just starting and stopping too quickly to know. It's like when you take antibiotics and they say you have to take the full course of treatment -- if you stop too soon, you're going to make the germs stronger.