DK: How did you get started in showbiz?
PP: I was in a play about Santa’s elves in first grade. My performance was more impressive than the other first graders and I will tell you why. We made our own costumes and I believe I was one of three elves who each had our own line. We made our hats out of manilla envelope paper. I had a paper cone shaped hat and during the delivery of my line or just right before, my hat fell off and I was able to deliver my line anyway. My mother thought this was a particularly impressive thing and I think that just skyrocketed.
DK: Wow! That’s some story… So the first grade is where it all started!
PP: I started doing Open Mic nights in 1979 in Boston in order to be a stand-up comic.
DK: Who would you say are your comedic influences? Who do you admire in your field?
PP: Oh lots and lots of people. I admire lots of people. The ones I have been influenced by…I don’t know, maybe Dana Carvey. I used to live with him and when you have a roommate you all sound the same. I think Robin Williams. Pretty much anyone in my generation and anyone working, were working because of Robin Williams. In the late 70’s early 80’s he renewed audience’s interest in stand-up comedy. He showed up everywhere. Audience members went out with this feeling, “maybe we will see Robin Williams if we go to this club or that club.” and they did! He would be appearing in some Cincinnati 3000-seat amphitheater and at 12:30 in the morning he would come into Uncle Funny’s Yuk House. He was sort of the tasmanian devil of comedy for awhile and he was just everywhere. It wasn’t just the excitement of seeing him. He kind of did away with the segue which was helpful to a lot of us who aren’t brilliant writers.
DK: You’re right! He was amazing. Well you definitely have very sharp wit. Your schtick is often recognized not only by your sharp wit but ALSO your attire. I notice you wear suits and ties. What inspired you to wear a suit and tie to add to your persona?
PP: It was just easier I think. People used to say, I was going out in a man’s suit. I don’t think I have ever gone out in a man’s suit, ever! My tuxedo might be. It’s Armani so I don’t think it matters. But everything else, no, they are women’s suits. It’s not like I had them especially designed. Although I did have a couple of suits made. Clearly, I am not the only woman is my point.
DK: Well, that’s true but when you think of Paula Poundstone, you envision her wearing a suit and tie.
PP: I find it comfortable I guess. It’s really dressing as garanimals. I toyed with going out with a regular look but it just doesn’t seem showy enough. Although lately, I have lost my luggage a few times so I have gone less showy. And a lot of times I would freak out too. I wouldn’t feel like I was working if I didn’t have my uniform.
DK: You started the trend for women in coats and ties doing comedy. It’s definitely you.
PP: I was probably Amy Hall influenced. I really was probably just in a store and saw a tie one day that I liked and it was green with cream colored polkadots. I thought, eh, nice tie. So I purchased it and put it on and enjoyed it. And then, it happened to be around the time when Nicole Miller was making her really great seamed fabrics. My favorite one being a tie that has all snack foods on it. It has like Screaming Yellow Zonkers and I think Cracker Jacks and some Tic Tacs and some Oreos. I have a bunch of her ties. So it just so happened that it was around the time she was coming out with those really great patterns. In truth, if I were to go to a tie store now, I wouldn’t find anything that interesting. There was a little run of it there and I happened to be around to take advantage of it, which was great. Now the truth is, I also took advantage of the huge shoulder pad jackets there for awhile. I’m pleased as punch to say they are not in my closet anymore. They were a difficult run for women everywhere.
DK: Like you were wearing a coat hanger! I know!
PP: Plus how the damn things would get after very little dry cleaning and use… the shoulder pads would make a run for it.
DK: <laughs> Yeah, you’d find them on your elbow.
PP: Yeah! When you are telling your jokes, all of a sudden, you look like you have a bulging bicep. No, it’s my shoulder pad. It’s down on my arm!
DK: I’ve noticed that you have written a book, starred in shows and so on. What would you say is the most important professional role you’ve played?
PP: I’m not sure. You know I’m a stand-up first and last I suppose. I love it when people tell me they liked my book. My book does not have wide circulation. Just the fact that someone read it gives me such joy…the fact that they read it and liked it! It’s out on CD as well and they tell me it got them through a long car trip or some say it got them through cancer treatment. That’s very exciting. The truth is, no one has come up to me and said, “I just loved your book.” It’s not because they are not out there. It’s because they are not as motivated as the people who have liked my books.
DK: I so get the book thing. I have written a book too and I see a royalty check come in and it’s about ten cents.
PP: Yeah. I’m working on another one now so I can double that. It’s not what I do for a living. It’s like assembling a puzzle and when somehow it fits right, it feels really great.
DK: When you do your stand-up, do you do it off the cuff or do you plan out most of your material?
PP: It’s really a mixture of the two. I certainly have material. I wouldn’t call it planned out. You know when you haven’t seen someone who is a good friend for awhile; you’re excited to tell them stuff. You’re excited to share this story or that story or this picture, you know what I mean, to communicate something that happened? I try to go on that feeling. I can generate that feeling in a few ways. One is to make sure I have stuff at the top of my head that I really want to say. It’s not a long list.
DK: Does the audience attitude or the audience demographic make a difference?
PP: Oh yeah! A good crowd is a thing of beauty. I hurt my neck last week and not very far down the road in terms of repair. I pretty much went to the emergency room and a day later I had to be driven an hour and a half or two hours to Pasadena to work. Then the next day I get on an airplane to work and it’s just the worst thing for your neck. Saturday night I really thought I was going to have to cancel because I’m not even really sure I can stand up. It had been a planes, trains and automobiles kind of day where I was missing luggage and stuck in an airport for a long time and rolling around on the floor. I’m surprised I wasn’t YouTubed many times over. Not because it was Paula Poundstone but because it was sort of a nutty looking person rolling around in the airport. I didn’t want to disappoint the patrons but also the people in the theater so I said; well I’ll do my best. I go to the theater and kind of hobble in and walk out on stage. The crowd was just so great! I started explaining to them what had happened because I am like that, not because it’s entertaining to people. So sometimes when I explain being delayed for a show or why I’m dressed this way, or whatever you say, people sort of wait for me to finish and then hopefully I will get on with the show. These people were laughing from the start! I’m like, oh my God, I’m in heaven! I did lie down several times during the show. The crowd was so friendly that it didn’t bother them at all.
DK: Do you discourage hecklers or do you enjoy hecklers?
PP: Heckling is sort of mean spirited. I engage in conversation with the audience because I love the audience. They are my best friend. I talk to people in the crowd and try to very much encourage them to join in but there is a tone to it. It’s not like people just shout out things randomly and certainly not mean spirited.
DK: Was there ever a time when your audience threw you off guard?
PP: Oh many times. <laughs> One time during Farm Aid, back when they had Farm Aid, it was shear ego that had me there and I had been invited to work. My first thought was that’s silly. It’s this big huge event with a lot of music and I’m not sure how I would fit into that. My second thought was, well they didn’t ask me if I would be good but they must know that I would. It was hard to turn down that opportunity, so against my true better judgment, I did Farm Aid and it was like a six hour show. They used half the Superdome and it was about 30,000. And when walking around, there were beer kegs everywhere and John Deere windbreakers… and I don’t know at what point I realized I was a f***en’ idiot. My Manager insisted that I go on stage toward the end because this was somehow the most respectful placement. Also stupid, neither one of us knew any better, because now, people had been drinking for six hours!!! You know you can do that when you are listening to Willy Nelson but it’s hard to process stand-up comedy when you are that looped up. I go on between Kris Kristofferson and just before Neil Young. It was a disaster!! From the minute I walk out, people start shouting, NEIL, NEIL! I’ll tell you something. Three quarters of the people there were disappointed to see me because they really wanted to see Neil Young and they wanted me to leave. However, at least one quarter of the people, thought I WAS Neil Young!!!
DK: <laughs> Yeah, the drunks on that side! Oh my gosh. How do you deal with that? You know, when you are disappointed with something like that. How do you handle that?
PP: Well, what’s funny is… I would gladly have gotten off stage quickly. I tried to get something going and they weren’t buying it. Then I’m ready to go, “thank you, good night!” I turn to my left and there’s my Manager on the side of the stage making these stretch gestures because what they needed was for me to cover while Neil Young tuned up. Oh my God it was horrendous!! So you know what I did? I turned to my Manager with 30,000 people in front of me shouting at me… and I said, “You are out of your f***en’ mind! You come out here!” And I made her walk out on stage. I said, “You want me to do longer, you come out here and you say it right in front of me!” I don’t know if it entertained anybody but it did delay the crowd longer while Neil Young warmed up.
DK: I know you have three children. Are they leaning toward show biz? And how old are your kids?
PP: No, not at all! I have a 22, 18 and 14 year old. Occasionally, I will bring one of them on stage because he does his impression of a cat throwing up better than I do.
DK: You have said on other interviews that you don’t date. Has that changed for you?
PP: No thank goodness. I’m a very busy person. I’m happy for the rest of you but I can’t even imagine fitting that into my life in any way. Not from a scheduling point of view and not from an interest point of view.
DK: If you ever were to date who would you choose?
PP: I don’t know. That’s a hard one.
DK: I mean, does any type of person turn you on?
PP: I don’t know. No, not really, unfortunately. I used to think that this is kind of terrible that I am not driven in this way, clearly everyone else is. They can sell products using this. I don’t know at what point, and I think it has to have to do with having a really, really busy schedule, that I went, “I’m a God damn genius!”
DK: So when you take trips you mainly go with yourself or your friends?
PP: What trips????
DK: <laughs> That’s right. You have no time for trips!
PP: I occasionally take trips with my children. I don’t have a big social life outside of my work.
DK: We know you love cats. How many do you have now? And do you also like dogs?
PP: 16 cats! I have two German Shepard mixed dogs and a sort of odd rottweiler lab. They are great. I have three fairly large dogs in my yard and in my house most of the time. The cats have a tendency to dominate. Every once in awhile you’ll hear the dogs whining and woofing.
DK: You have a big furry family! What causes are you fighting for?
PP: I saw a piece on raising the minimum wage and I know Obama is planning on raising the minimum wage. Apparently, he is raising it less than what he originally said. Even if he did what he originally said, it’s not enough to keep pace with the cost of living increases. I heard on Bill Moyer explaining how people with their money buy goods and services hence stimulating the economy. Sure sounded like a good idea. So I support the cause.
DK: I know you are pushing for the importance of libraries. Do you think less people are going to the library to grab a book because of the internet?
PP: I don’t know because I didn’t count them. I have to talk to the librarians.. which I do often about what the statistics are. In the first place, not everyone has a computer. We say everyone’s all wired up, well were not. There is a cyber divide which is really quite real. Libraries have computers but they also have lots and lots of things. I like to go to the library to write and just to be around the books. They offer people who can navigate the information, a great resource. There’s books on cd, there’s dvds, there’s periodicals, there’s homework rooms and homework clubs, reading groups and story time, lecture series and oh yeah, books! I think they have an important place. Clearly there is some marriage between the library and electronic information that is taking place. But I don’t think one makes the other not important.
DK: If we can just get our youth to believe in that. They’re all on their ipods and… It would be nice to see kids holding an actual book in their hands.
PP: Yeah, I think there’s going to come a shift in that. It’s this thing that kind of came on like gang busters and I think it’s going to recede a little bit and find it’s place more gracefully in our society. I think there is just a thing about human interaction…
DK: So you’re not one to text message I take it?
PP: I hate text messaging. I think it’s just plain stupid. Really! It’s just this really slow way of communicating. I have Facebook and it’s not how I stay in touch… I’m sad that Facebook uses the words friends. I feel between them and used car salesmen, they really ruined a great word. The way I stay in touch with my real friends has nothing to do with electronics.
DK: Good for you! What do you think is your greatest achievement thus far?
PP: Wow… I organized part of my garage about a year ago. It was unbelievable. I got to say, it’s all disorganized again but man… it was so nice for about a day. You could have eaten dinner over in the corner.
DK: You probably don’t have a lot of downtime. What do you do for fun and relaxation when you aren’t working?
PP: Ping Pong. I love to play Ping Pong. It’s one of my favorite things in the world. We have Ping Pong parties about five times a year usually. We have the doubles matches. It is fun.
DK: Do you have any hobbies or like to collect anything?
PP: Dust. <laughs> I don’t think that I do.
DK: You make all of us laugh and use humor across the board but tell us more about the serous Paula Pounstone off camera. What is she like?
PP: Honestly, most of my life is taking care of my kids and cleaning up some disgusting form of cat waste. It’s very glamorous.
DK: What can we expect the future to hold for you? Any Plans?
PP: Do I have plans? Not really. I’m writing a book. What I really want to be is Tony Bennett or Bonnie Raitt. I want to be someone who plays to three generations at least and I want to be able to keep going until I’m 90. If I were nothing but a stand-up my whole life, that would be a great life…