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Q&A: Paula Poundstone, standup comedian

BY ISAAC HAMLET | APRIL 17, 2014 5:00 AM

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Paula Poundstone is a popular humorist who tours regularly and is often heard on the NRP news quiz show "Wait, Wait … Don't Tell Me." She's published a number of books and has won a cable ACE for the best Standup Comedy Special, the first woman to do so. At 8 p.m. Friday, Iowa City audiences will have the chance to see her perform at the Englert Theater, 221 E. Washington St. Admission is $35 to $55.

The Daily Iowan: Growing up, what drew you to comedy?

Paula Poundstone: Well, I loved the sound of laughter, and I suppose I was an endorphin addict right off the bat. You know, science there, it's good for you to laugh. My kindergarten teacher wrote that she "enjoyed many of Paula's humorous comments about our activities." She could have said I was nasty and talked a lot, but she made it a positive.

DI: So did you feel like there was anyone in the media or your life who drew you to that?

Poundstone: When I was a kid, standup comedy itself wasn't something you saw every night. There might be somebody on the "Tonight Show," but my parents certainly didn't enjoy my company enough to have me up that late. Then by the time I came around as a standup comic, there was cable TV and [standup] would be something you'd find all the time. It grew to the point where everyone has a neighbor who's a standup comic.

DI: Is it true you got into comedy by taking a Greyhound across the country and performing at open mike nights?

Poundstone: I started doing open mike nights in Boston and got the occasional paid job there. Only paid like $10. Then at 19, I decided to check out culture in different cities to see how I'd fare in those places. I'd find a city that I wanted to go to, take a bus there, put my stuff in a locker, and look at a schedule to find a place that was four hours away. And then I'd come back at night, taking the last bus to that location and then immediately come back to the city I was visiting and that's how I got my eight hours. That's how I got my sleep. I think it was inspired. I'm not sure I could come up with that now.

DI: Now you're doing radio, TV, books, and standup. How do you balance all of that?

Poundstone: It's very hard, to be totally honest. It's not necessarily always successful, but I'm in there pitching, anyway. I have the same struggle that any other working parent has, which is trying to do both without screwing the other up.

DI: One of your bigger claims is that no two of your shows are ever the same. How do you manage that?

Poundstone: My favorite part is talking to the audience, and this way little biographies of audience members emerge, and I do this to sort of set my sails. Part of it, too, is that I used to work at a diner in San Francisco. I would work there during the day and hear the waitresses complaining about the comic from the night before; their biggest complaint was that they were tired of hearing the same show over and over again. I became very sensitive to what the waitresses might say about me. It made me pay attention to coming up with new stuff a lot. I have waitress sensitivity.


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