BELLOWS FALLS — A teacher's note: "I enjoy Paula's comments on our activities" scribbled on Paula Poundstone's kindergarten report card gave more of an indication about Poundstone's future career than any A or B possibly could have. Turning comments about motherhood, politics, kids, and life in general into humor is what she does best, and she will be doing it here at the Bellows Falls Opera House on Friday.
What separates Poundstone from other comics today is her ability to be spontaneous with a crowd. Everything reminds her of something, so with 37 years of experience under her belt, she is never at a loss for finding funny with any audience. She admits though, that wasn't always the case.
She had always felt that she could do stand-up comedy well, and one fortuitous night in the late '70s in Cambridge, Mass, just when open mic comedy was beginning to take off, she spotted a poster inviting comics to an open mic night. For her first gigs she tried doing the recommended thing; write a 5-minute bit and stick to the script. However when she got on stage she was nervous. The more nervous she got, the more distracted she became, which in turn reminded her of something else, and the more she forgot her script. She could feel the waiting comics sharpening their knives. So instead she worked with the audience, finding something humorous about an object on the table, or a noise in the room, asking questions and interacting with the crowd.
Now she makes a point of paying attention to her surroundings, find what strikes her funny and say whatever she thinks, and see where the night takes it. For her, that is where the joy of the night is. She talks about raising a houseful of kids and pets, asks a question to solicit an answer. She said that no matter who they are, they have a great story to tell. But Poundstone pokes fun with people rather than at people, never mean, and even manages to pull off touchy political jokes, pointing out absurdities appreciated by all, now matter what their political persuasion.
She also said, "No two shows I do are the same. It's not that I don't repeat material. I do. My shows, when they're good, and I like to think they often are, are like a cocktail party. When you first get there, you talk about how badly you got lost and how hard it was to find parking. Then you tell a story about your kids or what you just saw on the news. You meet some new people and ask them about themselves. Then, someone says, "Tell that story you used to tell," and then someone on the other side of the room spills a drink, and you mock them. No one ever applauds me when I leave a party, though. I think they high five."
Over the years she has earned a long list of awards and honors. She has never felt pigeon-holed as a female comedian but she was the first woman to win the cable ACE for Best Standup Comedy Special and the first woman to perform stand-up at the prestigious White House Correspondents dinner where, in the early '90s, she joined President George H.W. Bush as part of the evening's entertainment. Myriad honors include: receiving one of 2012's Moment Magazine Creativity Award; was hand-picked to interview Calvin Trillin for the Los Angeles-series-darling, Writers Bloc,; has starred in comedy specials on HBO and BRAVO; won an Emmy Award, served as "official correspondent" for The Tonight Show during the 1992 Presidential race; pioneered the art of backstage commentary during an Emmy telecast; she is almost always included in any compendium – be it film, television or print, noting comedic influences of the 20th/21st century, most recently, "We Killed: The Rise of Women in American Comedy" (October 2012, Sarah Crichton Books). Paula also appeared on "Late Night with Craig Ferguson" about three times a year, does an occasional editorial for NPR's "All Things Considered," and one can hear her distinctive voice as the character "Forgetter Paula" in the Academy Award winning Disney Pixar film "Inside Out."
These days she is also a regular panelist on NPR's "Wait Wait Don't Tell Me," as is local celebrity Tom Bodett, lending her humorous comments to the conversations. Poundstone admitted how much she loves being part of the show when she said, "I am a proud member of the endorphin production industry. They allow me to say whatever I want on "Wait, Wait Don't Tell Me." The panelists are unscripted, so it's perfect for me. I feel like I'm a batter in a batting cage. I get lobbed topics. Sometimes I just watch them go by, but every now and then I get a piece of one. If the others didn't cheat, it would be an almost perfect work experience."
Poundstone will be at the Bellows Falls Opera House, 7 Square on Friday at 8 p.m. Tickets are $37.50 to $52.75 at www.catamountarts.org, look for the Buy Tickets Online icon. For more information call 802-748-2600.
Poundstone was heard saying during an interview for the National Endowment for the Arts with Josephine Reed, "I have a couple of goals on any given night. One is that each audience member to, at least for a moment, at least once, to fear incontinence."
So friends, be sure to wear your Depends.
Contact Cicely M. Eastman at 802-254-2311 ext. 261.