Paula Poundstone talks comedy style, Philly show

Paula Poundstone

Need a laugh? Comedienne Paula Poundstone will be presenting her comedy stylings at the Merriam Theater, 250 S. Broad Street, on March 7 at 8:00 p.m. PGN chatted with the performer while she was walking her dog, Moe, who is named after one of the Three Stooges, “That’s how classy I am!” she joked. 

What can folks expect from your show?

I’m gonna do stand up. I talk about what I’m thinking about and doing. I’m obsessed with what the hell happened to our politics. I try not to let that dominate, because it’s good to get away from it. I talk about raising a house full of kids and animals, and I talk to the audience.

Your humor is described as observational. Why did you gravitate to this style of comedy?

I have been telling my little jokes for 41 years. I didn’t set out to be any particular kind of comic. The only strong feeling I had was to be myself, because there are so many of us out there. We’re all influenced by those who came before us no matter what job you do, but If I’m the most me I can be, I have a certain uniqueness. 

You have a distinctive cadence. Can you describe developing and delivering a joke? 

I don’t know that there’s a conscious effort. I grew up loving the sound of laughter and liking that people responded to what I said was funny. In my head, there’s a little rhumba. My brain looks for things to make jokes about. It’s my coping mechanism. The first sentence of the last paragraph of the summary letter of my kindergarten teacher in May 1965 was, “I enjoyed Paula’s humorous comments about our various activities.” I’ve always navigated the world this way. 

Most folks hear you regularly on NPR’s “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me.” Can you talk about doing improv?

It’s very similar to how I work anyway, and I think that’s the joy of the experience and why that show is a good match for me. I’ve been on “Wait, Wait” for 18 years. Part of the reason it’s successful — not just for me, but all the panelists — is that we jump in and say whatever we want. We are encouraged to blurt stuff out. We don’t know what the questions will be, but I don’t think of jokes in advance. 

How did you decide on your personal style?

None of it is men’s clothing. I’ve maybe twice bought a men’s suit. In recent years, I’ve had my suits made, but when I first started wearing them, I bought them in the women’s section of whatever store I was in. I decided a while ago that I liked the size and color of a zoot suit, but when I tried one on in a costume shop in LA, it was too boxy and angular. I was with a wardrobe person at the time, so we took the pattern and modified it and made it rounder. I use that pattern or one other pattern for all my suits. I find fabric that’s colorful so you can see it from stage, and I’m good to go. I have one suit when I’m on the road. I like the idea of having a uniform. It saves me from having to decide what to wear. 

Many years ago, I was in a store in Beverly Hills, and I saw a tie. It was kind of an olive green with cream-colored polka dots, and I thought it was a great tie. So, I started wearing it. I bet you I have bought three ties in my whole life. I’m not even certain about that. I’m leaving room for error. All the rest, people give to me. If I went to a tie store right now, I wouldn’t find a good fabric. I started enjoying ties in the late 1980s. Nicole Miller, I have one that’s a crossword puzzle, and I like the movie ticket tie. But I don’t see fun fabrics anymore.

Can you talk about the difficulties of being a woman in this profession? 

I think it’s difficult in most industries, not just being a comic. We tend to be paid less and dismissed more. Someone tweeted the other day that Elizabeth Warren doesn’t look good when she’s angry. I thought, “If you get some free time, Go f–k yourself!” You would never say that about a man! When I did the White House correspondents’ dinner a long time ago, the next day, the Washington Post writes that I wore a white tuxedo. When did you ever hear about what a comic was wearing? I didn’t want to go naked! I put on clothes!  

Before we go, you are famous for your numerous cats. How are they doing? 

I have 12 cats now. My census is down. I had 16. There is attrition after a while. 

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