Paula Poundstone (Buckhead Theatre 2/22) is obsessed with politics, still loves Pop Tarts
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - FEBRUARY 08: Comedian Paula Poundstone attends AARP's 15th Annual Movies For Grownups Awards at the Beverly Wilshire Four Seasons Hotel on February 8, 2016 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Earl Gibson III/Getty Images)
Paula Poundstone is obsessed with politics but knows given the world we live in now, it's not exactly healthy.
“I feel like everything is drifting,” Poundstone said in a recent interview.
Her stand-up shows - including her upcoming concert at Buckhead Theatre Friday, February 22 (tickets here), do include a political joke here and there but she said she's no Bill Maher. "I don't talk as a scholar or even a political analyst," she said. "I don't tell other people what to think. Nobody has to agree with me. My job is to make jokes."
Poundstone, 59, who has been active in comedy for four decades, said her favorite part of any show is just talking to the audience members and riffing.
“No two shows are the same,” she said. “I don’t know what they’re going to say.Sometimes they’ll say something that reminds of me of something I’ve said over the course of 40 years. Other times, it’s new and unique and will never be repeated. Every show has its own personality.”
In fact, Poundstone said she needs a clock on stage because, given the free-form nature of her show, she loses track of time on stage. It’s one of the few requirements on her contractual rider, she said, which includes such hard-to-find items like soda and Kleenex.
One time, a Maine venue where she was going to do two nights forgot the clock. She ended up doing two and a half hours, far longer than she normally goes. “Once I realized I was going long, I needed another half hour to dig myself out,” she mused. “I didn’t want to leave on an exhausted down note. I had to get them reanimated. That’s hard to do after two hours.”
The following night? A clock was set on stage as requested.
Her goal as a stand up is to be as real as possible and she feels she has successful stripped off the veneer over the years. “I know people who do the opposite and are very successful,” she said. (Larry the Cable Guy is a major example.)
For most of its radio run, Poundstone has been a regular panelist on "Wait, Wait... Don't Tell Me," the weekly NPR news quiz show hosted by Peter Sagal. She appears about once a month and is often joined by fellow funny folks like Mo Rocca and Alonzo Bodden.
“The games are so clever,” she said. “Even if no one ever said anything funny, the trappings of the humor is really great.” She especially loves “Not My Job,” which is a quiz given each week for the weekly celebrity guest.
For example, last week, for former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, who is also a romance novelist, the questions were about historical "bro-mances."
"There are a million late-night talk show interviews with performers and writers and athletes," Poundstone said. "To some degree, they're all the same. But we give them this game, a chance for the performer to do something to hang their hat on." [Actually, some late-night hosts have since made playing games a regular feature on their shows. See: James Corden and Jimmy Fallon.]
Poundstone says the producers tell the panelists to just insert themselves when they can while Sagal and scorekeeper Bill Kurtis provide running commentary. "They hire people and let them do what they do best," she said.
For her, that’s jokes and Poundstone can go on a roll at times. The tapings on Thursday can run up to two hours but has to be edited down to one hour for NPR listeners.
“Peter says the show tapings run longer when I’m there,” she said. “I always accuse them of having a computer editing system that automatically cuts out my voice.”
The last time "Wait Wait" visited Atlanta was in 2016 at the Fox Theatre. "That night stood out for everyone," she said. "You know when you're cooking and the pan has been preheated and you drop some water on it before you begin cooking and it's already sizzling? That was that crowd. That crowd was preheated!"
Country singer and cook Trisha Yearwood was the in-person guest that night and Poundstone loved her. She loved her even more when her hubby Garth Brooks did "Not My Job" later by phone and Yearwood kept butting in. (The transcript can be read here.)
“Going in, I wouldn’t have known Trisha Yearwood if I had tripped over her,” Poundstone said. “Now I have her songs in my goofy iPod thing.” [I didn’t clarify that one because who still uses an iPod?]
Poundstone said at age 59, she is trying to get healthier and eve has a taekwondoe instructor - but junk food is still her enemy. “I planked for three minutes yesterday,” she said. “It nearly killed me. I do these grueling workouts, then go home and eat Butterfingers and Three Musketeers.”
She was known for making Pop Tarts jokes in her early days, which ended up in an early HBO special. “It was a staple of my diet early in my career,” she said. She said when she was emceeing at a comedy club, she needed quick snacks to get her through the night. Pop Tarts did the trick.
She would be jumping up and down from the stage frequently and as a way to fill time, she’d offer Pop Tarts to the audience or start reading the packaging. She loved how the instructions would include the line: “Remove pastry from pouch.” She presumed some idiot at some point stuck the Pop Tart into the toaster with the pouch included and caused a major fire.
For years after that special, fans would bring Pop Tarts to her shows. “I didn’t have to buy any for years!” she said.
Rodney Ho writes about entertainment for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. A native New Yorker, he has covered education at The Virginian-Pilot, small business for The Wall Street Journal and a host of beats at the AJC over 20-plus years.