INTERVIEW: Stand-up Paula Poundstone on ping-pong parties, podcast and pets

She is performing at the Buckhead Theatre Jan. 27.
Paula Poundstone is returning to Buckhead Theatre on Jan. 27, 2024. PUBLICITY PHOTO



Paula Poundstone is returning to Buckhead Theatre on Jan. 27, 2024. PUBLICITY PHOTO

Stand-up comic Paula Poundstone has been telling jokes for 45 years on stage and when that was taken away for a time during the pandemic, she learned to truly appreciate what she does.

“That feeling of being an audience member in a communal experience was taken for granted,” she said. “We’ve been doing that since we came out of caves. It’s part of what makes us feel human. When I hear Nils Lofgren play guitar, it brings me nearly to tears. These shared responses reinforce that we belong. That’s such an important feeling.”

The veteran stand-up comic is coming back to Atlanta for her second show since the pandemic at Buckhead Theatre Saturday, Jan. 27. A few tickets are still on sale at for $34 to $71.

At age 64, she still hits the road for 80 to 90 shows a year and has been co-hosting a freewheeling weekly podcast since 2018, “Nobody Listens to Paula Poundstone.”

“My original idea for the podcast was what you need to know to function as an adult,” she said. “Although I try to be informative, it has broadened out.”

In recent months, she has interviewed Mickey Dolenz of the Monkees and Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy, received advice about navigating social media from expert Sunny Hunt and compared the wrestling movie “The Iron Claw” to the 2019 film flop “Cats.”

Poundstone, a regular panelist on NPR’s popular news quiz show “Wait, Wait... Don’t Tell Me,” follows the news closely by her very nature and isn’t feeling all that encouraged.

“Ultimately, we’re all like one of those stowaways on an airplane just hanging on by a thread,” she said. “If someone fell in a coma in 2015 and woke up today, I’d tell them to go back in a coma.”

One way she has managed her stress about life is to hold regular ping-pong parties in the backyard of her home in Santa Monica, California. “My daughter and I added up one time how many times I’ve done them,” she said. “It’s now over 70.”

She cajoles the 50 attendees to compete in a ping-pong tournament. “Because of inflation, I have upped the prizes to $100 instead of $50,” she said. “I have a fantastic antique scoreboard from a flea market.”

Poundstone said she’ll often don a blank name tag. “When I get nervous, I can’t remember names,” she said. “The blank name tag is a great conversation starter. And it’s embarrassing to ask someone who has been to my party 70 times what their name is.”

Her comedy shows are pretty unstructured in part because her improv skills are so sharp. It’s why “Wait Wait... Don’t Tell Me” has used her as a regular comedic panelist for 23 years.

“My shows are like a cocktail party,” Poundstone said. “I might talk about current events or whatever is happening in the moment,” she said. “I do talk to the audience. I’ll sometimes take questions. Or I’ll pepper them with questions.”

Yet Poundstone said she has a difficult time telling how well she did any given night. “Sometimes I feel like a helicopter that can’t get off the ground,” she said. “Every line of thought has to be restarted. Nothing flows. I’m thinking that I’m not connecting. Then I’ll do a meet-and-greet after the show and people come and tell me that they hadn’t laughed that hard in years.”

Sometimes, she said she is just too difficult on herself. “My expectations in my head to what their responses should be vs. what their response is doesn’t necessarily mean anything,” she said. She cites the lyric “Well, I built and climbed a mountain/But it wasn’t there” from the song “Some Day I’ll Be a Farmer” by Melanie (who died this week at age 76).

The touring, she said, helps pay to keep her seven cats and two dogs healthy.

“Almost every penny I made in the last year went to some expensive pet medical thing,” she said. “The cats throw up all the time. They do it for entertainment. They love watching me scurry. And the vet loves to give them blood tests.”


Paula Poundstone

8 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 27. $34-$71, Buckhead Theatre, 3110 Roswell Road NE, Atlanta.