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October 22, 2017

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Q+A: Paula Poundstone talks lonely life on the road, ‘Boardwalk Empire,’ Brad Pitt and drooling



Comedienne Paula Poundstone.

Paula Poundstone

Comedienne Paula Poundstone at the Ice House on May 22, 2008, in Pasadena, Calif.  Launch slideshow »

It’s one of the longest runs in showbiz comedy; it began in 1979. More incredible is that for comedienne, actress and author Paula Poundstone, it’s meant a different show every night. She’s never repeated the same show twice in those 35 years.

Paula, in her trademark suit, men’s shirt, suspenders, red tie and matching red lipstick, has kept her offstage life private, and as a result there’s been plenty of conjecture.

She’s a proud mom of three kids and is currently taking dance lessons. She tries to keep her comedy gigs to weekend dates so that she’s home during the week, and that’s her schedule tonight and Saturday at Orleans Showroom with two fresh shows.

Her talent for standup began in the Boston scene in 1979 before she moved to San Francisco and then onto Los Angeles in 1990. She has starred in multiple HBO comedy specials, appeared on “Saturday Night Live “ and was the first woman to receive an Ace Award for her HBO comedy special.

She received her second Ace for her self-titled HBO talk-show series. Her credits are endless, and she is still a panelist on NPR’s weekly quiz program “Wait, Wait … Don’t Tell Me” and has authored the back-page column of “Mother Jones” for the past five years.

Before I left for Macau this week, I talked with Paula at her Los Angeles home:

I’m a fan and have always admired you, thinking of you as the brainiest, smartest comedian out there on the road. Do you think of yourself that way, and why are you still out pounding the pavement?

I do not, but even that classification indicates that a lot of the really brainy, smart comedy stars are smart enough not to work the road.

You’ve been on the road a really long time.

I have. I absolutely love it. I consider myself a proud member of the endorphin-production industry. It’s just so good to get out and be with a group of people laughing through the night. It’s good for the people in the room, and it’s great for me. Before I go to the theater, I like to shower because I want to give the crowd the deluxe.

I slap on red lipstick and glance at some notes. I like to have one or two things in my head that I am looking forward to telling the crowd. I generally go on with my hair soaking wet because I don't know how to blow dry, and I don't want to waste the time anyway.

I love to do my job. I love to talk to the crowd. I relish the high that comes from laughing with a group of people. Just before I go on, I sometimes have a feeling that I have nothing to say. I grab a soda and have a bit of water and walk out on stage anyways because I promised I would, and about two hours later I find it hard to leave. I’m the luckiest person in the world. I get to think of stuff that I think is funny and say it.

Being on the road has to be a lonely endeavor. Is it an excuse not to face yourself at home?

Oh my gosh, I’m stuck facing myself in a hotel room a lot. It is actually very lonely working the road, which is fine because it kind of makes the experience with the audience all the more impactful. I’m stuck mostly on an airplane, honestly. I do not have a tour bus, or if I do, I keep missing it. I’m not one of those people who talks to people beside me as a general rule.

Partly because I’m so tired that I fall asleep the minute my butt hits the seat. I’m sure that anyone who’s ever flown with me just remembers that I drool. For a while, I was telling myself that I would use my time better; you know how TV shows now do a lot of serialized shows, and it’s very addictive.

So like an idiot I went and got “Boardwalk Empire” on DVD. I told myself that I will only watch it when I’m working out. In the hotel, I’d bring a little DVD player and my headphones and go down to the walking machines in the fitness room at the hotel.

I’d do this while the show was on, and I moved the bar so quickly that eventually it was OK, I would only watch it while I’m eating Butterfinger, and then only while I’m driving, and then I just watched every single one of them. I think I worked out maybe twice. I have not figured out a good way to live that healthy, wholesome life in the hotel.

Is every town like Droopy Drawers, Pennsylvania, to you?

I don’t remember much about most cities that I go to because I don’t spend very much time outside. I remember the theater, and I often remember audience members. I did an interview one time when I was on my way to Tulsa, and I was doing some radio show. It turned out that the entire focus of the radio show was about Tulsa. So the woman would ask me questions and say well when you were in Tulsa, what do you remember most about Tulsa?

I would tell her I don’t remember anything. I don’t want to be rude, but I don’t actually remember Tulsa, and she’s, like, “Oh, well, that’s what all my questions are about.” OK, well, I don’t know what to do about that. Unless I’ve been to a place over and over again, generally what I remember is the hotel room, the hallway, the airport and the audience.

Which are basically all the same except for when you come to Las Vegas.

That is a memorable journey. Last year, I was in St. Paul, Minn., during the winter carnival, and that I distinctly remember.

Because of the temperature?

Because of the temperature and because … I can’t remember …

I thought you were going to tell me there was an ice sculpture of you.

There were wonderful ice sculptures, but what I remember most is that there was a funny food product that you could only get there and it was sold in a hut, and I just can’t imagine that there was a food that was wild enough to stand in minus-20-degree temperature. Who lines up for a hut in minus-20, and the answer is people in St. Paul.

Click to enlarge photo

Comedienne Paula Poundstone.

So you don’t just remember the doorway of your room and the hallway to your room in Las Vegas? What do you remember that’s different about our city?

Well, just the spectacle of the entire thing. One time I was working on the other side of the Strip, and I decided to look out my hotel window and I could see the Strip from my room even though I wasn’t in the same neighborhood. I said well I’ll just walk, and boy it’s so big. It looks big from your window when you’re not standing right on the Strip.

It turns out that can be quite far away. I walked and walked and walked to get to Oz, and there was actually a “Wizard of Oz” feeling about the entire place. The fact that I never ran into George Clooney or Brad Pitt …

The Venetian here has just announced a new comedy series called Lipshtick, which is going to run with nothing but comediennes. They sort of said that their market research indicates that there is a growing audience interested in female comics and that the humor is better in tune from ladies to a male and female audience than male comics who tend to be appealing only to guys. Comments?

I don’t trust these studies; I never have. I like to go out and see people who I think are funny. The gender issue doesn’t occur to me; I don’t feel that there’s a pattern. I like the funny stuff, and that’s going to vary obviously according to opinion who we think are funny. I don’t think it can be categorized by gender or race or hair color or size.

I don’t even understand the perplexity for the interest in doing that, but in my taste in what I find funny varies kind of wildly. I’ve never laughed harder I think in my entire life then seeing somebody come out of the bathroom with a piece of toilet paper stuck to the bottom of their shoe. If it was just a particular night where it just occurred, maybe it was like a chemistry thing, but I have a very silly, nonsensical sense of humor for the most part.

Then also I love really, really brilliant stuff. My favorite comics are Bob and Ray on their radio show. I think Lily Tomlin is an international treasure, so I don’t get the gender thing. I do feel that testosterone is evil, but I don't feel it impacts comedy in any way.

In doing a little research about you, the only personal thing I discovered about Paula Poundstone is that you began this journey on the road in 1979.

I talk here and there about politics or bigger issues than myself and only how I came to them, not because I’m an expert. That’s funny because I feel that I’m the most open about my views, not like I do it on purpose, but I do feel a person goes away from a few minutes of conversation with me knowing full more than they’d ever hoped to know.

Oh, you are clever, aren't you?

It’s tragic. I’m not a great secret keeper.

So tell me one thing about Paula Poundstone we don’t know.

I’m desperately taking swing dance classes because I’m terrible.

Are you ready to go on “Dancing With the Stars”?

At one point, I did want to go on “Dancing With the Stars,” and not only did they not hire me, which was you know disappointing enough, but then they hired Nancy Grace, and I went, “OK, well that’s just a slap in the face. That’s not just ignoring me, that’s poking me with a stick.” I think the Tom DeLay thing probably also was, like, “Oh, OK, never mind.”

I look through the happiness of the swing dance music for one thing, and it’s such a great look, so I’ve been taking lots and lots of lessons for about a year. I’m still just horrible; I look like a big stick dancing, but it’s awfully fun. I have one teacher who, I’m so not fluid, fast, and he uses swing dance music and plays really slow stuff so that I can make sure I’m getting it. I recently learned the Charleston, but I do it so that it looks kind of like Thai Chi.

There’s nothing serious about you?

Yeah, ask my kids. I’m horribly serious most of the time. When my kids were little, we would walk places and people would come up to them and go isn’t your mommy funny, and my kids would look at them like they had three heads. They could not think of a less funny person.

So you’re only funny onstage and not at home?

Oh, well, I think when they were little, they didn’t always get the jokes maybe. One really thinks I’m funny, but my other two think, well, what more can we get from you?

I guess they’re grown up, and the nest is empty now, which is why you’re on the road so much.

No, I have a 23-year-old, a 20-year-old and a 16-year-old son, and in fact

if you look at my schedule on, I do travel a tremendous amount, but the way that it generally works, and there are certainly exceptions to the rule, but on average I leave Friday morning and come home Sunday morning. So I usually work Friday and Saturday.

This whole thing about never doing the same show twice and always having new material? It’s new every night?

There’s definitely new material actually. My show is not scripted. By nature it is new every night partly because I talk to the audience. I do the “what do you do for a living” and little biographies emerge, and I use that to kind of set my sails for what to talk about. In addition to that, if someone were to come to my show who saw me there last year, would they hear anything that they had heard before? Yes, a handful of things, probably, but 90 percent of what they heard would be new from the year they heard before.

I was wondering if you want to come do one of those tours of my fancy house. It would be the perfect comedy video: Robin Leach going through my house. I have 16 cats, it’s a desert, dead grass in the backyard. It would be perfect!

Finally we got some personal information.

There you go.

Comedienne Paula Poundstone is at Orleans Showroom tonight and Saturday at 8 p.m.

Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past decade giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.

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