November 5, 2009


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Comedy and conversation
Paula Poundstone comes to Capitol Center for the Arts
By Michael Witthaus

Paula Poundstone will likely touch on a few predictable topics when she takes the stage Friday, Nov. 13, at the Capitol Center for the Arts in Concord — cats, kids, cable news, Harry Potter books. But most of it is audience give and take. 

There’s a lot of conversation, and no invisible shield between performer and fan will protect the unprepared. Poundstone will find you, and she will talk to you. “Snow Ranger,” a New Hampshire Parks employee who became the punch line for I  Jokes: Paula Tells Them In Maine, her first CD, probably had no idea that his job and sleeping habits were about to become prime Poundstone comedy fodder.

The comedian has embraced Twitter, recently using it to meditate on single motherhood (sample tweet: “I’m cleaning my closet. It’s like I’m Indiana Jones without the financial incentive”), talk about her pets (13 cats, a dog and a bearded dragon lizard) and zing CNN’s Wolf Blitzer.

Recently, Paula Poundstone talked with the Hippo from her Santa Monica, Calif., home.

Do you think that Twitter is the perfect medium for you?
I have enjoyed it — many people said the 140-character challenge is nice too. It’s like solving a puzzle every day and trying to figure out how to touch on, you know, world things. I’ll tell you one thing it’s brought up and really highlighted that’s not so positive is that I do the same goddamn thing every day. Sometimes I’m like, OK, how many more kitty litter sifting jokes can I write?

Then Wolf Blitzer and the balloon boy come along —
See, I hate CNN. I just hate them. I think they made Fox possible …. It’s not that they haven’t done some good things as well but the balloon boy thing was so perfect, because everyone could see it, there it was. Take something stupid and make it even stupider if that’s possible. And they keep interviewing each other, which drives me insane — because their opinions apparently are so very important.

When you go onstage, do you actually have a script you’re working from, or does the show just kind of evolve from the conversation you’re having with the audience?
You know it’s a little bit of both. My act on a really good night is kind of like a really great cocktail party. You arrive and you talk about how hard it was to park and someone didn’t cut you off on the way there. Then someone says tell that story you told before and so you tell something you’ve been telling for 20 years … then somebody on the other side of the room spills a drink and so you can’t help but mock them. That’s pretty much how my act is … I try to put in my head before I go on some things that I mean to say and that sort of rolls around like a Rolodex in my head … I used to think it was just terrible that I couldn’t keep a list in my head, that I couldn’t stay on topic. I don’t remember what day or what year I realized that’s the art part. I sort of allow things to leap from one thought to another.

What caused you to become an advocate for libraries?
Well I actually got hooked up with them while promoting my book …. Librarians are now IT people, they are social workers, they are well-informed, well-read people who know where things are. Their tasks are so much wider than they once were. They’re security and entertainers. We have a librarian right here in Santa Monica that has this little clown puppet named Woody, and every time I would have my kids there when they were little I would purposely goad her into bringing Woody out for an appearance. I made it seem as if it were for my children but the truth is — I just got a kick out of seeing it …. Anyway, I have yet to pass one picket line supporting the library. It’s been a nice alliance — they haven’t had a lot of advocacy.

You released your first CD this year. What was it about Maine that made it rich enough to be immortalized?
I always tell people about the CD and specify it’s not about Maine — happens to have been taped in Maine —very great audiences. A lot Maine people think they’ve sealed off the borders. They think the rock walls are keeping people out. It’s very important to them, and every time they find out that somebody has come over again — it just irks them — and it delights me. It makes their flannel shirts not fit correctly every time they find out that someone has come in unauthorized.

On the CD, I noticed that you didn’t talk about anything that dealt with well-publicized troubles you had back in 2001 losing your kids. Have you made a conscious decision to retire all of that material after you wrote the book in 2006?
I wouldn’t say it’s a conscious decision. Occasionally, I’ll do jokes about it … my act is largely autobiographical, so when I first started out, I talked about living in Boston and busing tables and taking public transportation. I don’t even remember most of those jokes anymore, even if I wanted to retell them nostalgically … I don’t need to reopen wounds for myself on a nightly basis, but I must say I got some goddamn funny jokes out of that.

You gave up drinking, but what about your pet habit?
No and you know what — I was listening to NPR one day and they did this story [about] a lady that was arrested for having 150 bunnies in her house …. They went on to say that this trait of animal hoarding is a relative of OCD and when I heard it, I laughed because I really do understand. We have 13 cats … and then I heard that piece on NPR and I said “oh my!” I must say, given that almost everything is a mental illness as it turns out, they give us unending pleasure. It’s like watching a movie all the time. I haven’t quite moved to a place where I talk to them other than in a muttering sort of way. But not where I’m actually expecting a response yet, so I’m not actually sorry that I have them. But I am aware that there probably is something wrong with me.

Paula Poundstone
Where: Capitol Center for the Arts, 44 South Main St. Concord
When: Friday, Nov. 13, at 8 p.m.
Tickets: $12.50-$39