Stefani M.C. Janelli, The MIC, interviews stand-up comedian Paula Poundstone before her Friday, Sept. 15 show at the Newton Theatre.
Q: How did you get started in comedy?
A: I wanted to be a comic performer like Mary Tyler Moore, Carol Burnett, Lucille Ball, Gilda Radner, Lily Tomlin ... for as long as I can remember, but by the time I was 19, I had no idea where the path to that was. So I had settled on the idea of working my way up to being a gregarious and clear restaurant manager. I only made it as far as a table busser, dishwasher and occasional waiter in Boston, when I was out one 1979 night to see a band and saw a flier about a stand-up comedy show. I attended that show and jumped into the new, fledgling stand-up comedy scene days later.
Q: You stay very busy with many projects like your podcast, “Nobody Listens to Paula Poundstone;” being a regular panelist on NPR’s “Wait Wait ... Don’t Tell Me!”; being an author; starring in many HBO specials; and a stand-up comedian! How is each medium different for you creatively and do you have one you prefer?
A: I am a stand-up comic who writes, podcasts, occasionally acts, sometimes does stand-up for a television audience, and does a comedy news quiz show. But I am a stand-up comic.
Q: What is your favorite part about being a stand-up comedian?
A: I love the sound of laughter, not derisive laughter, not the kind like when the Penguin has Batman tied down on a table with a radial saw headed toward his crotch and finds it amusing. I love the kind of laughter when someone finds something silly or unexpected or they feel like, “Oh, I do that. I thought I was the only one who did that.”
Q: You have so many accolades, from being one of eight semi-finalists for the Thurber Prize for American Humor for your book, “The Totally Unscientific Study of the Search for Human Happiness,” and being the first female comic in its then-73rd year to perform stand-up at the White House Correspondents Dinner. What would you say is your biggest accomplishment so far?
A: Sometimes, I have cheered people up.
Q: What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced while being a female comic in a male-driven industry?
A: You mean in addition to my uterus flying across the room one night?
Q: Who have been your biggest comedic influences? Have they changed over the years?
A: I probably learned more from watching people who weren’t very good than I did from watching people who were good. Fortunately, the open-mic circuits that I came up with in Boston and San Francisco had plenty of people that weren’t very good or hadn’t yet gotten good.
Q: You are on tour. Do you have a favorite venue to perform at?
A: I have the best audiences in the business. I love everywhere I go. Years ago, before I made the move to theaters, there was a place in San Francisco called the Other Cafe. It was only there for six years, and it was a delightful six years.
Q: Where do you find inspiration for your stand-up material?
A: I walk a lot. There is some brain sciencey reason that you have a lot of thoughts when you walk. I carry a notebook in my back pocket, and I have a pen clipped to my belt loop. Thoughts don’t just come when I’m “writing.”
Q: What are you looking forward to most at your Newton Theatre performance?
A: There’s a guy in the fifth row, a little to the left. He’s a volunteer firefighter in Fredon Township. I can’t wait to talk to him.
Q: What can we expect to be unique about this particular tour?
A: No two of my shows are the same because I love to talk to the audience. Who I talk to and what they say are the coordinates by which I set my sails. I do have material. I have 44 years of material rattling around somewhere in my head. I use what I can grab as it pinballs around in there.