Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Elgin-bound Poundstone chats about cats, comedy and webcams

by Rachel Baruch Yackley Daily Herald 11/30/2010 “My show is largely autobiographical,” said Paula Poundstone, during a recent phone interview about her upcoming performance in Elgin. “Kids, animals, current events, myself and my experiences. I try to keep it informal, and I love talking with people in the audience.” One of the most enjoyable interviews I can remember, this wasn't all jokes, but a lot of conversation with a warm, witty, spontaneous woman, about what makes her so good at what she does. There was an incredibly funny moment when, while talking with Poundstone, I checked out her website ( to check out what she calls her “Diner Cam.” Sure enough, there was a streaming video from a Webcam aimed at her cats' food and water dishes. Yes, that's plural: Poundstone's household boasts 16 cats, as well as a rabbit, a lizard, and a dog. Oh, and three teenagers. I was watching a couple of cats eat while we talked, and in popped Poundstone's smiling face, right by the dining felines. “Here I am,” she said, and waved at me. In essence, I saw her live, but it was like only getting a tiny bite of chocolate; I'd really like more. Her Elgin performance is set for 8 p.m. Friday, Dec. 3, at the Hemmens. Details and tickets are available at Improvisation is a big part of Poundstone's show, although she does make a few notes, especially about current events, which she reviews before going onstage, to help her remember “what's on the forefront of what I want to talk about.” During a weekend of performances in Bozeman, Montana, Poundstone experienced one of the reasons why she loves doing stand-up comedy. “This was three nights away from home; I rarely do that, as it's really, really hard on my family, and on me. Then I got some difficult family news, and I had to go to the theater. I wasn't feeling good, but I was marshaling my forces,” she said. “I went onstage and had such an incredibly good time. The crowd was so good. While onstage, I kept thinking to myself, ‘I am the luckiest person in the world.' I get to go to work and I feel uplifted. I really appreciate how lucky I am.” Performing onstage, in front of a live audience, is truly what inspires and drives this comedian. “There's something really important about being together with people. I talk to the crowd a lot. And I believe it has to do with the people who come to the show,” she said. Growing up in Massachusetts, Poundstone wasn't the class clown, but exhibited the ability to make facetious observations from a young age. She still treasures a report card note made by her kindergarten teacher, who said she enjoyed Paula's “humorous comments about our activities.” “I like the sound of laughter,” said Poundstone, “but it truly is in the eyes of the beholder.” In 1979 Poundstone began working on her comedy at open mic nights, while busing tables. She was 19 and still living in New England. “A lot of what I learned, I learned by watching others who didn't do it well. You kind of watch others' mistakes,” she said. “When I started, it was hard to get work. So I took a Greyhound bus around the country to see what people were doing in other cities. I'd get off the bus someplace like Denver. I'd spend the day there, go to clubs, and talk with comics.” Eventually she settled in California, where she made a home, a family, and continued to pursue her comedic passion. Not everything Poundstone does is for the purpose of making others laugh. A National spokesperson for The Association of Library Trustees Advocates Friends and Foundations, Poundstone said, “I do stuff with Friends of the Library. I help them promote and fundraise. Libraries are often one of the things on the economic chopping block, but they're really one of the best deals in town. Socioeconomically, they are a really important link.” An avid reader herself, she mentioned that books on tape have been a staple, shared with her family especially while driving. “My kids listen to ‘Harry Potter,' read by Jim Dale, over and over again,” she said. “My kids don't watch TV, but I wish I could tell you that made them voracious readers. They're just so busy, with homework, (school) orchestra, and more.” Poundstone is also a writer; her first book, “There's Nothing in This Book That I Meant to Say,” was published by Random House, and she is working on her second book. She also co-authored three math books in the “Math With a Laugh” series with Faye Nisonoff Ruopp, and “A Prairie Home Companion's Pretty Good Jokes,” with Garrison Keillor. Her first comedy CD, “I Heart Jokes: Paula Tells Them in Maine,” is also available. In addition, she is a frequent writer for the Huffington Post. Poundstone can be heard regularly on the NPR weekly news quiz show, “Wait Wait …Don't Tell Me,” as well as on NPR's “Morning Edition.” Although she doesn't watch TV, she has appeared on Letterman, Leno, and Craig Ferguson. A panelist on “Wait Wait” for the past 10 years, Poundstone enjoys the spontaneity of this radio show. “We all know, going in, that it's based on the world's news, but I don't have jokes prepared ahead. I love that feeling, like being a batter in the batter's cage,” she said. The recipient of several honors, Poundstone was the first woman to win an ACE (the cable EMMY) for Best Standup Comedy performance, and was the first woman invited to perform at the White House correspondents' dinner. Earlier this year, she was invited to serve as judge in the humor category of the 2010 Scholastic Art and Writing Awards, the largest recognition and scholarship program for teenage artists and writers. Adults and kids are welcome to her show, but like many comedians, Poundstone said, “It depends on what offends people. I curse occasionally; I don't limit myself.”

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