Over the course of a career that stretches back nearly 40 years, comedian Paula Poundstone has been a regular guest on several NPR programs and has performed for the likes of Hillary Clinton and Johnny Carson.
In her books such as There Is Nothing in This Book That I Meant to Say
and The Totally Unscientific Study of the Search for Human Happiness
, she provides a humorous look at her life and zeroes in on the never-ending quest for happiness.
In a recent phone interview, Poundstone speaks about her new podcast and what to expect from her upcoming performance that takes place at 8 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 11, at the Kent Stage
What are you up to today?
Chores. But you know, [that's a good thing because] some people who become very successful have a hard time drawing on material that other people can relate to because they’re not doing those things anymore. The good news for my audience members is that we lead very similar lives, and my life is probably a little less glamorous.
Is that by choice? If you could live a more glamorous life, would you?
Well, the thing is, I find it really hard to delegate the really awful jobs. I have someone come over and do some work around here to earn extra money. The truth is, I could only give him the more non-disgusting jobs even though I pay him handsomely. When he works in another situation, he’s going to do the more disgusting jobs, but I’m not a good delegator. I do have 14 cats, and it’s entirely my fault. I should be the one doing the disgusting jobs.
I’m glad to hear you still have 14 cats. That was the case the last time we spoke. You also had two German Shepherd dogs.
Yes. Now, I just have one German Shepherd. One of them died last year, and I’m in the market for a new puppy. The dog who died was the pack leader. I feel like my dog is confused now. I think he needs someone to lead him. I feel like the cats tell him what to do now, and he has no dignity. The cats tell me what to do, but they shouldn’t tell him what to do. Overall, I have no room to complain because the actual job I do is the greatest job in the entire world, and I’m very lucky to have it, especially now. I consider myself a proud member of the endorphin industry, and I feel like now we’re all trapped in some sort of overly dramatic HBO miniseries.
You've said you don’t know how people could get up in the morning given the bad news we get every day. How do people do it?
It’s the resilient humor spirit. I roll out of bed with sometimes only a couple of hours of sleep to keep banging that same drum. Even a year ago, could you picture how much worse it could have gotten? I just glanced at the CNN website. There was a picture of [Donald Trump], and it says he made some statement at the UN and people laughed. Underneath, there was another section that said it wasn’t the reaction he was expecting. It’s funny. We come to expect him to be a buffoon and a jerk, but he hasn’t come to expect us to react. I don’t know that means, but one of us is not picking up on the social skills. A year ago, it seemed awful and it couldn’t get worse. One thing I’ve learned: A. Never make predictions; B. It can always get worse. If [Trump] fired [Robert] Mueller, would you drop what you’re doing and go march?
I’ve been marching.
Good for you. I think I would. I think in an Arab Spring sort of way, we would pour into the streets. But Arab Spring didn’t get anyone anywhere. I can’t even figure what tool we need. I don’t know enough about the [political] process and what we need to do to fix this. I guess we’re going to find out. The only time I ran for office was sixth grade. I didn’t win, but I was involved in sixth grade politics, and there was no talk of the 25th Amendment and impeachment.
Talk about your new podcast. It’s not the same as your old podcast, right?
This is a new podcast. Adam [Felber] and I did ten episodes for NPR called Live From the Poundstone Institution
. It was fun and a great format, but there was some trouble with the endowment. We ceased doing that, but Adam and I decided we wanted to craft yet another podcast. We have with low financial expectations, which is probably the key. If you’re not having a good time, there’s no point in doing it. We are having a great time. We call it a comedy advice podcast. We have experts in different fields on to answer questions. Someone could listen, and if they don’t find it funny, they will go away with some solid information on a topic. Having said that, the real reason for the guests is to have a conveyer belt of fresh content for having fun.
How did you first meet Adam?
On Wait Wait... Don’t Tell Me!,
he was one of the original panelists, I believe. The show has been on the air for 20 years. I showed up 17 years ago. When I first started doing it, we were all in different places. Carl [Kasell] was in Washington, D.C. and Peter [Sagal] was in Chicago, where the show was based. We were never together in front of an audience. Adam was in New York. Roy [Blount Jr.] has a recording studio in his own house in Western Mass. Somewhere along the way, not too long after I had started on the show, Adam moved to Los Angeles, and then, we were together when we were recording before it moved to in front of a live audience, which works better. I have three kids and very early on in our friendship, there was a weekend when I was working out of town. I had a nanny, but my girls needed to go one place, and my son had a hockey practice. I didn’t know Adam, but I asked him to pick up my son and take him to my soccer practice. It’s a huge ask, and he did it. Now, I owe him. Every day is just about paying him back for that one time. There’s a nice friendship between our families, and then we started doing this podcast together.
What’s your approach with the musical guests?
I came up with the idea that there’s the house band and one instrument which is always different. I look forward to hearing what instrument we’ll have that week. I have to say that maybe not my favorite but right up there was the bagpipes. He could really jam. He was great. Apparently, you can’t play them loud or soft. It’s all just high volume. That was funny too. When he started playing, we almost leaped out of our chairs when he started playing. The individual musicians seem to enjoy it too. We had a contest for our theme song and some of the submissions are so great. Part of the joy of it — much like Wait Wait... Don’t Tell Me!
— is that most of what we do is unscripted and just fun. It sounds stupid but it’s true that most television and radio and even reality TV is all fake. It’s scripted. It’s just badly scripted. The idea of bringing someone on and letting them say what they want is really rare. One of the joys of Wait Wait... Don’t Tell Me!
is that during one of the first times I ever did the show when I was sitting in the studio on Los Angeles in the studio with my headset on, and the director kept saying, “Jump in whenever you feel like it and say whatever you want.” That’s unheard of in my business.
What will your show here be like?
It depends on the night and the crowd. I talk about raising a houseful of kids and animals. I talk about trying to pay attention well enough to the news to cast a half-way decent vote. My favorite part is just talking to the audience. I do the time-honored “what do you do for a living?” question. The biographies of audience members emerge, and I use that to set my sails. I repeat some material, but no two shows are exactly alike. It depends on whom I talk to and what I can recall. Maybe if I had gotten in the habit of memorizing when I was younger, I would have that muscle, but I’m really a bad memorizer, so I just do stuff when it occurs to me. I have taken my mental health problems and made them work for the past 39 years. That’s what it really comes down to.