Paula Poundstone on her love of stand-up and performing in Chicago
By Laurie Fanelli
Since starting out in comedy at the tender age of 19, Paula Poundstone has provided insightful, discerning jokes at every turn. Whether she is interacting with audience members — something Poundstone loves to do — sharing homemade web videos or discussing politics with some of the greatest minds of today on NPR’s “Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me!,” Poundstone welcomes fans into her world with thoughtfulness, originality and impeccable humor.
Poundstone will be visiting the Chicago-area on March 19 to perform a stand-up show at Skokie’sNorth Shore Center for the Performing Arts. In advance of her upcoming show, the comedian gave us a heads up on what fans can expect from this sure-to-be hilarious night in the north suburbs.
What are some of the topics that you are addressing during your current tour?
What do I talk about? I talk about raising a houseful of kids and animals. I talk about trying to pay attention to the news well enough to cast a halfway decent vote and my favorite part of the night is just plain talking to the audience. I do the time honored, “Where are you from, what do you do for a living?” And then this way, little biographies of audience members emerge.
Is it safe to assume that you will be talking about the presidential campaign?
I do talk about presidential politics a little bit here and there. It’s kind of hard not to because everything is dripping with it right now. So, yeah I do.
Just by way of full disclosure, I happen to be a democrat. I always tell the crowd that they don’t have to be democrats, they can be whatever they are and they can go to the polls and do whatever they do and it’s not really my business. I always say that it just so happens that tonight I have the microphone, so it’s my turn to talk.
You are going to be coming over this way for a show at the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts on March 19. What do you like best about Chicago crowds?
Chicago’s a great city. I do the show “Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me!” mostly out of Chicago — it’s a radio show made by NPR, a weekly news quiz show — so, I’m in Chicago about once a month. It’s actually the only city, other than Boston where I’m from, it’s the only city where I know how to get around a little bit because I’ve been there so many times over the years. I don’t know the whole thing, but I can safely walk from my hotel in Chicago to the venue without getting lost, which for me is saying a tremendous amount. Skokie on the other hand, I wouldn’t know my way around, although I have worked at this theater a number of times, but generally speaking I only get in just in time to get a shower, get a nap, eat some dinner and go to work. And I leave again before it’s light out in the morning.
Chicago has great audiences. Really smart and fun and game, so I always look forward to going there.
You are really known for your stand-up, but one of my favorite things about your comedy is your hilarious character-work, most notably, Rhonda. Where did the inspiration for the character originate?
Well, thank you. Rhonda loves the support. Rhonda is an amalgamation of my mother and my aunt. I was born in Alabama. I mercifully only lived there for a month before my parents moved to Massachusetts, where I was raised, but we used to vacation in Alabama. I, of course, had these relatives like my aunt who lived with us for awhile. My aunt and my mother were just freaks in Massachusetts. Whereas, they were not distinguishable at all in Alabama, in Massachusetts, they were freaks.
Did they cook a lot when you were growing-up?
Oh yes. My mother is a very good cook. You know, Rhonda is a beginning cook, but my mother is in fact a very good cook. In the south, if you have a big chunk of pork fat, that’s half you’re meal right there. That’s your go-to spice, everything is flavored with pork fat. We would have a meal for us, a main course was string beans, but the string beans were simmered all day in pork fat. It was delicious, but now anytime I ever go anywhere and order string beans, I’m like, “This is terrible.” Nowhere else cooks with fat like the south. It’s steeped with salt and fat. Just having vegetables in the south, you can get a heart attack.
What makes you Rebellious?
Well, I suppose as a woman, I’ve never much cared that I’m a woman. And what I mean by that is although occasionally there is some sort of documentary or some sort of show where it’s “women this” and “women that” as far as comedy goes — and certainly I’ve allowed myself to participate in those kinds of things — one of the things that I always say and always did from the start is say comedy is a genderless job. It has nothing to do with being male or female and I don’t think you can argue that about every single job in the world — for example a hooker.
With stand-up, there is the occasional person who gives themselves a few minutes of controversial fame by saying that women aren’t funny or something like that. It’s such a ridiculous thing to say. They do it to get some attention for themselves not because there is any intelligence to a statement like that. From the very start, when I started out when I was 19 — it’s not a job with gender importance to it — I wouldn’t even say that I’ve railed against it, so much as I don’t participate in all of that. In that way, I think it’s made me a better performer and I go up against whoever I go up against.
What’s the most Rebellious thing you’ve ever done?
Oh my. Recently, I’ve started my own campaign to get computers out of schools. In our world right now, that’s heresy, but I know I’m right because it’s not good for the developing brain — screens are not good for the developing brain. Our schools are the last place that they belong.
Originally published at www.rebelliousmagazine.com.