According to Paula | an interview with Paula Poundstone

Gregg Shapiro



Editor’s note: Paula Poundstone performs on Nov. 12 at The Stadium View Bar & Grill, 1963 Holmgren Way, Green Bay. Call 920-498-1989.

Known for her deadpan delivery and her distinct style of dress (suits and ties), Paula Poundstone remains one of the hardest-working comedians in the business. A visible presence on the stand-up comedy circuit for nearly 30 years, Poundstone has a multitude of accomplishments to her credit, including making a splash as one of the panelists on the popular NPR radio show “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me.” A loving mother of three children and a devoted human to a menagerie of pets, Poundstone paused for a few minutes to answer some questions. 

Gregg Shapiro: Paula, I’d like to begin by asking about the wearing of the ties. When and how did it begin?

Paula Poundstone: In the most mundane way: I was in a store that had a tie that I saw and I liked. I thought, “Hey, why do men complain about this? They’re so pretty.” I just started wearing it. It was a lovely green polka dot tie. It might have been before I had kids, I guess, about 16 years ago. At the time I started wearing ties there were some really great fabrics out. (Designer) Nicole Miller happened to be doing them at the time. She’s the one who does the theme fabrics. My favorite one is the (one with) junk food. There’s a crossword puzzle one that I have and one with movie and theater tickets. I don’t see that around anymore. Now when I walk past the tie shop in the airport, it’s pretty boring.

GS: You probably have to go to the vintage stores now to get the good stuff.

PP: Yeah! But I’ve got good stuff in my closet. But it’s like anything. You happen to cotton to a cat figurine one day and the next thing you know, people assume you’re a collector of cat figurines. A lot of my ties have been given to me—some really great ones. I was working in Manitowac, Wisc., recently and the airlines lost my luggage, so I had no clothes. I (tweeted) and made some joke about the airlines losing my luggage and I’m in the hotel and this couple comes up to me with ties. They had gone to a Salvation Army to bring me a selection of ties…

And my ties have been tied by many a famous person. Carl Kassel has tied my ties for me. Garrison (Keillor) has tied my ties. Actually one of my ties came from Garrison. Usually, I have the bellman or some guy in the front row tie it for me, if it’s even untied. Because I often leave them tied for years.

GS: It is easier just to slip them on and off.

PP: Yeah! People think it’s silly, but I still don’t know how to tie one. People have tried to teach me. It can’t be done.

GS: Is being a panelist on the NPR program “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me” as much fun as it sounds on the radio?

PP: It is a blast! …Sometimes they edit us out because we’re laughing so hard. I think Adam Felber and I have to be separated now because we just plain get silly. It’s really fun to do. Here’s a little known factoid: I’m actually trying to win!

GS: Are you a competitive person?

PP: Oh, yeah. I try really hard to win. I had no success at all for years. Then I finally managed one time. Then another couple years went by. People come up to me all the time and say, “We were listening the day you won.” It’s like they have a rare coin or something. They could be on “Antiques Roadshow.”

GS: What was it like to be a guest expert on “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire”?

PP: It was really fun. I felt so bad for anybody who got me as their expert. That’s a stroke of bad luck right there. I knew nothing! The only thing that I could do that was helpful was confess right away that I knew nothing and not to listen to me. I think there was one thing that I actually knew in the whole week.

GS: You just released your first comedy CD. Why did you choose to do so at this point in time?

PP: Somebody hammered me into it, really. And I’m not even sure who it was. My manager and I had talked about it for years. The technology has changed so much that it was so easy. All I had to do was tell jokes. …No fuss, no muss. Now I’m kind of into it. I recorded this one and now I’m like, “Let’s do them all over the country. Put out a whole bunch of them!”

GS: In addition to being a writer, are you a voracious reader?

PP: I don’t think voracious is the right word. I love to read and I’m absolutely in knots any time I’m in a library or bookstore because I’m like, “Oh, my God, I’m so far behind.” (I read) two pages and I’m out like a light. That is the problem that I have. I’m always reading something, but I read awfully slowly. I’m not a good newspaper reader, because the time I get through it, the incident is long past. Global warming will have been solved by the time I read the articles on the subject.

GS: When can readers expect your next book?

PP: Not today or tomorrow, I’m a little slow. It took me nine years to write the first book. I’m hoping to bring this one in under that. For me, one of the problems is—and I say this in preparation for when the publisher sues me—I’m not a writer for a living. And so I have to fit it in in the cracks of my life. I’m a working mom with three kids, 13 cats, a German Shepherd mix, a bearded dragon lizard and a giant, lop-eared bunny that seems to just keep growing, so there’s not a lot of cracks in my life. One of my favorite things to say to my children, when they (ask) … why didn’t I do this or how come we don’t have that, is “Do you see me sitting in a chair with my feet up? Was mom eating bon-bons today? Do you recall that image?” I said that about three times yesterday, by the way.

GS: Do you think that you might have a children’s book in you?

PP: I hope so. Although it’s funny because you can always tell what celebrity has kids by who comes out with a book. Maybe because we’re all reading children’s books and we think, “I could do this!” But I don’t think it’s as easy as all that. And a lot of the books that I see by celebrities are just terrible. Usually the artwork is pretty, but generally the celebrity didn’t do the artwork.

I would love to do that at some time. I want to wait until something inspires me. I want to write about my oldest daughter who is just a piece of work. She’s a powerhouse of a human being.

GS: Are you shying away from the subject of politics in your current work or are you finding a way to work it in to your material?

PP: I do work it in. My work is largely autobiographical. I go from big picture to little picture, about a hundred times a day. (In my act) there are periods of time where I’m talking about my kids, I’m talking about the people in the crowd, talking about raising a house full of animals. Then there are other times where I’m more focused on the world, politics – the bigger picture. Never as an expert by the way, but only as a voter, just barely hanging on.