When you can be divisive enough to make both Comedy Central's list of 100 greatest stand-ups of all time and simultaneously make Maxim magazine's worst comedians list, you must be doing something right.
Paula Poundstone has had a successful stand-up career for over three decades now, which has included four HBO comedy specials, recurring gigs on The Tonight Show, and her own award winning talk show.
A day before her stand-up gig at Broward Community College's Bailey Concert Hall, Poundstone reminisced with New Times about her days struggling to make it as a comedian while looking forward to a time when there's a Republican president that would be easier for her to make fun of.
New Times: Is it true you got your start as a comedian going city to city by Greyhound bus and performing at any open mike night you could find?
Paula Poundstone: Yeah, you could buy this pass that was 150 bucks for a month of travel, so I would arrive in a bus station in a city I was interested in. I put my stuff in a locker, and I'd come back for another four hour away trip.
You must have met some characters on the bus.
I only remember one or two particular incidents, and they were both really heinous. One was just a nutty guy doing nutty things. Another was a lady with a kid and she had a really long ways to go, so she wasn't really paying attention to the kid and for some reason she gave him a paintbrush, the kind you paint a wall with. The kid was taking the paintbrush and was wiping the floor with it and then sticking it in his mouth. The thing is, if I said something I knew it was not going to end well. My sense is, if the kid is alive now, he's got the strongest immune system in the world.
That's an optimistic guess.
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Another time, I mistimed the trip. It never occurred to me there were stations without facilities. One time, I was in Canada, somewhere really far North, a cold place. I waited all night just sitting on a bench in the freezing cold waiting for a bus in the other direction. As I was sitting there I see this guy in a field who keeps coming towards me. I've seen all these scary movies, so I think I'm going to be tormented and killed. I had a really teeny Swiss army knife that was given out as a promotional thing somewhere. I was staring at my one inch blade ready to fend off my attacker, but really it was some kind of worker walking to a horrible bus ride early in the morning. I was not forced to use my defensive skills.
Good. I'm glad. Back in those early days, who were your comedy influences?
I stole all my parents Bill Cosby albums when I left home. I'm a lifelong Lily Tomlin fan, and when I was one year out of high school, Richard Pryor did his first stand-up comedy movie (Richard Pryor: Live in Concert) and that movie is just brilliant. And though I'm nothing like any of those three, I wished on and off to be like each of them.
Have there been comics that looked up to you that you mentored?
No, I don't know anybody.
From those Greyhound riding days how has the comedy world changed?
The very strong "comedy is the new rock 'n' roll" days which is a stupid thing to say because rock 'n' roll is the new rock 'n' roll, that surge came and went. Robin Williams was responsible for 90 percent of it of the very energized exciting audiences that did take off in the '80s. I don't know if it's true, but I'm told at some open mic nights now, you have to pay to go on. In the old days, there'd be a long wait to get on stage and the comedians imbibed enough to pay for ourselves.
What can audiences expect at your stand-up show?
I talk about raising children and animals. I talk about trying to keep up with the news well enough to cast a half way decent vote. Occasionally, I talk about Abraham Lincoln and the Hardy Boys, but my favorite part is talking to the audience. I do the time honored what do you do for a living and in this way biographies emerge.
You did a piece on CBS that was an open letter to Obama about keeping Obamacare.
Yeah. Neither Obama, nor I, nor the greatest healthcare expert in the world has any idea whether this will work. But it wasn't about my support for Obamacare, though I do, and I'm very hopeful it works. It was about the bizarre shift even among his supporters over some technical glitches. I just don't want that to be why we give up on it. For everything else we do nothing, but put up with technological glitches for Christ's sake.
As a whole for comedic purposes how would you rate Obama's presidency?
It's not for me. As a comedian I prefer Republican presidencies.
Paula Poundstone, 8 p.m., Thursday, December 5, at Bailey Concert Hall at Broward College, 3501 Southwest Davie Road, Davie. Tickets cost between $10 and $35. Call 954-201-6884, or visit Ovationtix.
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