Legendary comedian Paula Poundstone brings her witty, observational humor to The Folly Theater
Comedian Paula Poundstone is one helluva Chatty Cathy. During our 20-minute convo, she went off on so many random tangents we thought she was back in geometry class.
For instance, when asked about her thoughts on Kansas City, she toggled between stories of sweet potato ‘Bama pies she smuggled on her plane ride home, the fact that she hasn’t visited KC in forever, and her love of our old-school circular airport.
“It’s been a really long time since I’ve been there,” she says. “Mostly what I know is that you have a round airport, and there’s prairie grass that’s planted just outside. Oh, and there’s a sign that says, ‘This is prairie grass.’ And, by the way, I knew that without the sign.”
She seemed mildly irked when we mentioned our fancy-schmancy new airport that’s poised to open in less than a year. “What? I’ve always liked the round airport,” she admits. “I can always find the ladies’ room—because I just keep going. I can find everything. Some airports—you come to a dead end. I can give people directions in the Kansas City airport. ‘Do you know where the Starbucks is?’ they’ll ask. Yes—just keep going!”
Poundstone is set to bring her wry blend of observational humor to The Folly Theatre Oct. 26. And, boy, does she have a lot to talk about—in a complete nonlinear fashion and sans setlist.
The Pitch: We read somewhere that an audience is your best friend. When did you discover that?
Paula Poundstone: I don’t know—maybe 20 years ago. Maybe even before that. Maybe it always was, and I didn’t know it. It’s the most unsound mental health thing I could possibly say, but gosh, they give me joy. We enjoy one another a lot.
I work in theaters—and have for 30 years. It’s an audience that’s come to see me specifically. So, I’m a bit spoiled in this way in that I’m not performing to just anybody; I’m performing to people who assume they’re going to like this. I’m not swimming upstream. It’s a joyous night. A room filled with love. It’s like a 40th high school reunion feel.
You connect with people in your show like nothing seen before. Is it because you have the gift of gab?
I would say it’s partly driven by mental health problems on my part—which is that I literally can’t stop talking. I swear to God. I did an interview a few minutes before you called, and the man asked me about my podcast—which is such a kindness. But I, for some reason, didn’t really respond to his question about my podcast [laughs], but went on to talk about how much I love the show M*A*S*H*.
I have a problem with talking. Anything that gets said reminds me of something else that I must say.
So, these conversations I have with people in the audience sometimes—part of what’s fun about it is no matter what they say—well, we’re off and running. Ninety percent of the time, it spawns a conversation that’s unique to that night.
You’re not only a comedian but also an author, host, lecturer, and actor. Are there any other professional titles you desperately want on your resume?
I started writing a novel years ago and then got overwhelmed and stopped. I would like to finish that project and would love to be referred to [in a British accent] a novelist.
And I’ve done little acting things here and there, but nothing major. And I’d love to do something major someday.
A more important question—who do you find funny?
I find lots of people funny, which is good because you want to laugh more than not. I love Bob and Ray—they’re both dead now—but fortunately, they recorded their stuff. I love them, the old radio team. I love Dana Carvey. I love Lily Tomlin.
I stopped watching other performers pretty early on. But to this day, I can remember jokes from open mic’s from when I started because I heard them night after night. And sometimes, while you’re waiting to go on, you’ll hear somebody else do something that sounds awfully similar to something you do. And it doesn’t mean they took it from you; it just means there’s a finite amount of topics.
If we didn’t have similar experiences, we wouldn’t find anything funny because we wouldn’t relate to it. I just got so cagey about wanting to make sure that I knew what I was saying came from me. So, I stopped watching other people for the most part.
Do you have an all-time favorite joke or quip? One that killed or continues to kill?
Nothing I do kills. It’s a slow-rolling kind [of humor]. A marathon, not a sprint. I don’t know if I have a favorite. I’ve always had memory problems, even before COVID. It’s partly why—and how—I work. A lot of times, I can’t remember what I meant to say. Or I was headed toward a piece of material, and then I can’t remember it anymore. People always go, “You don’t have a setlist?” I don’t have a setlist because I can’t remember it.
The inside of my head looks like that arcade game where you step into a glass booth, and they blow paper money around, and what you grab, you can keep. That’s the inside of my head. Whatever I can grab in terms of jokes—I say.
Having said that, when I was 18 years old, I worked at the International House of Pancakes in Orlando. Eleven at night to 7 a.m. And when I was 19 years old, I was in Boston and started doing open mic nights. I did an International House of Pancakes joke about working there. And I think I’ve done it every night that I’ve ever worked. Part of the reason it never seems to leave the rotation? It’s because I can remember it.
When I get myself into a corner—and I have my lovely performer face on—and in my head, I’m like, “What the fuck,” I generally turn to that [joke]. Hey, there’s some insight the audience can know from now on—that when I do the International House of Pancakes joke is because I’m so lost. It’s an anchor. It grounds me.
**Interview edited for brevity and content.
Paula Poundstone is performing at the Folly Theater Oct. 27 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets can be found here.