A phone interview with award-winning comedian Paula Poundstone is something everyone should get to do: By the end, the call has ceased to feel official, becoming more of a chat with someone you’ve known a while, even getting to hear her cats meowing in the background.
Poundstone is involved in a host of projects, including being a panelist on NPR’s weekly news quiz show, “Wait Wait ... Don’t Tell Me!,” and an author, whose latest book, The Totally Unscientific Study of the Search for Human Happiness, was released in May. She will perform June 15 at the Community Concert Hall at Fort Lewis College.
The last time she was in Durango was in 2016, a few months before the last presidential election, which saw Donald Trump take office. She said since then, she’s seen some changes in her audiences. And for Poundstone, who’s not a political comedian (“I only talk about politics for a few minutes here and there.”), it’s about finding common ground.
“I’m not exactly sure entirely how to handle the whole thing from stage. … Sometimes, I say to the crowd right up front: ‘Look, if we don’t share the exact same political views, trust me, bear with me for a minute, and we’ll stumble onto things that we have very much in common because the truth is we have more in common than differences,” she said. “I’m not sure what happened. The first job I did right after the election happened to be in Alexandria, Virginia, and I happened to be doing three nights, which I never do. Alexandria’s like a bedroom community of D.C., and ... the laughter that we experienced was both cathartic and explosive. In terms of what happens in the world, I’m not sure that laughter’s good enough, but for the night, it is very healing.”
She said that while politics has a fairly small part in her shows – her topics are pretty wide-ranging, covering everything from raising her kids and cats, to aging, to society as a whole – rare is the person who is surprised at what they hear during her performance.
“It’s not a grab bag; it’s not like they’re walking into a show and they don’t know who’s going to be there,” Poundstone said. “So there’s some familiarity, I think. I don’t think generally people are like, ‘WHAAAT? We didn’t know she thought that!’ because the other thing is it’s very hard for me to be quiet about what I think. However, I do also say to the crowd, ‘Look, I am not a political analyst, I am not a historian. I only talk about the effect it has on me (laughing). It’s a very self-centered act. I only talk about, ‘what occurred to me was when I blah blah.’ And if it turns out what occurred to me is not buttressed by enough context, then I’m open to the possibility that I’m wrong.”
And for Poundstone, who has been working as a comedian since 1979, touring and doing all the things she does is still a fun gig.
“Yes. Yeah, definitely. You know, every aspect of it, not. There are times where I could enjoy not packing, not schlepping stuff. I’m pretty sure my neck and my spine are going to be compromised early in life as a result of all the hours on airplanes,” she said. “But the part where there’s an audience in front of me, and I’m talking to them, there’s not a better job in the world. And I’m well-aware that I’m the luckiest person on the face of the planet, I really am. I don’t have a lot to complain about.”
Poundstone said that not only is getting to perform in front of audiences fulfilling, but people gathering in audiences serves an important purpose as well.
“The job I do is restorative. … It’s good to get out to a live performance, whether it’s me or somebody else. Or go to the movie theater, for example, as opposed to watching something at home because you’re with other people, laughing and reacting, and there’s something to be said for that that I think we discount,” she said. “In my experience of watching the audiences in front of me, it is just this amazing thing, and people come up to me all the time and thank me for coming, and I’m like, “OK, you’ve got that backwards,” but I think they’re left with that little boost. … It was my job, and I was happy to do it, but I was paid, whereas they decided to come and paid money to do so. So really, it’s themselves I suppose they should be thanking – or perhaps the rest of the audience, because there is a thing about shared laughter that is amazing.”