Poundstone comes to the mountainsComedian to visit Asheville Nov. 16
In kindergarten, famed comedian Paula Poundstone got her first good review. It came from her teacher, Mrs. Bump, who wrote in an evaluation that she “enjoyed many of Paula’s humorous comments about our activities.” In a conversation, Poundstone might tell you that little anecdote — and a happy avalanche of other memories, observations and hopes. She’s a talker. Delightfully so.
As she explained by phone the other day, she can’t change this about herself. So, she’s decided to embrace it.
“The thing about me, I happen to have OCD, and I really cannot stop talking to save my life, and I always reveal more than I meant to reveal,” she said. “I couldn’t keep a secret if I wanted to. I just tell people the most oddly personal things all the time.”
She then added that these revelations always come with a little bit of regret, but she laughed as she admitted to it. This lack of filter works for her. Her brand of no-nonsense, observational humor is popular because people already know just what she means. In essence, she’s not only telling her truth but everyone’s.
She joked that sometimes she feels she’s doing a public service by letting people know they’re not “only one” going through a certain something.
“The thing is, laughing is, like, so … it’s so good for ya,” she said.
As she sees it, going out and laughing with others is even better. She’s watched it play out from her perch on stage for more than 30 years and was reminded of it yet again during a recent visit to Columbus, Ohio. There, she randomly caught the tail end of a show by jazz trumpeter Doc Severinsen, who continues to be “extraordinary,” she explained, even in his 80s. Of course she loved it.
“But my favorite thing was looking around at all these older people, that were out with one another, having good time,” she said. “They had got the chance to put something on their calendar they really looked forward to doing. It was great.”
Poundstone saw it as a reaffirmation of how much it matters to have those communal experiences — and how fortunate she is to be part of them.
“I’m lucky because I get to do a job where, hopefully, I deliver that to other people," she said, “but the other thing is it’s reciprocal. I know I get it.”
It’s a powerful drug, but she didn’t even know about it when she first got into the business. She was 19 then and living in Boston with a dream of being a comedian, but no idea how to go about it. Organically, however, it began to take shape, with a few friends starting at open mics and then slowly going out on the road.
She happened to fall in with the right crowd and warmed up her act in the city before, after not too long, heading out of town in a Greyhound. She had a monthlong bus pass that allowed her travel as much as she wanted — and so she did. She would get off the bus to play clubs or watch episodes of “MASH” on bus stations’ coin-operated TVs, but she would always hop back on to sleep and travel to the next city.
It was a “pretty good education,” she explained, one she would stand by.
“And I was kind of fiercely independent. I didn’t take money from anybody else to do those things, and I’m certainly glad of that," she said. “So I learned the value of a dollar really easily — when I had none.”
She did a few of these jaunts over a couple of years until, in San Francisco, she got off the bus and stayed off.
In the years that followed, she would become a star — and a mother of three. While she had no control over the fame part, she chose parenthood because, finally, she felt she might have “something to offer,” she said. Of course, as it goes for most everyone, her world was shaken to its core.
“Once kids enter your life, things become somewhat regimented because dammit if you don’t have to feed them,” she joked. “And when they’re babies, my God, you have to feed them every few minutes.”
She had no idea how “unbelievably relentless” the task would be, she added, explaining that no one ever seems to talk about that. Still, if given the choice, she’d do it all over again, she stressed, and then some.
This relatable honesty — not too sweet, not too sour — has helped her pack houses for decades.
When asked the inevitable question of what’s next, Poundstone spoke like the busy mom she is.
“Oh, I want to save the world. It’s just a matter of getting some things done around my house first," she said, laughing. "But after that …"
She trailed off, adding one day she’d like to write a movie, but not just any movie, a powerfully funny one that could change lives. It’s not like she wants to get mobbed everywhere she goes, but she wouldn’t mind being told what an amazing effect this fictional film of hers had. She laughed again as she painted a hypothetical picture of a couple stopping her on the street and saying that her movie is the reason they’re staying together.
“I want to have that kind of healing power. I’m pretty sure I won’t, but that’s what I would like,” she said. “I’d also really like to get my cats to stop territorial peeing around my house.”
Neither of these goals are probably achievable, she went on, sounding at peace with it all.
Paula Poundstone will perform at 8 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 16, at the Diana Wortham Theatre in Asheville. For tickets and more info, visit www.paulapoundstone.com