Last year I watched an interesting commentary on the CBS Sunday Morning Show featuring Paula Poundstone. The comedian put forth an unexpected plea for the country to admit a serious problem: electronics addiction. “It’s like heroin,” she tells me during our interview last week. “Addiction is addiction is addiction; something you can’t stop doing is addiction.”
Poundstone has written and spoken at length about this relatively new national issue, particularly among young (and still developing) minds. She sees it everywhere she goes: in airports where whole families are sitting together yet apart on their individual screens, or even with folks driving and texting, and especially with her own teenage son’s video-game dependency.
“It’s not one individual,” Poundstone continues. “It’s just no question that it’s interrupting: a) the development of the brain; and b) their social life. People feel disenfranchised—well, part of the reason is they don’t look at one another any longer. I guess it’s not the answer to everything that ails us but it’s right up there.”
Such a serious issue—“second only to global warming”—is incorporated into her standup, alongside other observations and insight. The more she shares about her personal experiences, the more relatable it seems to be with audiences. “Obviously, I didn’t invent this idea, but humor is a great way of getting people’s attention and dealing with problems,” Poundstone says. “So I continue to try.”
Poundstone’s been known for her off-the-cuff wit and audience engagement for more than three decades. She describes her act as “a night of healing laughter,” which includes a hodgepodge of anecdotal topics, spanning everything from pets to the bottomless well of national and international news. Occasionally, her act organically adapts from stage to stage or state to state, after interacting with audience members.
“Any place I go there’s really people from all over [who are] there,” she says. “If there’s 10 people that night that are [originally] from that place in North Carolina then I’ll eat a cat. We’re all exposed to the same media, so we’re really not as unique as we might think we are.”
After 36 years in comedy, Poundstone is still most happy just talking to the audience during her show. She likes the time-honored “What do you do for a living?” method, or other rounds of questioning. “In that way [the show] is, sort of, custom built,” she observes.
Poundstone’s comedy has been recognized throughout her career but also has broken a few glass ceilings, especially in the early ‘80s. She earned a spot on Comedy Central’s top-100 list of greatest standups of all time and was voted into the Comedy Hall of Fame. As well she’s a frequent panelist on NPR’s news quiz show, “Wait Wait … Don’t Tell Me.” Each week three guest panelists compete for points by answering questions about current events. Poundstone is well-read and versed in the show’s content since becoming a regular panelist in the late ‘90s. Yet, she admits to being competitive in her research endeavors, even if it doesn’t always pan out in her favor.
“The first time I ever won (which was a number of years ago), Roy Blunt went on with me and I’m fairly certain he threw the match,” she notes. “It’s the Southern gentleman in him.”
2016 was quite the year for Poundstone: She released her first double-live CD, “North By Northwest,” in June 2016. She also wrote her second hardcover book, which will debut in May 2017. An accomplished writer and avid reader, Poundstone has been a national spokesperson of United for Libraries for the American Library Association since 2006. The grassroots organization raises funds across the nation for local community libraries and the young readers they often serve. And youth, as Poundstone has discovered, provides hope for a brighter future.
“As you get older your perspective on things change,” she says. “I used to do a bit in my act—many years ago—where I couldn’t stand babies on an airplane. I used to say they should have ‘babies’ and ‘no-babies flights’ and that I would stay around an additional day to just get on a no-babies flight. My perspective on that has changed entirely—I love babies, I’m never unhappy to have a baby on a flight. . . . It just feels like you are looking at possibility when you’re looking at a baby, all the things that baby might do and be.”
Paula Poundstone will perform at CFCC’s Wilson Center on Friday, Feb. 10. Tickets are $28-$50 dollars and may be purchased at www.cfcc.edu/capefearstage/paula-poundstone