Paula Poundstone Comes Home
The comedian, author and podcaster — and Massachusetts native — brings her stand-up set to the Stadium Theatre Feb. 3.
Paula Poundstone is many things: stand-up comedian, author, podcast host and frequent panelist on NPR’s “Wait Wait … Don’t Tell Me!”
One thing she is not, ever, is at a loss for words.
That’s what four decades of stand-up will do to you.
“In my head is a Rolodex, like if I stepped into one of those arcade games where the money’s rolling around,” she says. “I have forty-three years of material flying around in my head, and whatever I can catch I say.”
She’ll bring her cerebral Rolodex — and her rapid-fire, dry brand of rollicking wit — to Woonsocket’s Stadium Theatre Friday, Feb. 3, for a one-night show.
On this January afternoon she’s calling from the back porch of her home in Santa Monica, California, where she’s tossing tennis balls to her three-year-old dog Moe, who’s ecstatic to be getting so much attention. Add to that another dog and ten cats, and, well, that makes for a lot of cleaning up around the house.
“Honest to God, it’s almost a full-time job,” she says with her trademark cadence. “The first two hours every morning — it’s just disgusting.”
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Her current tour, she’s quick to clarify, isn’t a “back of a T-shirt” tour, but one where she does a show or two every weekend and then heads back home. It’s a far cry from the Boston open-mic nights she started with at nineteen years old. Back then, the Sudbury, Massachusetts, native (she was born in Huntsville, Alabama, but moved to Sudbury with her family as a baby) would be just one of many waiting in line for their turn on stage.
Everyone had five minutes, and if you went over, it “really pissed everybody off,” she says.
She’d memorize her lines, get on the stage, promptly get distracted and then say something she didn’t mean to say. And then she’d go over her time as she progressively got more nervous and forgot everything she’d memorized.
“No one liked working with me,” she says.
She took notes after every set, jotting down what worked and what hadn’t. After a while, she discovered that the things she hadn’t planned on saying went over a lot better than the ones she had planned.
“When I figured that out, everything started to flow better and it was better material,” she says. “I started allowing myself to do that on purpose. Kind of like if Jackson Pollock’s mother caught him throwing paint: ‘Go ahead, honey, just throw it!’”
Her act is largely biographical — what she’s doing and what she’s thinking about. Lately, that’s included the state of democracy in the United States, whatever audiobook the avid reader is listening to and raising a household of kids (and animals).
Her ad-libbing with the audience steers the ship, too, especially when members are of a certain age.
“I love when young people are in the audience,” she says. “Nothing delights me more that sharing with them what it was like growing up. The differences are stark — they know nothing of struggle. You know what? The way people my age were raised is now illegal.”
She loves coming back to the New England area — she even fantasizes about moving back, but doubts it will ever happen. Her nanny-turned-pet sitter has roots in California, and plus, airports in L.A. never get snowed in — an appealing thought for someone on the road as often as she is, whether traveling to stand-up shows or to Chicago for tapings of NPR’s “Wait Wait … Don’t Tell Me!,” where she’s a frequent panelist.
She’s enjoying getting back on the circuit, especially after the pandemic shut-down. During the height of the crisis she remembers watching a clip of a Bruce Springsteen concert. As the camera panned out to the audience she started to cry.
“Looking at people in a group having a good time was such a beautiful thing. This thing we had that we took for granted as audience members and performers, where we come together as a group and hopefully you have a laughing reaction to something I say is so valuable,” she says. “People have come up to me after a show and said, ‘Thank you, this is the most I’ve laughed in two years.’ I don’t want to screw up and lose it again.”
Tickets for Paula Poundstone start at $41. Visit stadiumtheatre.com or call 762-4545 for tickets and more information.
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