Paula Poundstone to appear at Dayton's Victoria Theatre. – WYSO

Paula Poundstone to appear at Dayton's Victoria Theatre. – WYSO

Comedian and regular panelist on NPR’s “Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me!”, Paula Poundstone, comes to Dayton’s Victoria Theater on November 5th. Poundstone’s unique brand of comedy has kept audiences laughing for more than 40 years. She recently spoke with WYSO’s Jerry Kenney about her time on the NPR quiz show, and what she has in store for the Dayton audience, and what she’d like to add to her list of accomplishments.
Jerry Kenney: Paula Poundstone, welcome, and it’s a pleasure to be able to speak to you today.
Paula Poundstone: Well, thanks very much. Nice to talk with you.
Kenney: I want to start by saying that I first saw you in an HBO special in the late eighties, I think called Women of the Night. Judy Tenuta, Rita Rudner and Ellen DeGeneres were also in that show hosted by Martin Short. You had an incredibly funny act in which you talked about growing up in a rural town and said that even as an infant, you were so bored you crawled across the state line. I’m just curious if life has gotten any more exciting for you since then?
Poundstone: Yes. I don’t know if it’s exciting exactly, but it’s fast paced. It’s busy. I’ve a busy life. I travel a lot for my job. Well, travel isn’t exciting, but the job part is I love telling my little jokes in front of an audience. And if there ever was a time and perhaps there was before COVID hit, when I might have been known to have whined a little bit about having to travel, you know, so much flying and on an airplane or a car or whatever to get to my job, I might have complained about it at one time or another prior to COVID, after not being able to do my job for 15 months and not be able to be in front of a crowd. Boy, not a peep out of me about traveling anymore. Not a problem.
Kenney: Well, it sounds like you’ll have a lot to talk about when you get to Dayton on November 5th. So our listeners now get to hear you as a regular panelist on Wait Wait, Don’t Tell Me. What appeals to you about being a part of that show?
Poundstone: So many things. First of all, it’s just plain fun. It’s unique in this particular way, which is I think I’ve been there for like maybe 22 years now… Long time, and from the very first time I was ever on the show, we used to record it sort of like we had to do with COVID. We were not in the room together and we were not in front of an audience. We were in the studios of near wherever we lived. So, Carl was in D.C., Peter was in Chicago, I was in Los Angeles, Adam was in New York, and we were hooked up via a wire. So, I’m in this tiny little studio, you know, I have headphones on and the show has begun, and the only comment I hear from the director, who every now and then in my ear says, ‘jump in any time,’ that was my only admonishment. ‘Just say whatever you want, whenever you want to,’ which is certainly at the time, and I think still today probably is pretty much unheard of. Even the shows that they tell you are scripted are scripted. Reality shows are scripted.
But Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me! I mean, Peter has a script. Obviously, he’s asking questions. You know, there’s a skeleton there of the questions, but the panelists don’t have a script. We jump in any time and say whatever we want, which is really, really fun. And the other thing is, there’s no real there’s no real ego about who said what. So, if one person says something funny and then somebody else jumps on it to expand it, then everyone is perfectly happy. And we all feel like so long as it’s funny is moving forward. Fantastic. Plus, most of my work, I work alone. I’ve been in theaters for a long, long time, and so I don’t have other acts on the bill. Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me! is the social center of my life that I get to talk to others before I go on and afterwards. It’s fantastic.
Kenney: You’ve got such a distinctive voice, and so do you get recognized in public by people who may only know you as a voice from the radio.
Poundstone: Here and there. My daughter and I at one time were on a rafting trip on the Colorado River, and it was what, you know, one of the kinds where, you know, you’re tourists so there’s a bunch of other tourists there. And somebody said to me, you know, they had sort of a getting to know you group of some sort prior to prior to the trip, I think. And somebody said to me, ‘Boy, you sound like Paula Poundstone.’ I said, oh, yeah, I am Paula Poundstone. And they were like, ‘No, no,’ they didn’t believe me right away. It took like it took like somebody else telling them, for them. I don’t know what seems so exotic about Paula Poundstone that she wouldn’t have been on a you know, on a Colorado rafting trip that seems pretty you know, it’s not like the Orient Express, for heaven’s sake. So, yes, here and there occasionally.
Kenney: You’ve got a podcast going and you’ve written several books now. So what’s next? Is there anything you’ve still got on your your wish list or something that you’ve got in the works?
Poundstone: I am slowly but moley working on…., I’m trying to make an animated show that I just do without the suits that I’ll put up on the Internet. I think just because I had a funny idea and sometimes you have an idea for something and then you start doing it and it’s a bit of a, you know, it’s a bit of a coal engine where you’re forever shoveling into it, you know, you can’t stop. Podcast is a little bit like that. You know, it’s not that. So isn’t that fun? But once you get started, you know, we can podcast once a week and so you’re just forever looking for content and you’re forever, you know, ideas after a while don’t really, you know, aren’t as plentiful as they were when you began. And the other thing is, there’s only a couple of us making the podcasts.
You know, if you’re watching a talk show, like a nighttime talk show, the crew of people that make that show are huge. You know, the amount of writers and stuff like Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me!, for that matter, when they first started out, they had such a small staff and these poor guys were like writing… you know, there’s a lot of jokes that get written, you know, for Peter to say or or jokes about the, you know, specific to that news story for again, not the panelist but for Peter, it’s a lot for, you know, for like one or two people to do. And they were drowning at one point. They were like begging NPR to let them hire an additional writer and as a as a as a podcaster, where you make hardly any money anyways. So, if you hire a writer, you’re pretty much back in the back, in the red. It is a little bit grueling. But anyways, my point being that when I had this idea for this animated show all the time, I’m thinking of ideas for things that would go in that show, which tell me that it’s a good idea because, you know, because ideas keep springing to me without, you know, without having to really think too long and hard about it. So, I would like to do that just because it would just plain be fun.
Kenney: Well, it would be great to see that come to fruition. And so, I’ve got to ask, with all your experience in the entertainment industry, any advice for people who may be on a similar path that you started in in the eighties?
Poundstone: my advice. You have to do what’s in your heart. I knew a comic one time, years and years and years ago when I used to work clubs. I might have been headlining, and maybe he was… He might have been the middle actor, or the emcee. And he asked me about his act, which, by the way, I don’t generally… I wouldn’t generally do that, where I… I don’t tell anybody what to do or whatever, because if I knew, I’d be too rich and famous to have the conversations. But anyways, this guy, you know, he did all these jokes on topics that were somewhat generic, and it was very middle act where it was almost as if he was doing, he was almost doing an impression of a comic as opposed to, you know, speaking from his heart like he used to do a thing about… He used to do jokes about getting drunk and things, this was in the eighties, and it turned out he was a Mormon, and he never drank. And the reason I say that, I mean, it doesn’t matter one way or the other. But the point is, he was discussing a life that wasn’t his and he was doing it because he found that that’s what people responded to it like, whoa, I said ‘boy, you, your life is so unique. Your life is so different than what most people in these clubs know anything about. You describe that life. And first of all, you have your own lane, right? You’re not going to find a lot of people cutting in on your Mormon lane. And second of all, you have an endless fountain of stuff to say.’.
I don’t know. I just encourage people to do what’s in their heart, what’s in your heart and you’re always going to you know, it’s always going to be somewhat unique because we’re all somewhat unique. I don’t buy the story that we’re all like snowflakes where everyone is different. I’m not sure that snowflakes are like snowflakes. Who the hell has looked at every snowflake? That’s ridiculous. I’ve been at this for 43 years, and you do after a while start sort of, you know, scraping the, you know, the bowl, you know, for a material. And at a certain point, you do kind of feel like, oh, my gosh, like it’s like in music. You know what if there really are only three notes? Like, one of the things that happened, I think during COVID, I didn’t even want to talk on the phone at a certain point because I just felt I have nothing to say. It’s the same. My day yesterday was very much like my day today. I have ten cats and two big dogs. So, a lot of my… a lot of my day is pretty much sketched out. Before I get up, you know, I’m going to sift litter boxes. I’m going to walk, and I’m going to tell at least one creature to stop chewing on itself.
Kenney: And so, what are you going to talk to Dayton audiences about, if you don’t mind a little preview?
Poundstone: Well, ironically, I do talk a little bit about the experience of being at home during COVID and that period of life. I talk about that and talk a little bit about… I try to pay attention to the news in order to cast a halfway decent vote, so, I talk about the news. I sometimes I still tell the occasional story about raising my kids, although they’re not little anymore. They’re young adults, and boy, what a terrible face that is. I still talk somewhat about raising a house full of animals, and my favorite part of the night is just talking to the audience. I do the time honored. ‘Where are you from? What do you do for a living?’ And in this way, little biographies of audience members emerge, and I use that from which to set my sales.
Kenney: Paula Poundstone will be in Dayton on November 5th at the Victoria Theater. We’ll put the links to that event on our website. Paula, thanks so much. It’s really been an honor to speak to you.
Poundstone: Thank you very much. It was nice talking with you. Take care.

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