World famous comedian Paula Poundstone is performing at Bay Street Theatre on Monday, August 19. The show marks Poundstone’s first at Bay Street in more than a decade, but the legendary comic recalls fondly the days when the theatre was a regular stop on her touring schedule.
“It’s great—really nice audiences,” Poundstone says. “I used to do it annually,” she adds, remembering Bay Street’s “Roddy McDowell room,” a dressing room plastered with pictures of the British actor.
Though she now lives in Santa Monica, CA, Poundstone grew up on the East Coast, in Sudbury, MA, and got her start at open mic nights in the Boston comedy scene during the 1980s. Her new CD I Heart Jokes: Paula Tells Them In Boston was recorded live in that city. Her previous live CD I Heart Jokes: Paula Tells Them In Maine was released in 2009.
She published her memoir, There’s Nothing in This Book That I Meant to Say, in 2007.
Poundstone’s fans, and those seeing her for the first time, can expect the unexpected at Bay Street on Monday. Over years of performing live in comedy clubs—and more recently in front of a studio audience on National Public Radio’s weekly news quiz show Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me!—Poundstone has developed a remarkable talent for going “off book” and spontaneously playing off her audience, though she’s never mean-spirited in her approach.
“It started out because I could never remember anything,” Poundstone says, pointing to her early days of open mic comedy and going off-page, in a desperate attempt to recover when her nerves got the best of her. “In a panic I worked the crowd,” Poundstone says.
In time, she learned that the spontaneous moments were often her favorite. “This is where the really fun stuff is,” Poundstone says, noting that she doesn’t script these exchanges or try for them, but rather, “I allow for it.”
Thanks to her quick, wry wit and intelligent, playful humor, Poundstone was asked to join the panel on Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me! in 2001. She has since become an audience favorite, working alongside host Peter Sagal, judge and scorekeeper Carl Kasell and fellow panelists Roxanne Roberts, Adam Felber, Mo Rocca, P.J. O’Rourke, Roy Blount, Jr. and Kyrie O’Connor, among others.
“They just called me up,” Poundstone says of the Wait Wait… offer. “I had never heard of it.”
Since becoming a regular on the weekly radio show, Poundstone said Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me! went from recording via conference calls to performing in front of a live studio audiences, which she greatly prefers. “The energy it adds to the live show is just magical,” she says, noting that the weekly appearance and live interactions help keep her funny muscles nimble.
“That’s what they want for us, which is great for me,” Poundstone says, adding that the unscripted and unrehearsed show plays to her strengths. “I talk a lot,” she admits.
Being a weekly news quiz, Wait Wait… requires its panel to have at least some knowledge of current events and stories in the news, but this is nothing new for Poundstone, who served as “official correspondent” for the Tonight Show during the 1992 presidential race.
“I cover politics not as a straight professional—my act is mostly autobiographical,” she says. “I try to pay attention to what’s going on in the world, to know enough to cast my vote.”
With politics, “I’m always open to the possibility that I’m wrong,” Poundstone says, noting that she usually listens to the morning news each day and then “crams” with newspapers on the flight to record Wait Wait… in Chicago.
Her Bay Street show won’t require this kind of preparation, especially with what is sure to be a lively Hamptons audience on Monday.
Paula Poundstone is appearing at Bay Street Theatre, 1 Bay Street, in Sag Harbor on Monday, August 19 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $62 for members, $69 for non-members.
Call the box office at 631-725-9500 or visit baystreet.org.