Song & Stage

Paula Poundstone Brings the Laughs to Bay Street May 24

Comedienne Paula Poundstone, known for her wit and easily recognizable by her bold suits and ties, is headed back to Sag Harbor this Memorial Day weekend for a night of stand-up at Bay Street Theater, a venue she is very familiar with.

Poundstone last performed at Bay Street just this past summer. Having been there several times over the years, she distinctly remembers the backstage. “I hang out in the Roddy McDowall Dressing Room,” she recalls. The late McDowall, known for many roles in the Planet of the Apes franchise, was a Bay Street patron and the theater’s green room is decorated with photos from the English actor and director’s life and career.

Tweeting from backstage, particularly photos of empty dressing room chairs, is one of the hallmarks of her very funny Twitter account, @paulapoundstone, which has 90,000 followers.

In addition to being an award-winning stand-up comic, Poundstone is a regular panelist on Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me! the weekly quiz show that is public radio’s most listened to program. She’s been doing it for 13 years and says, “It’s a blast. It just gets more fun all the time.”

She admits that she is competitive and is out to win. “Apparently, that doesn’t read through on the air. I train very hard to win; I just lose a lot.”

While Poundstone heads to Chicago, where Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me! is recorded at the Chase Bank Auditorium, or another city that the show is visiting, she studies. “I’m not proud of this, but in the week before I’m on I gather the New York Post, of all things, which is a wretched newspaper which should be read by no one,” she says. “But I find the articles are small.”

She can get the news in glancing blows—albeit with a Republican slant—and she checks the “news of the weird” section for the kind of stories that typically come up on Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me! On the plane, she flips through the papers for headlines she’ll need to know. “Then I recycle it in the Chicago airport and quickly wash my hands.”

Just a couple weeks ago the show was taped in San Diego in front of 3,000 people. “It just couldn’t have been a hotter crowd,” Poundstone says. “Part of what makes it fun is the audience’s enthusiasm for it.”

The audience is a major player in her stand-up as well. She often talks about “raising a house full of kids” and what’s in the news, but she also likes to ask audience members about their lives to get their biographies. “I use those to set my sails.”

Starting with something random and taking it from there is her style. “That’s the way my head operates,” she says. “Every thing reminds me of yet one more thing… there’s a main artery that connects them, even though it doesn’t sound that way to anyone else.”

She wrote her first book, There’s Nothing in This Book That I Meant to Say, using a variant of this method. She began each chapter by writing about a historical figure, such as Abraham Lincoln or Joan of Arc, then let herself go off on tangents. “It was a fun tool,” she says. She is working on another book, though she says it could take her longer to finish than the nine years she took to write the first. “I have to shove in the process of writing in little cracks of my life…the truth is, there aren’t that many cracks in my life,” which she counts as both good news and bad news.

Poundstone is based in Santa Monica, California, where she lives with her three children and stays busy. She was born in Alabama, though when she was an infant her family moved to Massachusetts, outside Boston, where she got her start in comedy.

“I tell myself someday I’ll go back to Massachusetts where I belong,” Poundstone says. But, she adds, it just seems like a lot of work—she’d need to get boxes to move. And her kids are all from Santa Monica. “They can’t imagine life any other way.”

Poundstone says she used to think she had to be in California to be in show business, but she really doesn’t. “As long as I’m 20 miles from an airport, I’m fine.”

She’ll hop a plane for the Hamptons during Memorial Day weekend.

Paula Poundstone performs at Bay Street Theater, Sag Harbor, on Saturday, May 24, at 8 p.m. Tickets are $65 and $75, or $125 including an after party. Call 631-725-9500 or visit baystreet.org.

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