The hysterical and ever-popular Paula Poundstone has played, and slayed, audiences at Bay Street Theater more times than we can keep track of (a good thing!) and on Saturday, May 28 she is bringing her smart, observational humor and super-spontaneous wit back to Sag Harbor to kick off Bay Street’s summer comedy season.
Nobody works a crowd like Paula Poundstone. Her way with an audience is the stuff of legend as she consistently weaves her hilarious observations and personal stories in with her crowd work and quick comebacks.
Best known these days as the regular (skeptical) panelist on NPR’s news quiz show Wait Wait … Don’t Tell Me!, Poundstone has racked up a lot of gigs and credits in her 43 years as a comedian, commentator and author.
She was the first woman to win a Cable ACE award, the first female comic to perform at the White House Correspondents Dinner, and in 2020, her HBO special Cats, Cops and Stuff was named by Time magazine as one of the “5 Funniest Stand-Up Specials Ever,” to name a few.
We caught up with Poundstone via phone from her home in Los Angeles between her touring dates, her weekly podcast Nobody Listens to Paula Poundstone, and her litter box shifts (she has 10 cats), to talk about her upcoming show at Bay Street, and much more.
A CONVERSATION WITH PAULA POUNDSTONE
Are you competing with Colin Quinn for the most number of dates at Bay Street?
I love the audiences there — I have had such a good time every time. I do a lot of talking to the audience and there’s always great people to talk to — though I will say my manager used to tell people that I somehow had a sense of who to talk to — which is such a crock. Every time she said that I thought, “No, I don’t.”
When you come to Sag Harbor, do you stay or do you leave the next day?
Yeah, right — that one. I tell my jokes, then leave.
Do you ever spend time out east?
It’s a bit rich for my blood. I mean, it’s pretty — you see why the rich people took it. It’s very beautiful.
But I love the Roddy McDowell (dressing room at Bay Street). It’s so great. I love the Richard Green wall paint, but the Roddy McDowell-themed dressing room is unique … I do hang around a little bit after the show because I love to look at the pictures of the cast of the plays in the lobby.
How often do you change your set?
Kind of. I don’t really have a set per se … what happens is, somebody will say something and it will remind me, at times, of a story or a thing and then I’ll say that thing … I’m a little bit like a pinball machine — you know, one thing knocks me into another.
You started at age 19 in Boston. Was that hard, as a young female comic then?
Boston was all right. I have fond memories. Was it misogynistic and blah, blah, blah — yeah, but so is everything, so I didn’t really notice. I can’t say that I went onstage and felt like, “Oh boy, it’s an uphill struggle because I’m a woman.” I didn’t. I didn’t process that because everything was like that …
I did decide very early on that my job is genderless and that I was just going to make sure that I was the best at it that I could be — so any other considerations just sort of fell by the wayside. I decided that I would make it so that when I was in clubs, anyways, if somebody didn’t hire me, they looked stupid.
Robin Williams was helpful to your career, wasn’t he?
He was helpful. Anybody my age and younger owes a debt of gratitude to Robin Williams because in the late ’70s early ’80s when there was the resurgence of interest in stand-up comedy — and obviously stand-up comedy had been around since we came out of caves — but when there was a resurgence of interest in it, it was largely sparked by Robin Williams.
There were others, there was Billy Crystal and David Brenner, and there were other really great stand-ups working back then, but now you can’t swing a dead cat and not hit a stand-up comic, you know? There’s no school in the country that doesn’t have a comedy night, you know, for a fundraiser for their school. Because there’s at least one parent in every school that’s a comic, somewhere … (we laugh)
What scares you the most?
Probably climate change, I guess.
What would you say makes you happiest and most satisfied?
Well, I love the sound of laughter. I absolutely do. My mother was like this really kind of a miserable wretch of an unhappy person and probably for all good reasons, I don’t know… And so my mother had this friend Mrs. Hollis, who was from Maine and I was raised in Massachusetts — they would play canasta and when they were doing this, they would send us upstairs, the kids couldn’t be in the room when they were playing canasta.
And the sound of them laughing, coming through the floor, coming through the ceiling, through the floor to the upstairs, to this day, is one of the most joyous sounds I’ve ever heard. And part of it was because my mother wasn’t generally laughing … Mrs. Hollis had this great Maine cackle and my sisters found it so annoying, and I was just like, “Really? Because this is GREAT!”
Laughter, it’s the best thing.
Paula Poundstone will be performing at Bay Street Theater on Saturday, May 28 at 8 p.m. For ticket information, visit baystreet.org