Like most comedians, Paula Poundstone is naturally funny, and can effortlessly make you laugh during a simple, everyday conversation.
Unlike most comedians, when you go to her show, Poundstone might have an everyday conversation with you. And you will laugh — guaranteed.
The Emmy-winning stand-up artist, author (her latest book is titled “The Totally Unscientific Study of the Search for Human Happiness”), actor and commentator is well-known for her sharp-witted interaction with her audience, so much so that The Boston Globe crowed that she “improvises with a crowd like a jazz musician.”
You can hear Poundstone, who was the first woman to perform stand-up at the prestigious White House correspondents’ dinner, cracking jokes about each week’s news on the NPR quiz show “Wait Wait … Don’t Tell Me,” or you can catch her live Saturday night at the Parker Playhouse in Fort Lauderdale.
Poundstone talked to the Miami Herald about her show.
Q: Can we still expect a lot of spontaneous, back-and-forth interaction with your audience?
A: Yeah, that’s the fun part. I mean, I have 38 years of material somewhere rattling around in my head, but the most fun is just talking to the audience.
Q: How did that start? Was it an organic thing, or did you plan to do it?
A: No, I didn’t plan to do it. I didn’t embrace it in the beginning, but it started when I was doing open-mic nights in Boston in ’79. I would get so nervous that I would forget what I had planned to say, and then I was sort of in a pickle. And so I kept trying not to do that, over and over again, not to do that. And then, I don’t know, one day it just dawned on me – it’s actually funnier when I do what I don’t mean to do. And in some ways, I think it makes my regular material better, too, just because I’m looser.
Q: Has that spontaneity ever gone terribly wrong with an audience member?
A: Well, one time something came up with my son, and I asked the audience did anyone else have that happen? And somebody responded, and so I went to that person, and it turned out their kid was dead. Yeah. Yeah. … All right! Well, let’s move on, then. But that’s pretty rare.
Q: You’re always up on current events — I’ll bet you’ve got lots of ammunition for your show.
A: You know, I don’t consider myself … I’m not a political analyst, I’m not an expert. My friend Adam just recently explained the electoral college in a way that I think I understand. What I talk about is, I heard this, and here’s my reaction. And the truth is, we are just steeped in this stuff, partly because of the cable news networks, and partly because of the devices that we carry around. But it’s like we’re drowning in it — it’s not a pleasant sprinkle. I think Bride’s World magazine has a political section now. It’s just everywhere, and so I’m just talking like a regular person.
And having said that, I have a tendency when I’m in a hotel room to put on MSNBC. It’s not a healthy tendency, because it makes you a crazy person. Because their thing is, stay tuned, stay tuned, stay tuned. They eke out what they’re saying in a way that always gives the impression that the big thing is coming.
And we know it’s not healthy just by the commercials they have. You know, we all have some sort of bowel disorder as a result of this. And the Fox News viewers are being treated the same way — we may be wishing to hear different things, but we’re all being teased constantly: Here it comes! Just after this commercial for some hideous bowel disorder.
Q: When Trump won the election, what percent of you thought “Oh, no,” and what percent thought that this is great for stand-up material?
A: Well, I don’t care about stand-up material. I was just heartbroken. Years ago, I had a car when I lived in San Francisco, a ’65 Mustang. It was my first car, and I bought it because the guy that was helping me was like, “Get the kind of car you want,” you know? And I was like “Oh, I love the ’65 Mustang,” so I got the ’65 Mustang. It’s gorgeous. And because I liked that kind of car, everyone who could rip me off ripped me off, because it wasn’t just a conveyance. If it was just a conveyance, I would have left it by the side of the road at some point. So everyone was like, “We can siphon money out of her.”
And that’s what happened. My car broke down every few feet. People would fix one thing and break another on purpose. I knew they were doing it, but I couldn’t see them do it and I couldn’t stop them from doing it. That car was in the shop over 40 times in eight months.
And one day I come home from yet another automotive disaster, and my roommate at the time sort of laughed when I told her the story, and she said, “Well, you’ll get good material out of it!”
And I almost went for her throat. You know, I can make s--t up! My life doesn’t have to suck in order to come up with jokes, and this is certainly how I feel about Trump. Sometimes I feel a little guilty making Trump jokes, or laughing about our circumstance.
Q: Regarding your latest book, what have you learned about the search for happiness?
A: It’s almost disappointing in how much of it is what your parents told you, you know? Go outside. Get some exercise. Do something for somebody else. I mean, some of these things are really time-honored, and they’ve been saying them generation after generation for a really good reason, which is that it’s true. And even though my book is “The Totally Unscientific Study of the Search for Human Happiness,” I do think it’s very science-based, actually. I started with the Get Fit experiment, and there’s a biochemical thing that happens when you work out.
It took me seven years to write that book. And last August, I went back to the trainer guy, who teaches taekwondo and self-defense, which is absolutely laughable, because somebody could just beat the f--k out of me if they wanted to — I wouldn’t be able to do anything about it.
But even now, returning to it, I don’t particularly like doing all that, but you know what? You feel better. I wish it was sitting in a chair eating Doritos, I really do — but it isn’t.
If you go
▪ What: Paula Poundstone
▪ When: 8 p.m. Saturday
▪ Where: Parker Playhouse, 707 NE Eighth St., Fort Lauderdale
▪ Info: www.parkerplayhouse.com; $21-$43