Up close with Paula PoundstoneSection 4A, Entertainment Feature Thursday, September 17th, 2015
Friday night Paula Poundstone walked up to her microphone on the Humphreys by the Bay bare stage and had the sold-out audience laughing with her first words. Those words were nothing special. She was simply trying to get her microphone to work, but it was the way she spoke about it that made us laugh, that made us feel like we were a part of her evening, her story that was about to unfold.
And, unfold it did.
The thing that makes Paula Poundstone, Paula Poundstone goes a lot deeper than her signature garb of a sport coat over a buttoned down shirt with neck tie and suspenders.
Her comedic style is like no other comedian alive today. She has a gift. That gift is being able to talk to her audience, gather information about them and find the absurdity in that information without insulting them. It’s a fine line to walk, but Poundstone does it with ease, grace and kid gloves.
The best way to describe Poundstone’s comedic style is to say she’s a cross between Woody Allen and Lily Tomlin. Her approach to most subjects is somewhat tentative and she sometimes grapples for what to say like Allen, which instantly gives her a nebbish quality. It’s oddly endearing and you are suddenly sucked into her dialogue.
There are definitely moments when she’s on a roll and she fires out one comment after another much like Tomlin. Tomlin is a master at pointing out the absurd and Poundstone is right up there with her.
Poundstone doesn’t shy away from tough subjects, she tackles them and again, reveals the absurdity of them. That’s what made us laugh.
She has also said in interviews that she never does the same show twice, and in all honesty how could she? Most of her “act” comes from her questions to audience members. It’s doubtful she takes those audience members with her on the road.
Friday night she just happened to come across a few people that thought their jobs were too difficult to explain to her. With a little more prodding Poundstone uncovered that two of those audience members at opposite ends of the theater were photographers. Her response? “What? Did you not think I would know what a photographer was? I may look stupid but I think I can understand what a photographer does!” The audience was in stitches. Sure seeing it written here doesn’t illicit laughter, but her delivery was spot on. The rest of the evening, two full hours, was no less funny.
The few times she diverted away from audience members she talked about her kids, her job, and yes, even Donald Trump.
She got her start in comedy at the age of 19. Born in Huntsville, Ala. and raised in Boston, Mass. Growing up she was influenced by some of television’s greatest comedic actresses. She wanted more than anything to be Carol Burnett or Lily Tomlin or Gilder Radner. Not a shabby bunch at all, to say the least. Her career may not have led her down the television and film paths that it took those performers, but she certainly found her niche in the world of comedy and though she may not think she ranks among those comedic greats many fans would certainly disagree.
“I’ve done a little bit of comic acting,” Poundstone said, “but largely I’m a stand up, that was never my plan when I was a kid. It just sort of came into being because I happened to live in Boston when the burgeoning open mic scene began. I was lucky because I happened to be 19 years old and I could experiment and dive in and sleep on anybody’s couch and make my way around the country and find and learn to be a stand up.”
Poundstone is mighty proud of her Boston roots. When asked, she speaks quite highly of the state and city where she got her start, even if many people from there are referred to as Massholes, a term that is still relatively new to her.
“It’s in the Oxford English Dictionary now!” Poundstone exclaimed. “It’s in the most recent edition that came out a couple of months ago. Isn’t that the funniest thing? And I had not heard that term until I was working up in Maine a couple of years ago and the audience told me that that’s what they called us [Massachusettians]. And you know what I told them? I said that people in Massachusetts call them fucking-people-from-Maine! Massachusetts is a great state! People are just bitterly jealous of us!”
Many may not know this but aside from her early start in Boston, and then San Francisco, Poundstone was literally thrust into the public eye in 1984 when friend and fellow comedian Robin Williams brought her on Saturday Night Live when he hosted the show. That appearance led to more mainstream clubs, some film, television and eventually her own award winning show The Paula Poundstone Show in 1993.
Poundstone credits the recently deceased Williams with not only paving the way for her career but many others as well.
“I think both myself, and most comics working today, owe a huge debt of gratitude to Robin Williams,” Poundstone confessed. “He really reignited audience interest in standup comedy in the late ‘70s, uh, pretty much single handedly. There were other comics working but not many and it didn’t have the cache that it had when, you know, he came along like the Tazmanian Devil. And also that he sorta changed the format a little bit and sorta widened what was doable and acceptable. He would probably credit Jonathan Winters with some of that but Jonathan Winters was still around and he wasn’t bringing that kind of excitement any longer. People weren’t coming out in droves to see him.”
She also comments on how Williams brand of comedy literally just took over. They both lived and worked in San Francisco, and then, the buzz on the street was how to possibly catch Williams at one of the many clubs he’d walk into and do a set.
“People would come to the clubs with this idea that they might see him [Williams] whether he was in town or not,” Poundstone said. “There was just always this sorta of electric hum that Robin Williams might stop in. He did a lot, but in the meantime the people who thought they might get to see him, saw the rest of us. That’s how we got a toehold and I don’t think that would have been possible without him.”
The crowd at Humphreys had the chance on Friday night to do something that Poundstone feels very strongly about and that’s getting out to see/do something. It was clear they had an amazing time. They were on their feet in a standing ovation for the comedian seconds after her closing comments. It was a win-win situation for the San Diego crowd. They got out of the house on a beautiful night and they got to enjoy the legendary Paula Poundstone for two solid hours of laughter.
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