Interview Deep Cut: Paula Poundstone talks Iowa City, ‘bringer rooms’ and ‘Wait, Wait …’

Comedian Paula Poundstone

Englert Theatre — Friday, June 10 at 8 p.m.

Paula Poundstone will be performing at the Englert Theatre in Iowa City on Friday, June 10 -- press photo
Paula Poundstone will be performing at the Englert Theatre in Iowa City on Friday, June 10 — press photo
This interview deep cut covers more of Ryan Morrow’s great conversation with Paula Poundstone, complete with her preference for theatres over comedy clubs and a look into her time on NPR’s ‘Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me!’ Be sure to read the other part of the interview in issue 200 or online.

So, you currently have over 20 dates on your tour schedule — is that a standard workload for you?

Oh I have more than 20, many more. I do about 90 a year.


Generally speaking I go out every weekend for a couple of nights. Sometimes a little bit more, sometimes a little bit less. But on average it’s ya know — Friday and Saturday. But not always. For example, this weekend I’m going up to pick up my daughter from college, so I’m not telling my little jokes this weekend.

Where does she go to school at?

Portland, Oregon — Lewis and Clark college.

That must be a beautiful area.

Yeah, it sure is. I drive up through central California, and it’s dog ugly. But then you hit Northern California and Oregon and it’s like you’ve stepped out of Dorothy Gale’s house in the Wizard of Oz. But wait, where are you again?

I am in Iowa City IA.

Oh Sure! I’ll be at the Englert.

Is there anything you like to do in particular when you come to Iowa City?

No, I never do anything. Seriously, I go to the hotel and then I go to the show and then I go to the airport. I never do anything at all. But the crowd is always nice. That’s really how I measure if I like a place. Because I never do anything, anywhere. So I don’t know the landscape of any particular city, I just know the crowds. The audience, that’s the fun part.

But that’s really what brings you out, right — to entertain people and have fun in that way, right?

It is! You know to be in a group of people that have come out to laugh for the night is a really great thing. And I find the Iowa crowds very smart. Not that anyone has to be all that smart to get my jokes by the way, that’s not my point, but they seem sharp. Like a well-read, intelligent crowd.

You started with open mics, or bringer rooms. How often do you try out new material that way?

Never, now. I moved to theatres many many years ago, and I’m very happy. Theaters or performing arts centers, that sort of thing. It’s just a different atmosphere altogether, and I like it a lot better. Not that it wasn’t fun coming up in clubs in some ways, because it was at times. I use to always chastise my oldest daughter for getting negative attention and it was only as a comic that I realized … to get any attention at all, she’s a goddamn genius! (laughter) It’s not an easy thing to do! And yet — I do about two clubs a year — one in Virginia and one in Annapolis. I’ve been doing them for a really long time, and I really like the crowds and the houses there. I do those — but yeah everything else is all theatres. There was a place I worked in Ohio a thousand years ago, the club owner was really struggling and they sold sex toys. You could order them from a catalog at your table, and then I think on their way out it was in a brown paper bag.

So that means you kind of vary from the norm with how you try out new material. Do you push new bits there in the moment? It sounds like you don’t have a workout room.

I don’t have a workout room. My act is very, uh — there is a certain unpolished quality about my act. (laughter) one never knows what is new and what isn’t. I’ve been at this for 37 years and there is some stuff that I do that I have probably said for 37 years. Not much.

All those Carter jokes are still good!

Well if you do them right, do them with a little spit take, then sure! But mostly I talk about raising a house full of kids and animals. I talk about paying good enough attention to be able to cast a halfway decent vote and be a good citizen. But my favorite part of the night is just talking to the audience. I do the time honored “What do you do for a living?”, or, “Where are ya from?” And then this way, little biographies from the audience emerge, and I use that from which to set my sails. So there is no set-set; probably on any given night at least a quarter is specific to that night and that audience and will never be said again. But I do have bits, so it’s not like some huge experiment each time.

Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me — many a weekend morning has been filled with laughter because of you. I often fall prey to your bluff the listener; you are very skilled at creating a mundane my insane scenario. Do you cram news before a taping?

I do! Yeah I do, It doesn’t do me any good but apparently I don’t use the right source. The others cheat that what I say!

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I think you should snoop on Mo Rocca’s twitter account, to see what he’s liking or sharing.

Hey, that’s a good idea — but he would come up with a clever scheme and bread crumb me off in the wrong direction, and then I’d answer Kurdistan instead of Iraq; how humiliating!

How did you come about being on that show?

In the most boring of ways: They called me up and asked me. It was 15 years ago, and I had never heard of it — they must hate it when I say that. In fairness to me it was not in as many listening markets as it is now. At that time they did it in a studio without an audience. I would go to the NPR here in LA and be connected via wire. Carl was in DC; Peter was in Chicago and the show was written in Chicago. Initially they had sent me a cassette tape of it so that I could know what it was, and I just left it on the island in my kitchen for a while. My nanny saw it there and said, “Oh I love that show — you got to do that show!” So, it was really on the advice of my nanny/manager — my “Nanager”.

That doesn’t sound boring at all, and it’s compliment to your work that they would call ask you to be on the program.

Oh, the best compliment was when they asked me to come back! (laughter) Yeah I’ve been there for 15 years now and it’s a little bit like getting the job on the Pixar film; I consider myself lucky. It’s a lot like being in a batter’s cage, we get tossed topics and sometimes I swing and I miss, sometimes I get a little piece of it.