Interview: Paula Poundstone on Pixar, ‘SNL’ and Donald Trump

Paula Poundstone
Illustration by Benjamin Mackey

Comedian Paula Poundstone

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

Comedian Paula Poundstone has been performing stand up for 37 years and counting. She is also an author, accomplished voice actor and, for the better part of the last 15 years, has been a frequent panelist on the NPR quiz-show Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me! Despite abhorring the effects tiny pocket screens are having, Poundstone is an avid tweetcaster.

Poundstone will be performing at the Englert Theatre at 8 p.m. on Friday, June 10. She took the time to talk about her creative endeavors with Little Village recently; here are some excerpts from that conversation.

So, I had read that you actually did one of the rare proper stand-up routines on Saturday Night Live, and that has not happened that often. What was that experience like?

Horrifying. It was very hard to do. It was great to be included; Robin Williams was the host and he brought me on as the guest comic. That was very sweet of him. But it was really hard.

It’s funny but I don’t even remember standing on that stage … I remember standing at the Ford’s Theatre or standing at Carnegie Hall, but I don’t remember standing at the Saturday Night Live stage. I think it was just so scary — it was a long time ago and I was still pretty new to the job. It was a daunting task.

Daunting task or no, that sounds like an incredible accolade to have under your belt. It’s just a very different type of entertaining than what they usually do on that stage.

Yeah, but I do think it was Robin who got me that opportunity, because he was hosting. This was a long time ago. This was the Eddie Murphy cast.

In addition to stand up, you’ve had wide ranging experience doing voice work — most recently in the film Inside Out — which is hilarious. What was that experience like? Did you record your parts at the same time as Bobby Moynihan? Or were they separate performances?

Yeah we did work together at one point. Now, I went in a couple of times, which is so funny for such a small part. It was very Pixar of them. You know when sometimes in a tennis tournament there is an “extra” participant, and they just send someone through to the next round? I think both Bobby and I felt strongly that we got a bye. The part itself was very very funny. I think I did a good job, I think Bobby did a good job, but the truth is anybody could have done those lines and it would have been funny because it’s just a funny concept that there are little factory workers in your head getting rid of the unwanted memories — and, for whatever reason, recycling the really annoying one. It was fun. Pixar is the gold standard of animation and to be in a Pixar film was a real thrill. It’s not just animation — the writing on those things is just so goddamn good.

Continuing on the topic of voice work: you voiced Paula Small on Home Movies — I personally enjoy that cartoon. I find Squigglevision highly entertaining on its own. Were you in the same room as the other actors?

It was very fun, but no. Maybe one time I was in the room with the others. It was made in Watertown, Mass. and I live in Santa Monica, Calif. so I would go to a studio down the street from my house. I would be hooked up via wire with the director and he would do the other lines and I would sometimes improvise and sometimes read from the script. And I think that’s how [they] did it with most of them; I don’t how many actually sat in a room together.

You know Squigglevision use to be called Science Court, but ABC feared that people wouldn’t watch something with the word “science” in the title. Which by the way was a sign of the early steps for Donald Trump to get the nomination. Let’s just dumb ourselves down a little bit more if we possibly could.

Yeah, race to the middle.

Not even a race to the middle — we’d be lucky to make it to the middle. But I think when you fear the word “science” as a broadcaster maybe you’re not uplifting your patrons? (laughter)

Now when I would go to do Science Court I was often late; I had a bunch of little kids at home and there was always some kind of goddamn crisis. So I would get in and I’d say, “Oh, I’m sorry” — and because I couldn’t help myself, I would explain what the problem was or whatever. I would talk about my kids, and my this and my that. Well one day the director asked, “Do you mind if I record this?” (laughter) and that was kind of the genesis of Home Movies — in fact the little black baby with the glasses is my daughter Toshia. I’ve never really known, but I must have shown them a picture of her. Because really it looks like her when she was a baby, and she had glasses [when she was] very little. But regardless it still makes us laugh. They sent me a book of all the characters, and when I see little cartoon baby Toshia it gives me a laugh.

I’d like to congratulate you on being an author now, too.

Which is a terrible job by the way; it’s awful. I don’t know how anybody does it.

You have a very clean and concise title for that first book: There’s Nothing in This Book That I Meant to Say (laughter).

On all the shipping statements it just says “there’s nothing” (laughter). I’ve also written a follow-up — my newest book is on the way to the copy editor as we speak. It’s intended to come out in May of next year. The title is The Totally Unscientific Study of the Search for Human Happiness (laughter) so those packing slips will all just read “the totally” or maybe “the totally un” — yeah, I’m no Malcolm Gladwell.

Well as long as they don’t go with “science” on the label …

No! It says UN-scientific! (laughing) I think the it’s the “un,” that un-science, that’ll make it popular!

Ryan Morrow is a native son of the great state of Illinois — after several transplants he’s made his home in Iowa City Iowa. He has a passion for comedy and those who have chosen it as a profession. This article was originally published in Little Village issue 200.

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