This weekend, comedian Paula Poundstone brings her famed sense of humor to Chicago’s Athenaeum Theatre for long-missed laughs in front of a live audience. Saturday night will be Poundstone’s first in-person tour since the pandemic began.
Perhaps best known for her work on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and regular appearances on NPR’s Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me!, Poundstone’s own Cats, Cops and Stuff was named one of the top five funniest comedy specials of all-time by TIME magazine last year. Poundstone’s current tour incorporates her own lived experiences, but it’s also largely based on real-time engagement with audience members.
“I believe we all have far more in common than we have differences to begin with,” Poundstone said. “And that’s part of what makes going to a comedy show.”
WBEZ’s Reset sat down to talk with Poundstone about her upcoming Chicago show and the laughs that are sure to follow. Here are edited highlights from the conversation.
On how her show is largely autobiographical
Poundstone: I talk a lot about my own experiences over the years — when I was raising kids, I talked about raising kids. …
When I talk about topics outside of me, it’s because, gee, I was just watching this on the news or I was just thinking about this. So, there’s no getting around me. Currently, I’m talking about getting through the stay-at-home order. I’m loath to say the pandemic, because we aren’t through the pandemic.
On what performing for a live audience again is like
Poundstone: You know, we all watch things on our screens sometimes. But that communal feeling of sitting in the midst of a crowd of strangers and then sharing the emotional response to what’s being said on stage, whether it’s a play, or a band, or an orchestra or a stand-up comic. That is an exquisite feeling. I don’t know if any other species even gets that.
People are really happy to be able to be out now. I work in different states and they have different protocols, in terms of the theater, but I’m finding that where people are vaccinated and they’re masked up — they’re damned happy to be there.
On her 20 years as a panelist on NPR’s Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me!
Poundstone: I’d just like to clarify something: Yes, I’m trying to win! A lot of listeners have the impression that I’m somehow throwing the match. No, I’m just not very good. Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me! is a weekly news quiz show and it’s three panelists each week vying for the mantle of, I don’t know, most informed. And so, we answer questions about the week’s news and I do hold the record for the most losses.
You know, [what I love most about being on the show] is no one ever tells me what to say. We all, you know, try to brush up on the news ahead of time, but we don’t know what questions specifically. And so we just wing it, to wing it. And to have a forum where they encourage just winging it is really, really fun. And so there’s a little crackle in the air there at those.
On what the audience can expect from her upcoming show
Poundstone: Well, there’s no mosh pit. I’m not going to stage dive, so no one will get hurt physically. My favorite part of any show is just plain talking to the audience. I do the time-honored, “Where are you from? What do you do for a living?” And in this way, little biographies of audience members emerge from which to set my sail.