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Paula and I discussed her creative process as she returns to Martha’s Vineyard on 7/16 and Cape Cod Melody tent on 7/17.
Paula Poundstone is known for her smart, observational humor and a spontaneous wit that has become the stuff of legend. Time magazine, in the March 2020 “Best of” issue, listed Paula’s HBO special, Cats, Cops and Stuff as one of The 5 Funniest Stand-Up Specials Ever. Paula can be heard weekly as the host of the comedy podcast, Nobody Listens to Paula Poundstone and as a regular panelist on NPR’s comedy news quiz, Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me!
Also an author, Poundstone’s second book, The Totally Unscientific Study Of The Search For Human Happiness (Algonquin 2017) was one of eight semi-finalists for The Thurber Prize for American Humor, the highest recognition of the art of humor writing in the United States. The audiobook was one of five finalists for the Audio Book of the Year AUDIE award.
Paula was the first female comic, in its then 73rd year, to perform at the White House Correspondents dinner. She was the first female standup, in its then 5th year, to win the ACE award for Best Comedy Special on Cable television. She is recognized in innumerable lists, documentaries and literary compendiums noting influential standup comedians of our time.
To see the first interview with Paula, click here.
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Transcript – Please note, this Transcript is AI Generated. It has not had the discerning ears of a real human to edit it, as such, there are bound to be a few errors
Paula Poundstone 0:00
Then I think to myself we’re leaning
Jimmy Tingle 0:17
Hello, everybody, and welcome to today’s show. Today we have the star of Wait, wait, don’t tell me on NPR. And her own podcast which she is the host and star of that as well. Nobody listens to Paula Poundstone. Ladies and gentlemen, drumroll please. For the one, the only the lovely the talented. Paula Poundstone.
Paula Poundstone 0:43
I was so nice to be with you. Thank you. And by the way, all right, as much as I would like to, to Yes. And what you just said, I am not the star of Wait, wait, don’t tell me. I am a panelist. I am a recurring panelist. On Wait, wait, don’t tell me. Peter Sigel is the star of Wait, wait, don’t tell me.
Jimmy Tingle 1:07
He’s the host. Oh, he’s the host. When you’re on there, you’re the star
Paula Poundstone 1:11
while they’re gonna start telling them that and see how many books like that.
Jimmy Tingle 1:17
Now you’re just you’re just a blast to listen to on that show. And it’s always fun whenever you’re doing. It’s really resonating. And that’s what I want to talk to you about today. I’ve known you for 40 years, I never really talked about a process with any of my friends back in the day. Oh, wha coming up through the ranks. It was always a very I found it a very solitary process. And there was no, there was certainly no schools for it. There were no classes for it. And I always wondered how you did it.
Paula Poundstone 1:47
You know, I
I started doing open mic nights, which is sort of the that’s, that’s the Community College of stand up comedy. Right? That’s right. That’s right. Because unlike music, and I was so jealous of musicians during the stay at home order in the pandemic, unlike music, you cannot do it alone. In your living room, you can memorize something, if you choose, you can do that. But you cannot, you know everything that the timing, knowing what to you know what to land on all that stuff that has to be done with an audience in front of you, because it has to do with how they respond. So, you know, open mic nights are sort of where you where you start with that. And yeah, and I remember, you know, back when we were at the dining hall, I mean, how big the crowds would be. And I mean, it was a small club, but nonetheless, that club was packed on open mic night. And, um,
Jimmy Tingle 2:55
let me show on Wednesday night. Yeah, exactly. And,
Paula Poundstone 2:59
and there was a huge list of people wanting to go on. And, you know, none of us were particularly good at that point in our in our careers. But we all were, you know, champing at the bit to get on and the crowd would be red hot, and then it would start to dwindle after say 10 o’clock, or maybe even 11 a start to get a little bit smaller. And, and so every comic that went on, and there was somebody that was going to go on after them, they were really, and now that that comic comes off, and and you know 10 Audience members leave afterwards, right? So everybody’s really anxious to get on stage where while the crowd was still there, and I had a terrible habit of getting so nervous that I would get on and I would forget what I was going to say. And then I didn’t know where I was in my five minutes. Because I had memorized my five minutes, I would write it down on a piece of paper and literally memorize it. But then I would be thrown timewise immediately. And everyone hated me. Because they were poor, or you could hear the sharpening of the knives back behind the bar. And I used to shout out those are for the lemons. So I when I first started I would write stuff down in a very scripted way. I would time it with a with a stopwatch. I feel right. But then when I would get on stage because I couldn’t remember what I was gonna say because I was so nervous. I wouldn’t be forced to say like, Oh, look at the guy in the cardigan sweater or whatever, you know, go to the audience or talk about something that was happening in the room at the moment. And at first I thought that was like a sign of not being a very good comic. You know, the idea that I could I remember what I was doing. And then one day it dawned on me that the stuff that I did in the moment with the crowd that was clearly not prepared was often the heart of the show. Yeah. Or the heart of the well, let’s call it 10 minutes that that I did have my five minute open mic set.
Jimmy Tingle 5:18
Right. It was the most spontaneous and resonated connected with the audience the most. Yeah, yeah, exactly. Oh, by the way, folks, Paul is going to be on Martha’s Vineyard on July 16, at the Martha’s Vineyard Center for the Performing Arts in Oak bluffs. So check her out at Paula poundstone.com. And on the seventh Thiet. She’s going to be at the melody tent in Hyannis, Massachusetts, check her out tickets available. Paula poundstone.com. And also her podcasts, you can get a Paula poundstone.com. And all her tour dates. Paula poundstone.com. So Paula, so you’re initially like we all started open mics. But what I’ve noticed about you over the years, you’re incredibly prolific, you’ve got books out, you got multiple CDs, DVDs, you’ve won numerous awards. What is your process now as a seasoned performer? Like? Do you take an idea? And do you still write it out? Or do you just take the idea, the kernel of the idea and take it on stage and your audience’s there, so they’re all familiar with you, so you have the incredible license, they’re there to see you. So you can almost try stuff, right?
Paula Poundstone 6:31
It does make it a lot easier when you’re not constantly trying to win people over? Yeah, I jot down notes of stuff I always have, right on the belt loop of my pants, I have a small pen. So I carry a small pen. And in my back pocket, I carry a small notebook, so that when I think of something, I can write it down. So I’ll write something down.
That I think of the hardest part
for me is even remembering to go to it on stage. So before I go on stage, I have this red notebook, like a high school kid or so I know red folder. And before I go on stage, I flipped through that folder for a little while. And, you know, there’s honestly, there’s stuff that’s been in there for years that I’ve never done anything with. There’s stuff that’s been in there for so long that I don’t remember what it means anymore. And then there’s stuff that, you know, you try it out. And again, it’s a little like, like bowling with having an audience in front of like bowling with the, with the gutter guards. Because yeah, being able to do it with an audience in front of you, as opposed to sitting at your desk writing, being able to do it with an audience in front of you, tells you when to stick and move. You know when to when it’s over. I mean, for a long time when I when I wrote when I would write out a long piece, and then memorize it and take it on stage. Sometimes what would happen is the audience was really through with it before I was and that’s, that’s not good. I ever
Jimmy Tingle 8:15
read it on stage. Try to like, so you can remember it and actually read it.
Paula Poundstone 8:22
I, you know, I did when I first started out, I used to, I used to carry my folder onto the stage. And I would glance at not not a whole written out piece, but I would glance at the notes so that I could because I have
It makes my memory just fly away. Yeah. And I mean to this to this day. As I get older, I’m sure it’s not helping. And by the way, have you read this tingle that as a result of COVID not necessarily as a result of having had COVID Or having COVID. But as a result of living our lives in the time of COVID and all the stressful things that we’ve been through as a result. They’re finding that lots and lots of people are having memory problems. Okay. Have you read that?
Jimmy Tingle 9:27
Memory problems? Yeah, definitely.
Paula Poundstone 9:30
Okay, I have to tell you story. So I was during the, during the stay at home order. I volunteered. I did a volunteer job one one day a week. And it was indoor outdoor physical labor job. And it was on Saturdays. One day, they changed it for whatever reason they needed to to a Wednesday. So I go to my physical labor indoor outdoor volunteer job and And at one point, I’m taking a break. And I’m talking to a co worker, and we’re leaning on a car in the parking lot talking. And as we’re doing that, a guy that another co worker of ours, which is running down the street towards us waving a parking ticket, and he’s pissed because he got a parking ticket. And as soon as I saw I went by, it’s Wednesday. It’s not Saturday, in my mind, it’s a Saturday, and Wednesday is street cleaning day in Santa Monica in front of my, you can’t park the $70 ticket. I had no income at that point in my life. And I’m like, I cannot afford a $70 ticket. I was flipping out. I was I was I can’t determine how I was so angry. And my friend who I’m talking to she goes, go home, go home and move your car. No, I look at my watch. And like, No, it’s too late. I’ve already got a ticket. And then I think to myself, all right. Yeah.
You were leaning on?
Oh, like that kind? Yeah, that’s hilarious. Happens a lot. Yeah, you know, where, you know, I I’m ever about to put somebody in the refrigerator that isn’t a full
I need to have a little, a little sign of, like, right inside the door of the frigerator that says, you know, Hey, come on.
Unknown Speaker 11:42
That’s so funny.
Paula Poundstone 11:44
Do your keys need. So anyways, so And by the way, I tell that story on stage.
Because everything that happens is
I scrape my life for content or the stage, the way a waiter uses one of those little metal sticks to clear the bread crumbs off your tabletop. Yeah, I mean, I am forever. I feel like I have like a Roomba in my head. That just, you know, goes around all the time, like trying to it’s trying to suck up things that I you know, that make for good humor? On right.
Jimmy Tingle 12:30
And so the personal experiences, stuff just happens to you. You write it down? You remember it? I mean, that’s hilarious story. illenium on the car you think is being towed? And it’s like, Oh, my God, you have to do that on stage. But some of the funniest stuff? Is this, your experience is the real stuff that has happened. You’re just like, you’re not writing making something up, it’s actually happened?
Paula Poundstone 12:59
Well, the I think the other thing is that, to me, one of the, you know, one of the best sort of kinds of laughter coming from the crowd are what I call I can’t even remember the word that I call it, recognition laughter. Where they go, Oh, my gosh, I didn’t do that exact same thing. But I had that same process. And, you know, one of the reasons why going out to go to a show, be at a movie, any kind of show where you’re sitting in an audience with a group of people. I think the reason that’s so valuable, and we missed it so much during the stay at home order, is that sense of community, that thing that makes you feel like, Oh, I am a part of the whole, it’s not just me. And that the you know, that feeling that you’re doing something or feeling something that is unique to you, but it’s a bad thing. You know, if you think well, I’m the only asshole in the world. And it turns out no, not at all. We all it’s so much of our experience is common. And then when you hear somebody else address it. All of a sudden, it’s it’s funny in a way that maybe never even was before.
I remember hearing some comic in New York, it was a woman talked about having a hair on her breast. And I laugh until I cry.
Because every woman has hairs on her breast. That’s not a unique thing. But we don’t all we don’t talk about it. Right. You know, nobody brings it up. It’s sort of awkward. It doesn’t need to be but right societally. And so all those years, I had thought that I was the one The one that had that. And so when I heard her talking about and she was really funny about it, like she was really funny because it bothered her husband. And and because her husband didn’t know either that all women have that, you know. So all those things, they when you get laughing at things like that, it reinforces that you are part of the group. And we are pack animals we are. And so it’s very important to feel that you’re part of the group. You know, it’s, it’s what Junior High is based on?
Jimmy Tingle 15:32
Right? So you find in that your shows the audience’s pretty enthusiastic. Now coming back again, you’re going to be at the Martha’s Vineyard, performing arts center, the 16th of July and the 17th of July at the
Paula Poundstone 15:47
Cape Cod Melanie tent is talking about the memory
Jimmy Tingle 15:52
melody tent in Hyannis,
Paula Poundstone 15:54
you might want to think about being a part of a comedy team.
How about you?
That’s important. I might want to think about that.
Jimmy Tingle 16:06
Um, are you finding the audience’s enthusiastic and filling that mentality again, and being grateful to be out?
Paula Poundstone 16:14
Oh, really, really grateful to be out? As am I? Yeah. Um, you know, it’s funny when so there was the 15 month stay at home order, which was just, you know, who knew when things would? It’s such a uncertain, awful time
for everybody. Interestingly,
I think from those experiences, and then the collective experience of having all been at home, I think something for me in terms of the heart of what I’m doing, and the direction that I want to go in, I think I’ve had a slight shift in what I’m doing in the in the way that I’m doing it. For the better. For the better. Yeah, yeah, I’m really I try to talk more about our communal experience, I try to talk more about my own personal struggles with mental health, because all of these things are in, again, so much a part of the big picture,
Jimmy Tingle 17:15
and the identification that the audience has with those topics, too. And to D
Paula Poundstone 17:20
stigmatize, you know, things, I will say this in terms of audiences, in terms of all of us, there’s been a shift. There was a time where you could you could talk about whatever you want, and even politically, and people who disagreed with you politically, would, would still laugh. Or maybe they wouldn’t get that one part. But they wouldn’t feel like well, that’s it, yeah, tears it. Right. There was a, there was a lot more room. And I feel that because I’m not secretive about my politics, and never have been. But I, I, I feel that there was this little period of time where that was happening to me here and there, like I remember show in North Carolina, where people didn’t just quietly slip out the back. They had to, like, make a big, you know, stomping, you know, there, maybe even in the front. And I kind of took a look at that. And I went, you know what, I’m not playing this game anymore. I want to say what I want to say. And now, especially after the 15 month period, I don’t talk about politics every night. I do sometimes, but I don’t do it every night. And I try not to saturate people in it. Because I feel like we during that 15 month period, what were we doing oftentimes, like for me, I Doom straw, scroll on Twitter a lot. I have MSNBC on a lot. I listened to a lot of political podcasts. And so I feel like if everyone else is doing what I’m doing, or anything similar to it, we’re a little drenched in it right now. And sometimes it’s good to think about something else for a little while. At the same time.
Unknown Speaker 19:00
Are you absolutely there?
Paula Poundstone 19:03
I feel so worried. Yeah. If I’m telling people honestly what I’m thinking and feeling, then it’s appropriate to say, I feel so worried about the blah, blah, blah,
Jimmy Tingle 19:13
right. So Paula, getting back to your point about the communal nature of the shows, I’m finding that one of the best things we can do that I can personally do is to make people laugh. Give them some hope. do my job. Make them laugh? Make them feel better. Yeah. But also say what you got to say but just not just alienate them because like you said, we’re inundated with the news. We’re inundated from every channel, every every device that we have, at least I am. And sometimes, you know, even during the pandemic, I had to take a break. I had to get away just to go outside and be around things that are not flashing at me and telling me about breaking news. In this guy and that guy and her and he and oh, and I think the audience is the same way,
Paula Poundstone 20:06
you know what you can do, though, you can install a speaker and a tree. That way you get in both, you know?
I, I never took a break
over the Christmas holiday, when all the substitute anchors are on.
I listened to all three of Oh, who’s the author? Rob Baldwin? Yeah. Yeah. Well,
I listened to all three of Bob Woodward’s books about Trump, because I wanted to be more depressed. And that that seemed to help you Okay, having said all this, I have to tell you something,
which is I have twice
now performed at the villages. And they’re planning on having me back and
Jimmy Tingle 21:00
where is that again?
Paula Poundstone 21:02
That is the
a place that is notoriously right wing. Yeah. In Florida, right. That is a retired retirement community that is sort of unto itself, okay. They have their own stores. They have done theaters.
Jimmy Tingle 21:19
lineup, Paula Poundstone. And the reason you are Paula is because they love you, because you’re hilarious on stage. And, you know, in even with those types of folks, you know, if it’s funny, it’s funny. We found enough stuff.
Paula Poundstone 21:36
We found enough stuff that we have in common that we found that I laughing
Jimmy Tingle 21:41
Yeah, they probably have hairs on their breasts as well.
Paula Poundstone 21:45
Exactly. They would never admit to it. Its next I went to a support group for women with hair on their breasts, and I was the only person there.
Jimmy Tingle 21:58
Paula Poundstone. You can see her July 16 on Martha’s Vineyard at the Martha’s Vineyard Center for the Performing Arts. And on July 17, at the Cape Cod melody tent in Cape Cod, Massachusetts. You can find all information about Paula Poundstone at Paula poundstone.com including her podcast. Nobody listens to Paula Poundstone. Paula the next time you come back, we’re gonna talk about your podcast. I love talking about your process, how you develop things, your philosophy, you’re getting better on stage, some professions you diminish with time on stage or diminished in the profession. I find comics get better, more confidence, more ability to connect with the audience less mistakes, right?
Paula Poundstone 22:44
Yeah, I think that’s true. My ping pong game has really gone downhill.
Jimmy Tingle 22:51
You need a partner, because you can’t play ping pong by yourself.
Paula Poundstone 22:55
I have a machine that shoots the balls. Well, good to see you, Paula. Thanks
Jimmy Tingle 23:00
for doing this today. It was want everybody to go see it on Cape Cod and on Martha’s Vineyard. Thanks, Paula. Love you keep up the good work. I love you. You are the star of Wait, wait, don’t tell me.
Paula Poundstone 23:13
Wait till I tell them.
Jimmy Tingle 23:17
Thank you for joining us today. This has been a humor for humanity production. Our mission is your mission humor for humanity at Jimmy tingle.com