Paula Poundstone is a walking legend of comedy. Hailing from the Boston comedy scene of the late ’70s and early ’80s, Poundstone is a stalwart of the Golden Age of Stand-up. After dropping out of high school, Poundstone started performing at open mics and has gone on to be an absolute icon in the industry, with one of the most well-respected careers of anyone out there. She took a few minutes to talk with LEO about her career and more.
LEO: Does being on the road after over 30 years ever get exhausting?
Paula Poundstone: Not really. I love being with audiences because they’re my best friends. The traveling part itself, sitting in an airport while your bones turn to dust, that part isn’t great — but it’s a small price to pay for such a joyous job.
LEO: When you left high school, was comedy always part of the plan?
PP: No. I left school because I was a miserable failure at it. I was just sort of a depressed lump of a child by that point in my life. I’d always wanted to be a comic performer, but when I left high school I don’t know that I saw a path to that in any way.
LEO: A lot of comedians of your era seemed to be really combative with the audience, but you never were, was that a conscious decision?
PP: Yeah. But that’s also not what’s in my heart. I love the audience. What’s not to love? People that come out to laugh for the night. It’s people with whom I have much more in common than I have differences. It’s people that I can tell some of the worst experiences of my day or life, and we have laughs of recognition over it. So yeah, in particular, there was often a combative field between the audience and the comic, and it was one of the first things I took notice of and decided I didn’t want a slice of that pie.
LEO: Would you agree that it’s time to put away the phrases “female comedian” or “black comedian” and just accept that they’re all just comedians?
PP: Honestly, I’ve never found those distinctions helpful in any way. Yeah, if they make you laugh they make you laugh. I’m not sure that it all needs to be labeled in that way. And by the way, I’ve done any number of documentaries or shows that were “Women in Comedy,” “Women in this…” or “Women in that…” and I always hate doing it. And yet, I would feel really terrible if I was left out of it, so I always end up doing them. But, honestly, I think it tends to generalize us, and makes it seem like we have to narrow the field to have any success; and it’s really not true.
LEO: As a comedian, are you happy Donald Trump is running for president?
PP: It has been helpful. There are times when you’re on stage and you think, “I’ve got nothing else to say.” And then there’s a voice in the back of your head that goes, “Wait, oh, yeah, I do. I’ve got a lot to say.” As a comedian, you can’t help but love that peculiar goldfish face he makes. But as a citizen, it’s totally depressing. You want to think that these people supporting him are idiots, but they don’t sound like idiots. They’re just simply incorrect and misled, not necessarily stupid. •