“If all else fails, just lie”: Paula Poundstone loves her job more every day

May 13, 2008 at 6:58 pm

Paula Poundstone
Paula Poundstone
Paula Poundstone
Friday, May 16
The Kentucky Center, Bomhard Theater
501 W. Main St.
$25-$30; 8 p.m.

The week in Kentucky, where our presidential primary vote almost finally matters, Paula Poundstone brings her insight on politics, life, kids and decision-making to Louisville. Whether the Kentucky vote ultimately matters, she agrees the primary shouldn’t end as long as every vote can possibly count. “People worry that the Democrats won’t unite after all this,” she says. “Of course we will. America was able to join forces with Russia against Germany, right?”

A comic with a career spanning almost three decades, Poundstone was the first woman to address the Presidential Correspondents Dinner. Yet, she claims to know very little about politics. “I just try to get enough information to vote. Mostly, my act is about raising a houseful of kids and animals.” That may be why she often finds herself (proudly) on the losing end of her panel during the popular NPR news-quiz show “Wait… Wait… Don’t Tell Me.”

But her lack of knowledge on current events deceives. She may not know what is going on around her, but supplying her a nugget of information can lead to commentary nothing short of genius. For example, a friend told her that reusing plastic water bottles, which she’s done for years, may put toxins into her children’s bodies. Did she know there are reports that burning ethanol may, in a roundabout way, not only be bad for the environment but may also cause food shortages?

“I didn’t know that either before now,” she says. “Sometimes I think the only thing to do is put our hands over our heads and run. You know, maybe the goal isn’t longevity. Maybe it’s satisfaction. The dinosaurs probably thought they should live forever, too. I’m sure one of them said one day, ‘This has to end’ and nobody really believed him.”

The biggest worry she has for her kids, aside from not having to worry about them because we’re all going to blow up, is in the small things. Her children are now 10, 14 and 17. “I’m going to get in trouble for saying this. We work with a math program called ‘Math with a Laugh.’ Some of it is algebra. I don’t know what someone is supposed to do with all this algebra knowledge. So, I worry whether or not they are learning the right things they need.”

Algebra has played almost no role in her professional longevity (aside from her co-authoring “Math With a Laugh”), and this longevity weathered a storm. I started a question, “You sort of went through a dark time …” when I heard the famous Poundstone “exclamation voice”:

“Sort of? Sort of? You ever walk with ankle-weights then take the weights off and feel like you’re walking on air? I’ve been powerlifting.”

Seven years ago, Poundstone served time away from her kids. She admitted to driving drunk with her kids in the car — on their way to an ice cream parlor. But unlike many celebrities, she ’fessed up, got herself sober, devoted her life to her children and kept fans, making new ones along the way.
How did she get through and emerge into a good phase of life?

“Focusing on my children got me through. I made a terrible mistake, but it’s not a constant.  I’ll always be associated with that, but it’s not who I am.”

She currently works on behalf of Friends of the Library USA. Following her Louisville appearance she’ll sign copies of her latest book, “There’s Nothing in this Book That I Meant to Say,” with a portion of proceeds going to Friends.  

Upon hearing of Louisville’s failed recent attempt to fund the libraries through a new tax (with one side wanting too much, and everyone else willing to give too little), she said, “Just talking about it feels, like, ‘duh.’ It seems to me that we shouldn’t have to remind people how important libraries are.” She takes her kids to their local Santa Monica branch regularly, placing bets on how many people they’ll know. Usually it’s no fewer than a total of double digit faces they recognize at, what she calls, “maybe the last vestige of community in cities.”

The best advice she was ever given was from a friend, Larry Wilson. Once, before a show he and Poundstone worked on together began to fall apart, he said to a show producer, “We are professionals. We’ll make it work.” It saved the show. From that day forward, she followed this advice, always vowing to “make it work.” At a recent birthday party for her son, she saw Wilson after years without contact. She reminded him of those words and he laughed. He then gave her perhaps the next best advice: “If all else fails, just lie.” To which she replies: “I went through my whole career following a line of advice based out of bullshit.”

After three decades, does stand-up ever get old? “I’m 48. I talk to a big group of people, say what I want, and then we all laugh. It’s the greatest job in the world.”

Beyond this tour, she also headlines Montreal’s “Just For Laughs” Comedy Festival in July. If you plan to attend her show here, take a camera — there’s a contest involved. (Details at paulapoundstone.com.)

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