Her comedy saves me in this pandemic-Trumpian-conspiracy-theory reality.
She goes on stage with a stool, a microphone, and a can of Diet Pepsi. She's often wearing a neon-colored Zoot suit. She bounces back and forth between improvising with the audience and pulling jokes out from her comedy repertoire. She doesn't have a "set" set.
Given her improvisation talents, it's no surprise that Robin Williams noticed and "discovered" her in San Francisco in 1984. He gave her a national television spot on a ninth-season episode of “Saturday Night Live” he was hosting. (He didn't even ask or tell Lorne Michaels. He just did it. I love that detail.) Spots on Johnny Carson and Letterman soon followed.
Her “crowd work” is regarded as one of the best in the business; she makes creating comedy by talking to the audience look easy.
However, in 1991, for her first HBO special called Cats, Cops, and Stuff, the suits upstairs were too afraid of her improvising with the crowd and insisted that she write a script. (About a third or so of her shows involve crowd work.) Despite this opportunity so early in her career, she said no, ready to walk away from an opportunity of a lifetime.
They changed their minds, and her show blew their minds.
Below is a short bit that shows how she weaves audience responses into unforgettable comedy. Pay attention to the "lube rack" bit. It's a classic.
HBO special: Cats, Cops, and Stuff. 1991.
#1 She doesn't do "blue" (off-color) material
Quirk #3: She Doesn't Own a Bed, and She Uses Her Treadmill as a Desk
She sleeps on the floor with blankets. And I guess she likes a "standing" desk. She is quirky.
Her Downfall and Comeback
In 2001 she was arrested for children endangerment. She was driving with some of her eight adopted children, and she was drunk. They had an accident; luckily, no one was hurt. However, they took away most of her kids, ordered her to go to Alcoholics Anonymous, had her do a six-month rehab program, and left her with little dignity.
In the entertainment world, she became untouchable. Of course, she lost all her work contracts. She lost friends. She didn't know if she'd ever work again -- much like the more recent Louis CK scandal. While he tried a comeback with jokes about school shootings that outraged Parkland survivors and even many comedians, Paula came up with a show called Look What the Cat Dragged In. (Louis CK: take a note!)
During the show, she talks about her typical observational stuff and does her crowd work. Then she gets down to brass tacks. Telling the story of what happened to her ... and making it funny.
"I got my dog . . . because I was drunk in a pet store. We had nine cats at the time. The cats started hiding the alcohol after that."
And regarding the court decision:
"I was court-ordered to go to Alcoholics Anonymous on television. Pretty much blows the hell out of the second A, wouldn't you say?"
Paula's comeback show. 44 minutes. Classic.
She's not afraid of being judged. She only wants to do the right thing. She takes responsibility for her mistake:
I am - I deeply regret the mistakes that I made. ... it was totally my responsibility, not anybody else's at all. And, you know, the best thing I can do is not do it again and make sure that - you know, hopefully what my kids will see is someone who made mistakes and, you know, kind of picked themselves up and kept going and hopefully got, you know, better than before. And other than that, I don't know what else to do.
Following the show, she was welcomed back with open arms. (Not everybody's, of course.) The show even won awards.
I would wager that people's fondness for her comes from who she is as a comedian and person. In an interview with the local NPR station in Kalamazoo, MI, the day before her gig there, she said:
“It’s fun. It’s a joyous job. I’m the luckiest person in the entire world,” said Poundstone. “To be in a room full of people who have come out to laugh for the night. It’s kind of magical."
Highlights of some of her creds:
2018: Her first appearance on The Late, Late Show with Stephen Colbert.
2017 - present: Her podcast Live from the Poundstone Institute morphed into Nobody Listens to Paula Poundstone. (She calls her fans "Nobodies." She really leaves no comedy stone unturned.)
2017: Published her book, The Totally Unscientific Study of the Search for Human Happiness.
2015: She is the voice of the character, Forgetter Paula, for Disney's celebrated animated film, Inside Out.
2011 - present: Countless appearances on NPR's #1 radio show, Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me!
2010: Inducted into the Comedy Hall of Fame.
2007: Published her book, There's Nothing in This Book That I Meant to Say
2006 - 2015: Over two dozen appearances on The Craig Ferguson Show.
2006: Her revered "comeback" show: Look What the Cat Dragged In.
2004: Featured on The 100 Greatest Stand-Ups of All Time
And... a ridiculous number of awards. Go wiki her.
Some fun quotes:
Nearly every night before I go to sleep, I put on her podcast Nobody Listens to Paula Poundstone. That way, I'm always smiling as I slip into slumber. Someone who admits she's wrong and then makes fun of herself? I mean c'mon. A no-brainer.
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