While doing chores at her home in Santa Monica, California, comedian Paula Poundstone is waiting for her lost luggage to arrive from her last trip. When it does, she’s got to repack so she can get ready for her next trip, which will eventually bring her to Sag Harbor and the Bay Street Theatre.
“Going to a hotel with no luggage is fun, you just get there and lay down, you don’t have anything to do, it’s kinda weird,” she mused during a telephone interview on Friday. “I’ll pretty much lay down then sit up, it’s oddly convenient.”
Ms. Poundstone described her life as a series of getting ready to go on trips. And lost luggage.
It’s exactly this kind of observational humor, mixed with audience interaction, that makes up Ms. Poundstone’s routine, she said. It’s a technique that stems from early in her career when she was doing open mic nights in Boston. Each performer would get 5 minutes, the lineup was packed, and if a performer went over their time, the other comedians would be sharpening their knives in the back, she recalled.
“I would practice 5 minutes, but invariably go on stage, get distracted, not know where I was in my 5 minutes and panic would ensue,” she said. “I would end up talking to audience members about anything that caught my eye and I developed the time honored ‘where are you from, what do you do for a living.’ Once I started doing that I had no idea what time it was, other comics were furious, I would go longer and longer with the protection of the audience.”
Ms. Poundstone realized that interacting with the audience was where the core of her whole act was. For her, the conversations that ensue sends her routine in an array of different directions, which she dictates based on what the audience says.
“In this way every show is unique, to me it’s very exciting, a lot of performers do the same thing every night, and the crowd loves it,” she said. “I don’t have the capacity to do that, I don’t have the focus.”
The comedian is self-deprecating as well, which also makes it into her act. She frequently talks about her life as a single mother, with three adopted kids and a house full of cats and dogs—“an unprofitable farm,” she calls it. “My mental capacity is not huge. But inside my house, I could’ve been Einstein and it would’ve sucked the brains out of my head,” she deadpanned. “Every time I’m on the BBC website and there’s something on Alzheimer’s I click on it looking for hope.”
Although Ms. Poundstone picks on herself for having what she calls a lack of focus and mental capacity, her sharp wit and unscripted interactions with contestants as a panel member on National Public Radio’s “Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me!” quiz show program draws the fans. The mixture of humor, current events and politics on the NPR show is something that Ms. Poundstone thinks is important, and has also helped her following to grow.
“Some know me because they have been following me throughout the years, but that public radio is a fantastic addition to the following, they are smart and just fun,” she said.
Making people laugh is the tie that binds across Ms. Poundstone’s career, she said. And it is what she is coming to Sag Harbor to do.
“I do comedy because I really enjoy it. As I’ve grown older in this job I realize I’m the luckiest person in the world,” she said. “Not only do I love my job, but by the design of nature it produces endorphins for me and the audience. I consider myself a proud member of the endorphin-producing community.”
Paula Poundstone will perform her stand-up show at Bay Street Theatre in Sag Harbor on Monday, August 19, at 8 p.m. Tickets are $69. For reservations and additional information, visit baystreet.org.