EDITOR’S NOTE: This week, Bob Nocek Presents LLC is bringing whimsical comedian, actress, and author Paula Poundstone back to the Triangle for another highly anticipated one-night stand — at 8 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 1st — this time in Meymandi Concert Hall in the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Raleigh, NC. The 56-year-old Huntsville, AL native and resident smart-aleck on “Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me” on National Public Radio, Poundstone is a single mother who once described herself as “Stand-up Comic-Mother-Writer.” She is famous for her offbeat improvisational humor and for carrying on running conversations with audience members during her act. Veteran journalist Peggy Higgins caught up with Poundstone via telephone on Wednesday, Nov. 16th. What follows are highlights from their wide-ranging conversation. (For complete details about Poundstone’s life and career, click here)— R.W.M.
Interviewing Paula Poundstone is a little bit like trying to rake leaves in a high wind; the conversation is constantly on the move and impossible to contain into one neat pile. In the space of 20 minutes, she flitted effortlessly from topic to topic — from bacon, to airline cookies, to tap dancing (her secret weapon against boredom on long flights cross country), to libraries, to her comedy routine and, of course, to cats.
The bacon — “I love pork,” she admits. “Although I avoid eating it for a variety of reasons” — is a taste she says that’s part of her Southern heritage; she was born in Huntsville, Alabama, but only lived there about a month before her family pulled up stakes and moved north of the Mason-Dixon Line to Massachusetts.
“But we still went back [South] for visits,” Poundstone says. “And I remember the food. They used a lot of bacon. It was like it was in their DNA,” she says. “I did a takeoff on that a few years ago with these YouTube cooking videos. I was this character, Rhonda Puckett, who was like a combination of my mother and my aunt. It’s an homage to my Southern roots.”
A quick Google search after the interview for “Paula Poundstone and YouTube cooking videos,” and there they were: “Cooking with Rhonda-Pilot,” “Holiday Cooking with Rhonda,” “Halloween Cooking with Rhonda,” and my favorite, “No Easter Cooking with Rhonda.” The accent is spot on, and so is the character.
The cookies — she says they’re one of the big perks of flying American and Delta airlines — are just part of the reason that Paula Poundstone says flying doesn’t bother her, in spite of the fact that she spends a lot of time in the air. A quick check on her website shows that she has 13 appearances scheduled between now and the end of the year, ranging from New York to Key West to Long Beach, California, to Annapolis, and concluding with a New Year’s Eve gig in San Francisco.
“I think a flight is a flight, whether you’re going from California to New York or just up the coast from L.A. to San Francisco,” she says. “Sometimes, the shorter ones are more trouble than the longer ones; but I don’t really mind it anyway. It’s only a small inconvenience that enables me to do a job I love.”
When she’s not nibbling the cookies, Poundstone says she sleeps — a lot. “I’m one of those people who passes out on a plane,” confesses Poundstone. “In fact, years ago, I was doing a thing on radio and somebody heard me and faxed over a photo — that’ll tell you how long ago it was — that showed some people on the same plane I’d been on. They’d taken some pictures of themselves, but they got me in the background with my mouth open and my tongue hanging out.”
And during her waking in-flight hours, Paula Poundstone says she practices her tap dancing, while seated, of course. “You know, a little soft shoe; it keeps me occupied and it’s great for my restless leg syndrome,” she says. “It’s also great for your mind. My dance teacher tells me no tap dancer has ever had dementia, and I’m hoping she’s right.”
Poundstone is a long-time library lover. In fact, she has been the national spokesperson for the American Library Association’s United for Libraries program since 2006. United for Libraries is a grass-roots support group, with members across the country who raise much-needed funds for their local libraries.
Paula Poundstone calls libraries “the keepers of the knowledge,” and says she first became involved with the ALA when she was doing an appearance in Washington, DC, for the Library of Congress’ annual National Book Festival. “They were really great people,” says Poundstone, “and I’ve done a lot of shows for libraries and librarians since then.”
Although she’s been in the comedy business since the late 1980s, Poundstone still admits to the occasional bout of stage fright. “Sometimes, before a show, I just go blank,” she says. “I’ve got no idea what I’m going to do when I go out there.
“My act is largely biographical,” says Poundstone. “I talk about my kids, and I look for connections with the audience. I talk to them, and riff on their responses.”
She adds, “I work on what I call ‘recognition laughter.’ People recognize the things I talk about, and they can identify it as the kind of things that happen to them.”
And finally, we got to the cats. It’s true; she does have 14 of them. “I feel like a charwoman for my cats,” says Paula Poundstone. “They scratch at the door, and I’m supposed to feed them or do whatever else they want. When people ask me how I got 14 cats, I tell them I had 16 — and two died.” What an exit line.
SECOND OPINION: Nov. 25th Raleigh, NC News & Observer preview by Ed Condran: http://www.newsobserver.com/entertainment/arts-culture/article116384448.html.
Bob Nocek Presents LLC presents PAULA POUNDSTONE at 8 p.m. Dec 1 in Meymandi Concert Hall in the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. South St., Raleigh, North Carolina 27601.
TICKETS: $39.14-$49.14, plus fees.
Duke Energy Center Box Office: 919-996-8700 or firstname.lastname@example.org (information only).
Ticketmaster: 800-745-3000 or http://www.ticketmaster.com/venueartist/115203/806650.
Paula Poundstone (Huntsville, AL-born comedian, actress, and author) http://www.paulapoundstone.com/ (official website), http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0005323/ (Internet Movie Database), https://www.facebook.com/PaulaPoundstone (Facebook page), https://twitter.com/paulapoundstone (Twitter page), http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paula_Poundstone (Wikipedia), and https://www.youtube.com/paulapoundstone (YouTube).
In a previous life, Peggy Higgins worked as a journalist for newspapers in both North and South Carolina, including The Charlotte Observer and the Asheville Citizen-Times. Some of her assignments were regional theater reviews and interviews with the likes of Andie MacDowell, Sam Neill, and Anthony Zerbe. She left journalism to become an academic librarian, first at Brevard College in Brevard, NC, and for the past five years at Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College in Asheville. She lives with her husband, two cats, one bird, an adolescent Great Pyrenees, and an expanding herd of wild turkeys and deer on the farm that her family has owned for the past couple of centuries, tucked in the north corner of Buncombe County. Click here to read her interviews, previews, and reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.