Given her status as a modern-day comedy star, it may be hard to believe that Paula Poundstone began as a high school dropout floundering in menial jobs around Massachusetts. Lucky for Poundstone and for her fans one of those menial jobs actually helped start her comedy career.
I was busing tables for a living, says Poundstone, a native New Englander. I didnt necessarily think that there was a career there for me as a performer. As it happened, Boston was one of a handful of cities at the time where a couple of people decided to start their own stand-up comedy nights in a few of the clubs. It was really a kind of time-and-place thing for me.
I happened to be pretty responsibility free at that point, Poundstone says. I started when I was 19, and I could go out and do open-mic nights, and didnt really care whose floor I slept on that night to save money. If I was starting today, I wouldnt have a shot at it.
Poundstone, performing Friday at Durhams Carolina Theatre, has always been self-deprecating about her comedic talents. The longtime stand-up comedian and popular panelist on National Public Radios quiz show Wait Wait ... Dont Tell Me! takes in stride being named to both Comedy Centrals list of the 100 Greatest Stand-ups of All Time and lad mag Maxim magazines Worst Comedians of All Time.
That goes to show Comedy Central who knows more about comedy! she notes with sarcasm.
I am what I am, she continues, and it doesnt surprise me that that may not appeal to everyone. The truth is you cant measure yourself by either one of those lists.
Poundstones status as one of the first female superstars in the world of comedy has occasionally brought out the worst in some of her more misogynistic male counterparts. Even today, many male comics still hold onto the sexist notion that only men are funny. But that doesnt seem to bother Poundstone, who was inducted into the Comedy Hall of Fame in 2010.
I dont decide what I like based on gender, she says. I have strong opinions on what I like and dont like, and gender has never played a role in it... Every five years or so, some radio disc jockey attempts to make a name for himself by saying that women arent funny. There will be a big kerfuffle about it for a second, with a lot of women getting offended, and it will be on peoples minds for a moment until it is forgotten about; then someone else will pick up on it again for a little publicity. Its ridiculous.
Of course, Poundstone has other duties to keep her from worrying too much about what critics may think of her work. The single mother of three young children, she has to deal with the same daily issues as all parents.
Luckily, I dont have the experience of being married, so theres nothing to compare my parenting situation to. I also love the idea of not having to run my decisions by a committee.
Poundstone says she feels lucky to have found a good balance between work and family.
Im usually only gone two nights a week working, she says. And then the rest of the week Im able to transport the kids to and from school; I volunteer at the school, those types of things. . . . When Ive tried to find that balance between work and family, its the same as any other working parent; you often feel when you are doing one, you should be doing the other. Ive tried to avoid thinking about it when I catch myself drifting that way. I figure you may as well keep doing whichever is in front of you.
So when Poundstone walks onto the stage Friday night in Durham, she will be ready to entertain fans both new and old.
My crowd tends to be mixed, the comedian says. There are people who have known me from my stand-up career for years, who have never heard of Wait Wait. Then there are these people that are only fans of Wait Wait who have no idea that I had this back history as a comedian. The Wait Wait audience that comes to see my show in theaters has become a great addition to my usual comedy-club crowds.