After a grueling year away from Key West, Paula Poundstone is back. When I ask her what she’s been up to since last December’s performance at the Key West Theaters, her response is deadpan: “Embarrassingly, the same stuff.” Clever and self-deprecating, Paula’s brand of humor spans the spectrum from improvisational audience-inspired dialogue to deeply thought-out commentary on the invasion of technology into our lives and her deep love of Double Stuf Oreos, both of which she was able to explore in depth in our short interview.
But while “the same stuff” is sort of accurate — she’s still taking care of her 14 cats and attending to the unavoidable “tremendous amounts of sifting” inherent in feline ownership — it’s not the whole picture of a year in the life of Paula Poundstone. A frequent critic of technology, Paula is quick to update me that she’s embraced it over the last year. Sort of. “I started using Instagram,” she exclaims. “I already do Twitter, but Instagram being so picture-y it has very tangible evidence of how dull my life is, how routine my life is. I go on the road, I tell my little jokes. At home, I take care of my animals and I do chores.” Celebrities — they’re just like us!
But really — there must be something more momentous than Instagram to have happened since we talked last? “Well,” she hesitates, “Adam Felber and I started a podcast called ‘Nobody Listens to Paula Poundstone.”’ Now we’re talking.
Billed as a “comedy field guide to life, or at least a set of IKEA assembly instructions,” “Nobody Listens to Paula Poundstone” finds Paula and Adam using their unique comedic sensibilities to help the Average Jill navigate life in the 21st century. Along with expert guests on topics ranging from surviving bear encounters to analyzing election results, Paula and Adam review films, discuss hypothetical alternate career paths (“Could Paula become a welder?”) and try to make sense of their lives.
Paula and Adam met through their appearance on NPR’s #1 show, Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me! “Adam was one of the original members,” Paula explains. “He just celebrated his 20th anniversary. I came on 17 years ago, so we’ve both been at it a long time. We met because he lived in New York City but was in Los Angeles recording — we did not use a live audience; we all recorded separately at the NPR studios wherever we lived. So, Adam came to the Los Angeles NPR studio, we met and we worked together. Then they started to have a live audience, which was a lot more fun, so we got to work together a lot more.”
But to develop the type of friendship that allows two people to create a hilarious podcast on a weekly basis requires a little more than just every day workplace exposure. “One day pretty early on in our friendship, I was going to be working out of town so I asked Adam to take my son Thomas to his hockey practice,” Paula remembers. “When Thomas was little, I think he had some weird tactile thing. Any kind of transition created a kerfuffle, but he started taking skating lessons. Those turned into hockey lessons, and when they move into the official hockey lessons they have to get all that damn gear. And I don’t know anything about hockey, so I would have to take Thomas into the ladies’ room with me to get him dressed. For Thomas, the whole process was stressful and he was likely to flip out at any minute and I don’t think I told that to Adam… I figured he’d work it out. And as far as I know, I think it went OK. So, Adam taking my son to the hockey lesson cemented my love for him. Working with Adam is like working with a big puppy.”
And listening to “Nobody Listens to Paula Poundstone,” it’s evident that Paula and Adam are genuinely enjoying themselves. “We have a good time together,” Paula assures me. “We recorded an extra episode last week so we could take Thanksgiving week off and, although I appreciate having the extra time to do chores, I missed it. It’s fun to do, that’s why we do it. Let’s be real — we’re not going to make any money off of it. Today, one of the few things that all Americans have in common is that we breathe oxygen, we don’t eat our young and we all have a podcast. Fortunately, Adam says he only wants beer money and I only want Adam to have beer money, so we don’t have all this pressure to be a huge money maker. And the even better news is that it’s really fun to do and the way it worked out, where we record is right near everyone else but I have to drive two hours to get there, so I get to eat all of the Doritos and Double Stuf Oreos I want on my commute.”
When she’s not recording Nobody Listens to Paula Poundstone or hitting the road with her one-woman show, Paula (sort of) likes to volunteer at a nursing home a couple mornings a week. “I started volunteering after researching the book I published last year
— ‘The Totally Unscientific Study of the Search for
Human Happiness,’” she confesses. In the book, Paula tries to answer the question, “Is there a secret to happiness?” “So, I conducted all of these experiments in happiness, like the ‘Get Up and Help Experiment’ where I volunteered in different capacities, including at the nursing home. To be honest, I had what I needed after two months there but felt like too much of an asshole to get up and leave. That was three years ago and I’m still there two mornings a week. I mostly do jigsaw puzzles and I bring my dog as a diversion because that way I’m not staring right at someone. It makes for a more casual conversation. Plus, most of the people there can’t really do jigsaw puzzles, so I spend a lot of time alone. But honestly, it does feel good to do something outside of yourself. And the things that really make you feel good sometimes suck — like working out — so you don’t feel like doing it, but I always feel so much better when I leave.”
Though she avoids conversation in the nursing homes, during performances Paula relies heavily on her audience to drive the content of her shows. “You can be the greatest comic in the world, but if there’s not people there to hear you tell your little jokes there’s no point in doing it,” she says. Perhaps surprisingly, a large part of why Paula relies on improvisation and participation and inspiration from the audience is because she, by her own admission, “can’t remember anything.” She divulges, “I’d have my routine all memorized and get on stage and then all of a sudden I would fall apart. I would get distracted or make a comment about something unrelated and lose my place in time.” As a result, she has developed a very interactive storytelling style.
As far as Key West goes, Paula is looking forward to coming back. “I had a nice time the last time I was in Key West,” she recalls, “and I remember the chickens and that’s about it. I didn’t see any iguanas last time I was there though!” When I tell her about how the iguanas occasionally drop from trees when the weather gets cold enough and that December is peak iguana-dropping season, she laughs a deep-throated laugh and, in between breaths, gasps, “I don’t think I would like that at all!” Falling iguanas aside, Paula is very excited to be performing at the Key West Theater… and pretty much anywhere else she can. “Performing in front of a group of people who have come out to laugh for the night is so much fun. It really is healing and good for mental health,” she insists. “I like to think of myself as a member of the endorphin production industry! Plus, there is a sense of belonging in an audience that is different than watching something at home. It’s so wonderful for me to be able to perform in front of a willing audience.”
Paula Poundstone will be performing at the Key West Theater on Friday Dec. 7 at 8 p.m. To purchase tickets, visit the Key West Theater website at www.thekeywesttheater.com or call the box office at 305-985-0433. And check out Nobody Listens to Paula Poundstone at www.maximumfun.org/shows/nobodylistensto-paula-poundstone — you’ll definitely laugh and you might even learn a thing or two. ¦