Hey, hey, hey, Paula

IN FOR A PAULA, IN FOR A POUNDSTONE | The queermedian plays the Majestic Theater Friday, Feb. 25.

After 30 years, comedian Paula Poundstone still keeps ’em rolling in the aisles

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES | Life+Style Editor
jones@dallasvoice.com

Paula Poundstone celebrates her middlebrow tastes. It’s probably what has kept her a popular comedian for more than 30 years. While others have crashed and burned with edgy, sometimes alienating humor, Poundstone represents the everyman. Or everywoman.

Take, for instance, that quintessential high-brow cultural undertaking: The opera.

“Just talking to you is the closest I’ve ever been to the opera,” Poundstone says on the phone from her home. “I’m glad it’s there and I feel uplifted by knowing someone likes it, but have no interest in it myself. Like, I find it sad to see a folk art museum close down, but will I go to a folk art museum? I will not. ‘Ooh, look! An entire village constructed of broom straw!’ Not my thing. So, opera is on my list of things I haven’t experienced that I’m not sure I’d like to do — like butter sculpture.”

Butter sculpture? You mean, like what you see every year at the State Fair of Texas? That’s exactly what she is referring to.

“I was just talking to my kids about it yesterday,” says the fair-going veteran. “It’s hard for me to understand why someone would learn that skill. You can’t give it as a gift. How do you make a living doing butter sculpture? With ice sculpture, at least there’s an event and there’s a charm watching it melt.” But who would stick a knife into a gigantic dairy version of Elvis? Not Paula.

These observations are hardly earth-shattering insights into the human condition … but then again, maybe they are. Poundstone’s organic, randomly quaint stream-of-consciousness sense of humor is ticklishly grounded in every life. She talks about being the single gay mom of three kids, ages 12 to 20 — and one with limited domestic skills at that. (“I’m not much of a cook. I can heat water and make salad and it pretty much ends there. I once called my math teacher to ask how to make a baked potato,” she says.) Her jokes are sometimes about the bizarre daily occurrences that make up her life, but they could just as easily make up yours. And there are no gimmicks — it’s just her personality peeking through, a befuddled but optimistic take on life.

“I’m lucky in that everywhere I’ve been, I have a good time,” she says. She even likes coming to Texas, despite its conservative rep. She always seems to find an audience.

“There’s no area that’s entirely one thing,” she says. “Whatever the size of the city, the people who would be amused by my point of view tend to gather on that night.”

That night in Dallas will be Feb. 25, when she returns for a show at the Majestic Theatre.

But Dallas isn’t even a hard market for her. Heck, even in Utah — often regarded as the most conservative state in the union — you can find the gay-friendly crowds. And you don’t even have to look that hard.

“I did an outdoor festival [in Salt Lake City] and they were wild,” she recalls. “A man dressed as a woman presented me with a gold purse filled with items they thought I’d need to survive there. This guy was so flamboyant, it was kinda jaw-dropping. But [the crowd] couldn’t have loved it more.”

Likewise, Poundstone says even gay-accepting communities like Provincetown, Mass., have their pockets of closed-mindedness.

“P’town has an enormous gay community — its like you’re in some sort of a production when you’re there. But it’s still old New England, and there are people who have been there forever but still haven’t caught on, these fisherman who think it’s a coincidence or something gay that a man walking down the street looks like a lady. They don’t seem to realize what’s risen up all around them.”

Poundstone herself is aware of what has risen up around her. She started in standup in 1979 or 1980 (she can’t even recall which), in the heyday of comedy clubs like The Improv. She weathered the circuit, building up a fan base enthusiastic about the observational style of comedy she and others of her era (Jerry Seinfeld, Ellen DeGeneres, etc.) pioneered.

“It was so much about time and place and had nothing to do with me,” she modestly claims. “The fact I did it there and then made a huge difference in what I was able to do. I worked really hard and I still work really hard, but I didn’t plan and make decisions that led me on a certain path. I worry that my kids don’t get that, that my formula won’t work again.”

Maybe not. But as long as it worked once, we’re good.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition Feb. 18, 2011.

—  John Wright

WATCH: Homeless transgender woman Jennifer Gale sings ‘Silent Night’ on the eve of her death

A photograph of Jennifer Gale is shown lying on the ground at a memorial service following her death. The broom symbolized her being swept off the streets of Austin. The service was held at the Homeless Memorial and Tree of Remembrance on the shore of Lady Bird Lake.

Two years ago tomorrow, homeless transgender woman Jennifer Gale died on the streets of Austin — from a heart attack likely caused in part by the extreme cold. Gale was a perennial political candidate who ran for Dallas mayor in 2007. She slept on the streets because the only shelter for women in Austin, run by the Salvation Army, wouldn’t house her according to her gender identity, which would have forced her to sleep and shower with men. Gale’s death prompted changes in Dallas, where the city’s homeless shelter, the Bridge, subsequently adopted a policy under which it houses people according to their gender identity. Gale was an activist and a regular speaker at City Council meetings in Austin, where she also ran for office. On the eve of her death, she stood before a City Council committee and sang “Silent Night.” This morning, the Austin City Council honored Gale by playing video of the rendition. Watch by going here and fast-forwarding to the 1:20 mark.

—  John Wright

November: Grow a ‘stache, save a testicle

Push broom. Lip warmer. Crumb catcher.

The mustache goes by many nicknames, but during the month of November, it’s also a sign of support for men’s health.

“Movember USA” is a group that helps raise money and awareness for men’s health issues, such as testicular and prostate cancer, by sponsoring a sort of “‘Stache for Cash” fundraiser. Men — and, ya know, I guess women, if they’re from central Europe — dedicate to spend the month of November growing out their lady ticklers (bad example!) to raise money for research.

Now, I’ve had a beard or mustache pretty much continuously since 1994, and went back and forth throughout high school, college and law school at that, so it was hard for me to start a mustache anew — but I did. On Halloween, I shaved clean and started fresh on Nov. 1. I’ve trimmed a little around the neck (and actually did more than I should have just before Black Tie), but I’m committed to letting it get as bushy as it needs to by Nov. 30. Then I’ll … well, probably just keep it.

Anyway, if you want to join, or just get hairy for the coming cold weather, visit USMovember.com to sign up or contribute. And I’ll see you at the reunion of 1970s porn stars and Magnum, P.I. lookalikes.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones