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

100 gay bachelors stick to the wall and qualify for Out Magazine’s ‘Most Eligible’ list

Over on Out Magazine‘s website, they posted a contest where readers can vote on the top 10 from their 100 Most Eligible Gay Bachelors slideshow. I’m glad to see they didn’t just stick with cardboard hotties ages 21-25, but their selection is a bit baffling. The list is heavy on L.A. and N.Y. players, which makes it somewhat two-dimensional and bugs me the most. But after scrolling through the pics, it just felt like Out started throwing names and whatever stuck was included.

I appreciated selections like Precious director Lee Daniels and Woodpigeon’s hottie frontman Mark Hamilton, pictured, but I hardly expected to see the likes of this guy or this person on the list. I get the impression that if you live in New York or Los Angeles, are gay, single, famous and have a fabulous job and/or a publicist, you made the list. If you look really close, they even included Out staff members.

OK, so they are doing this for Valentine’s Day, when the top 10 will be revealed, and thus the more everyman types weren’t going to be included. Still, I figure there are men from the flyover states who more than qualify for the list — not to mention from all over the world, and some of them aren’t designers or actors. Clearly I’m a cynic, but whatever.

But I am curious who the local most eligible bachelors (and bachelorettes are). If Out were looking at Dallas folk, who would you include in the list?

—  Rich Lopez

Vampire strikes back

Vampire Weekend’s Rostam Batmanglij could be the new face of gay — if it matters

RICH LOPEZ  | Staff Writer lopez@dallasvoice.com

FORGET TEAM EDWARD OR TEAM JACOB  |  Batmanglij, left, and the rest of Vampire Weekend bring their live show back to Dallas Wednesday to win over the city again after their spring show back in April.
FORGET TEAM EDWARD OR TEAM JACOB | Batmanglij, left, and the rest of Vampire Weekend bring their live show back to Dallas Wednesday to win over the city again after their spring show back in April.

VAMPIRE WEEKEND
With Beach House.
Palladium Ballroom,
1135 S. Lamar St. Oct. 6 at 8 p.m.
Ticketmaster.com.

……………………………………………….

Face it: Society is getting kind of used to the celebrity come-out story. Ricky Martin comes out and we applaud; Chely Wright becomes the first out country singer and now we know her name — ho-hum.

But when Rostam Batmanglij talks about being out as part of the big-buzzed indie group Vampire Weekend, nobody seems to notice.

Maybe it’s Batmanglij’s everyman look — he’s handsome but doesn’t smolder like Martin. He’s the understated hipster dude in the funky clothes. He just … is, minus the whole producer/multi-instrumentalist bit he performs for the band.

“I think sometimes there is so much pressure to conform to a straight identity,” he says. “But also, there’s pressure to conform to stereotypes of gay identity. I hope that’s less and less a pressure nowadays.”

Nothing about Vampire Weekend’s vibe is particularly threatening, but their music is innovative enough to stand out. The sound is happy with reggae-ish beats and endearing lyrics. Their scruffy image proffers likeable appeal for college- and high school-aged kids that includes a new generation of LGBT youth unrestricted by labels. Like Batmanglij, they are living a life that doesn’t find the need to thrive on completely gay environments as may have been the case 20 years ago.
“Just like there are different kinds of straight people, it’s the same for gays,” he says. “But now there are various gay role models.”

Batmanglij came out to the media last year, saying it was something he felt he should do. It didn’t have the shockwave impact of other musical coming outs, but it didn’t have to for Batmanglij. Really, he just finds it tough to figure if his coming out had any kind of impact on either the band or himself.

“It’s hard to perceive,” he says. “I certainly believe we had gay fans before I talked about it. I just don’t know if gay people would approach our band based on that fact.”

What does weigh heavy on Batmanglij is not his gay identity, but his Middle Eastern heritage. When asked about the Washington Post’s article where he discussed having issues with “whiteness,” Batmanglij dismisses the condensed version of his life in that article, but also shifts to a troubled tone when talking about his heritage.

“I have a complex relationship with being of Iranian descent and now more than ever,” he says. “There are a lot of things not talked about in America and so much is repressed and kept in the dark. Middle Easterners aren’t represented well. I think that I’ll continue to have an issue with it. There are ways to look at things without the cynicism.”

Thus it’s actually harder to be Middle Eastern than gay, right now?

“Certainly in America,” he laughs.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 1, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas