Queermedian Paula Poundstone turns single parenting into laughs

SHE’S ALL EARS | Queen of improv Paula Poundstone riffs on everything from being the single mother of three to her views on religious opposition to same-sex marriage.

JENNY BLOCK  | Contributing Writer


Lakewood Theater, 1825 Abrams Parkway. June 2 at 8 p.m.  $30–$105. LakewoodTheater.com.


Like most parents, Paula Poundstone has a million stories about her kids. Unlike most parents, Poundstone has a comic’s timing that makes even the most familiar tale sound newly hilarious. Except that she insists there’s no embellishing — that’s just the way it is.

“My daughter has this thing where she pretends that she doesn’t know how to do something and you explain it to her; later, you find out she is secretly running a bank,” she says.

Well, maybe a little embellishment.

“When she grows up, I’ll think she’s not functional when she’s really the CEO of a company. She has a whole life I don’t know anything about. She could buy and sell me,” Poundstone says. Parenting to her is like one of her favorite children’s books, The Night I Followed the Dog, where a child follows his dog one night only to see him slip out the doggie door, jump into a cab and head to a club.

“The funny thing is, I can bitch about parenting. I can complain real good about it. But if I could push a button and start it all over again, I would do it in a heartbeat. A friend of mind said to me one time. ‘You would still make mistakes but different ones,’” she says.
It’s clear Poundstone adores her children … and it helps explain why she likes quick trips when she does an out-of-town show, as she does June 2 when she’ll be performing a set at the Lakewood Theater in East Dallas. But it still keeps her up at night.

“Every now and then I vent [at the kids],” she says of the parenting challenge. “It isn’t like every day I get up and try to articulate the meaning of life or something. I fall asleep thinking, ‘If only I had the right words, then I will see a light go on.’ So far, no-go.”

As the single parent of three — now ages 21, 18, and 14 — Poundstone riffs that the real challenge is “that my children haven’t been any different at any age. The things that make parenting raggedy [for other people as their kids get older] don’t happen. I’m like, ‘No, no. She was like that when she was 4.’ I don’t mind having problems. I just would like to have different problems. Does it have to be the same fucking thing every day?”

Poundstone became famous for the same quick-on-her-feet, stream-of-consciousness improv that marks her interview style. But it wasn’t always that way. When she started her career, Poundstone performed the more standard standup style.

“I tried really hard to do that because that’s what I thought I was supposed to do,” she says. But it didn’t work for her.

“Back in Boston, there would be these open mike nights; you get five minutes. I would try really hard to write my five minutes and do it, and every time something would go wrong. I’d forget or be distracted. There is nothing worse than a surly group of comics pinched because you didn’t get off on time. I was always chastising myself for not doing the right things.

Eventually, 32 years later, I realized that I wasn’t doing anything wrong,” she says.

Things are different now — for one she’s Paula-frickin’-Poundstone.

“I do the time-honored ‘Where are you from, what do you do for a living?’ lines,” she says. “I usually use that to set my sails. Then go off on something I have material for. Some people have actually thought I used plants in the audience,” though she never has — she doesn’t need to.

Poundstone has plied her skills for the past 10 years on the NPR news quiz show Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me, where her snarky one-liners have made her one of the show’s most popular panelists.

“It has been a romp,” she says. “It’s like being a batter in a batting cage. All the guys I work with are brilliant, which makes me look stupid.”

Poundstone isn’t all jokes and funny parenting stories; some issues inflame her passions, such as same-sex marriage. And quite frankly, she doesn’t understand the problem right-wingers have with it — especially those who base their opposition on religious grounds.

“Instead of micromanaging other people’s lives, just let God do it,” she says. “Get your revenge that way. [After we all die, those against same-sex marriage] can be strumming harps,

watching gays turning on spits in Hell. I think this could satisfy both groups.”

Suddenly, a light does go on.

“I am a goddam genius,” she says. “I don’t know how I function in this world.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition May 25, 2012.