Comedian Paula Poundstone talks politics, self-doubt and Tom Hanks ahead of Wilmington show

So, I used to be a little more sheepish about not wanting to offend. Not that I want to offend. That’s not my goal. But now I kind of feel, ‘you know what, it’s my turn with the microphone.’

PortCityDaily.com is your source for free news and information in the Wilmington area.

pstone 1
Comedian Paula Poundstone comes to Wilmington after Hurricane Matthew canceled her October show. (Photo courtesy of Paula Poundstone).

WILMINGTON – Paula Poundstone will return to the Port City this week with a stand-up act dealing with everything from her personal life to the political scene.

Poundstone will perform at the Cape Fear Community College Wilson Center on Friday, Feb. 10. The comedian, who’s second book “The Totally Unscientific Study of the Search for Human Happiness” will be released in May of this year, was scheduled to perform in October of 2016. Her show was postponed due to Hurricane Matthew.

Since then, the political climate has changed considerably. Poundstone is not, in her own estimation, an explicitly political comedian, but the change in political atmosphere has, “made me less sheepish about expressing my opinions.”

Poundstone spoke with Port City Daily’s Benjamin Schachtman about her upcoming show, her latest book and appearing with Tom Hanks on NPR’s weekly trivia game-show “Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me!”

(Tickets for the show are still available, information follows the interview.)

Thanks for taking some time to talk with us … from your Twitter feed, you’ve been all over. How have you been?

Good. Tired but good. I work a lot which is the good news and the bad news. You know, I love it. There’s something very restorative about performing in front an audience. It’s a good coping mechanism for all that’s going on.

You do a lot of  “of-the-moment material.” I can’t predict what might happen in the next 48 hours. So, I don’t know what to predict for your show on Friday. Do you have any guesses?

No. I don’t know, you’re right – I’m almost addicted to it, the latest news. If Trump doesn’t say or do a stupid thing, I feel a little empty. Sometimes I wonder. I mean Twitter is quite a distraction. And you know it’s tough to tell with Trump. Is he an evil genius or is he just this very childish man? I don’t know the answer. But sometimes I think his silly Twitter stuff is such a distraction that maybe we’re not we’re doing what we need to be doing.

Although you know I do worry sometimes. I don’t know if you saw the movie “Cabaret” or there’s the play “Bent” – I think that the Germans, during their difficulties, a lot of them were just sort of in clubs laughing and messing around. They didn’t act when they needed to act to stop the horrors that were coming their way.

So maybe I’m on stage singing like Elsie while the world falls apart.

The mood is not the same as it was a month-and-a-half ago. How has that changed your approach to comedy?

I don’t know that it really has. I will say that I used to be a little more sheepish about saying my opinion. I’m not a political analyst, and I don’t tell people that I am. I’m not even a historian – I specifically tell people that I’m not. There’s always the possibility that I’m wrong. In fact I was totally wrong about what was going to happen. I in no way predicted that Trump would become president.

So, I used to be a little more sheepish about not wanting to offend. Not that I want to offend. That’s not my goal. But now I kind of feel, ‘you know what, it’s my turn with the microphone.’

I don’t spend the whole night talking about politics. But you can’t avoid it, it’s such a part of our world right now.

A lot of people have cited the so-called ‘return to form’ for programs like Saturday Night Live, John Oliver and the Daily Show. They are, by some accounts, funny again. How do you feel about this stuff being funny?

I bow down to Melissa McCarthy. I just showed it to my daughter last night. She really nailed it. But I can’t figure this out. Why would anyone take this job? [Press Secretary Sean Spicer] said it was demoralizing that the press wasn’t supportive of the president, but this was after he had said something that was so probably a lie.

Is it a good thing, a good time for comedy?

I have mixed feelings. First of all, whenever someone new gets elected, I get asked how I think it will be for comedy. As if that’s my first priority as a citizen. Frankly I would love for the country to run well, I would love for the environment to be protected. I would love for education to be strong and for people to be provided with the jobs and healthcare they need to succeed. I put that above hoping the president is fodder for comedy.

And I would hope that my brethren feel the same. You know, we’ll make [expletive] up. I can always think of a clever joke about something. It needn’t be that our president is insane.

That’s not necessary. In that way of wondering, are we being active enough, as opposed to being the Germans laughing and dancing in bars, while Hitler is being created, again, I prefer that we be vigilant even if it requires a few less laughs.

As journalists, we have to have people read our stories. But they don’t have to be horrible stories all the time. But do people respond to it?

They do. It’s true – and, look, I love live-tweeting events, I enjoy it, it’s like this little challenge – like, how many jokes I can tweet in a short period of time. And one night I realized, as I was tweeting along to a [presidential] debate, I’m not even making jokes, I’m just writing down what he said. So it’s a little shooting fish in a barrel sometimes.

Is it too easy?

It’s too easy.

So, it’s not all about politics in your performance?

It’s not. I talk about raising a household full of kids and animals. I talk about traveling because you can’t help it when you travel as much as I do. My favorite part of the night is talking to the audience. I do the time honored ‘where are you from, what do you do for a living,’ bit. And in this way little biographies of audience members emerge and I use that from which to set my sails.

My show’s not scripted. Ever show is different.

If someone came to see you on Friday and then Saturday, how similar would those shows be?

They would see probably, I would say a solid third is unique to that night. You wouldn’t see it anytime, anywhere else.

As an artist, how different is it writing for the page compared to writing for a live performance? You’ve got a book coming out in May, and that’s the kind of the definitive version, it is pretty much set in stone. So how different is that for you?

It is a study in self-doubt. The great thing about being a stand-up is that I can think of something on my way to the venue, put it in my notebook, and I go on and I try it out. And it if goes over, I try to remember it, try it out again.

You get a few shots at it. And you have a pretty good sample ground telling me if I’m going in the right direction. With writing, I’m all by myself. There’s no one to tell me if I’m going in the right direction. I don’t show it to friends – that would ruin a friendship.

It’s a different way of working all together, and sometimes a way that requires a lot more inner fortitude.

You were on NPR’s “Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me!” with Tom Hanks stepping in for Peter Sagal recently. What was that like?

So much fun. I feel a little guilty for having enjoyed it so much. The truth is that Peter Sagal is a terrific host. When I’ve seen other people guest host, when Peter takes a vacation or something, people always struggle with it. Peter just makes it look so easy. It’s been on almost 20 years, so he’s had quite a few years to polish it up so people don’t recognize how hard he works at it.

But Tom, it was just exciting having him. I was able to ask him some questions about “Toy Story” that have plagued me. And he shares my love of “Toy Story,” some people work on projects and you find out it was just work for him. And maybe he’s done work that like, but when you talk to him, you get the sense that he just loves everything he does.

So, did Hanks do a good job?

He did. He was smart about the way he did. He played to the radio audience. And he couldn’t have been a nicer guy. The way the show works is that Peter’s one of the writers. They work Monday through Thursday, and they go through the news, and find stuff they can use. And Tom did that. I was really impressed with that. He showed up with coffee and just went to work.

He was just exactly who you wanted him to be. Kind of a hero for our time and age.


Poundstone’s performance at the Wilson Center starts at 8 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 10. Tickets range $28 – $50 and are available online or by phone at (910) 362-7886. The Wilson Center is located at 703 N. 3rd St.