It’s been a busy week of shows for comic Paula Poundstone – Palm Springs on Thursday night, flying to Bloomington, Ill., for a show Friday (April Fool’s Day, by the way), and then back home to Southern California for her show tomorrow night at Citrus College’s Haugh Performing Arts Center.
She takes all the traveling in stride, well most of it.
“I love telling my jokes, and like going around the country, but actual traveling is a bit of a drag,” she said in a phone interview this week. “I’m well aware that I’m lucky, lucky, lucky that I get to do the job I have.
“My job is to make people laugh for a couple hours a night . . . the same stuff I got thrown out of class for when I was school,” she said.
But she wasn’t thrown out of the class of kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Bump, who Poundstone credits with recognizing her comedic talents at that very young age. Bump wrote in a letter to Paula’s parents: “I have enjoyed many of Paula’s humorous comments about our activities.”
By age 19, Poundstone was riding Greyhound buses across the country to ply her trade at open mic nights at comedy clubs.
She’s left comedy clubs behind for larger venues like HPAC, but also beautiful historic theaters, many of which have been saved from the wrecking ball by concerned citizens.
“Last year I was at a great old theater that had photos of all the famous performers who had played there, including (ventriloquist) Edgar Bergen,” she recalled. “Now I get to say I performed on the same stage as Mortimer Snerd (one of Bergen’s puppet characters).”
When she hits the stage, it’s like going to a cocktail party, Poundstone said – even though she’s the one with a microphone and a diet Pepsi (her onstage beverage of choice).
“You know how it is, you talk about the drive to the party, how hard it was to park, how nice the house is,” she explained. “And you end up talking about current events and with old friends, who want you to ‘tell that story about the time. . .’ And like at a party, you ask people what they do for a living, that kind of thing.”
“That kind of thing” earned her this comment from The Boston Globe: “Poundstone improvises with a crowd like a Jazz musician . . . swinging in unexpected directions without a plan, without a net.” Audience members laugh so hard their cheeks hurt and wonder whether the random people she talked to were “plants.”
During her 30-year-plus career, Poundstone has accumulated her share of “firsts”:
-- Her first one-hour HBO special, “Cats, Cops, and Stuff.” made her the first woman to receive the Cable ACE for best standup comedy special;
-- She was the first woman to perform at a White House Correspondents dinner;
-- In 1996, Paula taped her second hour special for HBO, Paula Poundstone Goes to Harvard, the first time the university ever allowed its name to be used in the title of a television show.
For seven years, she’s served as a panelist on NPR’s Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me, taping about a couple shows a month heard nationwide on the public radio affiliates.
It took her almost 30 years to release her first CD, I HEART JOKES: Paula Tells Them In Maine, because she said she wanted to wait until the technology could capture her unique rapport with her audience.
Poundstone ventured into publishing in 2006 with her first book, Nothing In This Book That I Meant To Say (Harmony Books, a division of Random House, with foreword by Mary Tyler Moore). Part memoir, part monologue, the book includes biographies of historical figures including Abraham Lincoln, Joan of Arc and Sitting Bull, among others, from which she digresses to tell her own story.
Poundstone also wrote three math text books for children with her high school math teacher, Faye Ruopp: The Sticky Problem of Parallelogram Pancakes, Venn Can We Be Friends? and You Can’t Keep Slope Down (all published by Heinemann Press).
And if you visit her web site, www.paulapoundstone.com, you’ll see her ventures into social networking. It features her “movies,” comedic videos, her Twitter feeds and much more.
Speaking of Twitter, Poundstone thinks she has only about 41 followers, though she admits she follows “bout 30,000 or so.” But Facebook (with more than 15,000 “like” followers) and Twitter have brought her closer to her fans.
“It’s kind interesting to read the scrolls, I get a very strong sense of who come to see me,” she said. “I’ll never have to hire one on those demographic companies to know about my fans, because I’ve met every one of them.
“I have really great crowds. Other guys would kill to work with me because I have such a great crowd,” she said with gratitude in her voice.
Tickets for Paula Poundstone’s 8 p.m. show Saturday are $26 to $28. The Haugh Performing Arts Center is located at 1000 W. Foothill Blvd. For more information, call (626) 963-9411 or visit www.haughpac.com.