Comedian Poundstone to perform at Bankhead
By Lou Fancher
For 36 years, the 55-year-old native of Huntsville, Alabama, has made people laugh while starring in HBO and Bravo comedy specials, winning an Emmy Award, appearing on television or in films including among others, "The Tonight Show," "The Dave Letterman Show," "Late Night with Craig Ferguson," the NPR quiz show "Wait Wait ... Don't Tell Me" and most recently voicing the character "Forgetter Paula" in the new Disney Pixar film "Inside Out."
The published columnist and author ("There is Nothing In This Book That I Meant To Say," 2006) also is the national spokeswoman for United for Libraries, the American Library Association's citizen support group.
"I visit great places," Poundstone says.
She's not talking about comedy clubs or theaters, although she spends a disproportionate amount of time in them.
"Libraries are unique, depending on the community," she says.
Fired up by the memory of a woman she saw using children's picture books to teach an adult to read in an adult literacy program, she says, "Sometimes you wonder when you volunteer if you're doing anything. But that volunteer was doing work that will ripple out for generations."
Poundstone has caused laughter to "ripple out" among audiences for more than three decades and says talking during a show is "a million times easier" than writing. "Writing I have to fit in between the cracks. It takes discipline. Often, if I have time, I'm not in the mood. If I'm in the mood, I don't have time."
Add to that her Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder and a method that includes handwriting her books and articles. If there's even one crossed-out word on the page, she rewrites the entire thing before handing it to the transcriber.
"I tend to throw commas in for the hell of it, too, so I need an editor," she admits. "I love Charles Dickens. He enjoyed the heck out of a comma."
The comment is signature Poundstone, who refuses to analyze what makes a joke funny but instead relies on 36 years of learned know-how that she says is "rattling around in her head" and instincts developed after a poor memory determined her spontaneous onstage approach.
"In the early days, I'd memorize my five minutes of material, then forget it when I was onstage. It finally dawned on me that the organic part, the stuff I make up on the spot, goes better. Now it's a weave of both. I have a skeleton that frees me up to improvise. There are breaks, like 'Hi, how are you?' After that, you say what occurs to you."
Or she draws on life. Poundstone was at one time raising three kids (now ages 17, 21 and 24), 15 cats, two German shepherds, bunnies and a bearded dragon lizard.
"My house was packed. I felt I didn't write material for jokes as much as just take notes."
Sometimes, the jokes come from a more painful place, including leaving but eventually completing high school.
"I didn't drop out, I petered out," she says.
Struggles with alcoholism and the time she was separated from her three adopted children after being found guilty of felony child endangerment in connection with driving while intoxicated are deeper crevices to explore. Poundstone says "everything is up for grabs" when it comes to today's comedy and is glad she doesn't write for television.
"I'd be forced to write like a cotton picker. They have tons and tons of writers writing tons and tons of jokes."
She pays close attention to politics, to be current on the news for her panelist's role on "Wait, Wait," but also to be "a halfway decent citizen and know how to vote responsibly, which isn't easy these days."
Looking back on her many standup "firsts" (first woman to win the CableACE Award for best standup comedy special and to perform standup at the White House Correspondents Dinner and more), she says more women are working in the industry and that comedy is a genderless job.
"Now and then an idiotic guy will say publicly that women aren't funny. A big kerfuffle ensues, and talking heads have something to say. But women (comedians) not doing standup are missing out on a hell of a fun ride."