Paula Poundstone, comedian, and panelist on NPR’s “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me,” is exhaling with relief to be back on tour. Not a comedian who thrives in captivity, she nevertheless filled her pandemic months with extraordinary productivity – starting multiple podcasts, running a game show on Zoom, and creating various character satires for the amusement of the internet at large. She’s returning to Atlanta to perform at the Buckhead Theatre on Friday, and she joined “City Lights” host Lois Reitzes before the big show to share musings on such diverse topics as the pandemic, rude airplane passengers, F.D.R., and Harry Potter.
Pivoting from stand-up into original character ‘bits’ during the pandemic:
“Knowing that everyone was scared and impacted in such a severe way by everything, my immediate thought was, I wanted to help people get through it,” said Poundstone. “I can’t remember exactly at what point I was kicked in the side of the head by the cold boot of reality, but at some point, I was like, ‘You know, I think this is going to go on a little bit longer,’ at which point I started making a mini-podcast called ‘The French Trump Presidential Press Conference…’ Some friends of mine played the press. I was French Trump. People say to me all the time, ‘Why was it French?’ Because I can’t do a Trump impression, so I do him with a bogus French accent.”
“When I was young, I wanted to be Carol Burnett, or Lily Tomlin, or Gilda Radner, and I missed by a country mile. Instead, when the opportunity presented itself, I went into stand-up comedy and I really never had the opportunity, or never took the opportunity, anyways, to do character kind of things. So only in more recent years have I done stuff like that. It takes a certain amount of courage and commitment,” said Poundstone.
“If you tell your story, or you’re talking on a topic, and you kind of feel like you’re not really nailing it with an audience, well, you can so easily just pivot to something else. But if you are wearing a very short gingham dress, with… larger cleavage than anyone is used to seeing you in, and a wig, you can’t really pivot off of it. You’ve made a certain commitment.”
Poundstone is jealous of musicians:
“I have, off and on throughout my career, been somewhat jealous of musicians… In part, because a musician can go on stage and go, like, ‘Woo,’ and it feels great and the audience gets all excited because the musician went ‘Woo,’ and it fits right into what they’re doing. Comics can’t really do that. It’s weird if we do it. So there’s that, there’s the fact that they can elicit any number of emotions and reactions and it’s considered successful, whereas comics – there’s one successful reaction: people have to laugh. If they didn’t laugh, then guess what, you didn’t do very good.”
“Charity organizations came out of the woodwork asking for, could I be a part of their online gala?” said Poundstone. “There was this idea that because musicians could perform in their living room, and it was intimate, ‘Oh, isn’t that wonderful?’ It was always like a positive thing… There was this idea that somehow stand-up comics were going to do the same thing, and it doesn’t work that way. You can’t do stand-up comedy in your living room. You have to have the response of an audience.”
Poundstone coins the term ‘recognition laughter:’
“Recognition laughter… is when I say something, or when one says something, that the people that they’re telling it to; part of their laughter comes from just the joy, I think, of realizing that they weren’t the only one to have that experience. Like telling a story about driving badly, or something. I know: not being able to figure out the windshield wiper stick on the steering wheel,” said Poundstone.”
“Parenting is such a lonely pursuit because you just never know if you’re doing it right. And we’re not all the exact same, of course. There’s always just this feeling, like, ‘Oh, this only happens to me.’ Or, ‘I’m the only one who makes that stupid decision…’ So when I would tell a story on stage about some frustration I had with parenting, and people will laugh with that sort of recognition laughter… It’s so healing for both the audience to hear me tell the story, and for me to go, ‘You know what? If this hadn’t happened to anybody else, then they wouldn’t laugh, they would just stare at me with an ‘RCA Dog’ head.”
“We have a tendency, I think, to believe ourselves to be far more unique than we actually are,” said Poundstone.
Poundstone performs at the Buckhead Theatre on Friday, Sept. 17 at 8 p.m. More information and tickets are available here.