SALT LAKE CITY — Comedian Paula Poundstone has a theory that she has yet to test, but might try one of these days to see if it holds up. As a regular guest panelist on the popular NPR quiz show "Wait Wait … Don't Tell Me!," she, along with the other two comedians, has to answer questions from the week's news.
"I would like to do an experiment and find out, but I’m fairly certain that if you, for the entire show, answer only 'Trump, Afghanistan and lemurs down his pants,' that you would at least come in second," Poundstone recently told the Deseret News.
Poundstone should know. After all, she's been answering news questions — ridiculous and otherwise — on the show for more than 17 years. Whether or not her theory would work remains to be heard, but fans of her stand-up can hear Poundstone's self-confessional brand of humor at Salt Lake's Rose Wagner Center for the Performing Arts this Friday, Feb. 9.
While Poundstone, a Massachusetts native, figures she could predict the answers on "Wait Wait," she is under no illusions that she could do the same for her stand-up routine, which changes every night depending on her audience interaction.
"My favorite part of the night is talking to the audience," she said. "I do the time-honored 'where are you from and what do you do for a living,' and these little biographies of audience members emerge, and I use that from which to set my sail."
During each performance, Poundstone picks people out of the audiences and asks them questions, riffing off their answers and digging deeply enough into their lives that the audience — and the individual in the hot seat — can't help but laugh. But Poundstone, who has described her show as a "hostage situation," is not one to ask more than she gives: Her honesty about herself is the hallmark of her comedy.
"I do meet-and-greets and I can't tell you how often people come up to me and say, 'Oh my (gosh), I haven’t laughed like that in the longest time,'" Poundstone said. "It just is uplifting to be around other people and to laugh about the stuff that we struggle with. It's really good for you."
Poundstone, who now lives in California, has made a career out sharing her struggles: as a parent ("You really do function in a sea of self doubt," she said), life with her dozen-plus cats, her abiding love for junk food and plenty of other things most people wouldn't tell a room full of strangers.
But her honesty has worked for her: In 1989, Poundstone won the American Comedy Award for best female stand-up comic; a year later, she won a CableACE Award for her HBO special "Cats, Cops and Stuff"; she was the first woman to host the White House Correspondents' dinner in 1992; she has starred in and hosted many TV specials and shows; and recently she authored "The Totally Unscientific Study of the Search for Human Happiness." Fans of Pixar's 2015 hit "Inside Out" might recognize Poundstone's distinctive alto as the voice of one of the Forgetters, the blue characters in Riley's long-term memory.
So, with all of these accomplishments, has Poundstone found the success she dreamed of as a girl?
"I had a number of scenarios in my head as the years went by," she remembered. "When I was a kid, … on long car rides (my sisters and I) were always writing lists, planning our future. One of the things I felt strongly about was having a big house with two pools: one of the pools was for swimming, and other pool … was the residence for the otter and seal."
While her career may not have delivered that particular dream — "I now have no pool, one of the toilets (in her house) isn’t working at all right now, I have 14 cats (and) a German shepherd mix, so I really missed that dream by a country mile” — Poundstone knows she is very fortunate to do what she does: connecting with people and making them laugh. It's a job that puts her in that desired state of mind some refer to as "flow."Comment on this story
"(Performing stand-up comedy) really does have an interpretive jazz feeling to it, and I think because of that, one does achieve flow," Poundstone said. "I think I have achieved flow while doing dishes and while playing pingpong, (but) it’s probably the most useful when I’m on stage."
Content advisory: Mature audiences only.
If you go …
What: Martin Media presents Paula Poundstone
When: Friday, Feb. 9, 7 p.m.
Where: Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center, 138 W. 300 South