Paula Poundstone has been making people laugh for over 42 years. She got her start at open mic nights in Boston in the 1970s, and then she hopped on a Greyhound bus and performed at clubs across the country until she arrived in San Francisco, where she stayed until she made the move to Los Angeles in the mid-80s.
Fast forward to the present and Paula Poundstone has appeared in movies and television shows, performed in multiple comedy specials and won multiple awards for her work. Time Magazine named her HBO special Cats, Cops, and Stuff one of the five best comedy specials of all time; the special has been turned into a comedy album. She’s also written two books: There’s Nothing in This Book That I Meant to Say and The Totally Unscientific Study of the Search for Human Happiness; she has her own podcast, No One Listens to Paula Poundstone; she was the first female comic to perform at the White House Correspondents Dinner, and she appears on the popular NPR show Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me! In addition to countless accomplishments, awards, and recognition, she still tours the country, making folks laugh.
I had a chance to hop in a Zoom call and chat with this extremely funny lady and learn about her career, some of her work, and her opinions on topics such as social media, interacting with audiences, and what she’s geeking out right now.
Scott (GNN): So, this interview is for Geek News Network. We cover everything pop culture, and you are a pop-culture icon/mainstay for…my goodness, you’ve been doing this for a while, this comedy thing.
Paula Poundstone (PP): I’ve been a comic for, I believe, almost 43 years, I think. It’s hard to count these last couple of years because I don’t know what they were.
GNN: Right. None of us do.
PP: We’re not using the 24-hour, seven-day week. We haven’t been using the regular time measure, standardized time measure for the last two years.
GNN: I’m sure that there’s somewhere a conversion chart to figure out how this works. Like dog years.
PP: That’s a great idea!
GNN: Pandemic conversion.
PP: You put Katie Porter on that with her whiteboard. She’ll explain it really well.
GNN: So, I always like to start my interviews with the backstory. Since superhero movies have become so popular, I like to start with the origin story. So, we have to go to the Paula Poundstone origin story. If Wikipedia has it right, you were born in Alabama and you’re parents moved you to Massachusetts a month later?
GNN: How much of a bullet did you dodge there?
PP: Well, I am grateful that I was raised in Massachusetts because that’s where…well, first off, my father was actually not there when I was born. He was in Massachusetts getting the job that caused us to move up there. I mean, technically, I have Southern roots, technically. We used to vacation in Alabama because that’s where my mother’s family was. From a food point of view, I’m very lucky.
PP: My mother was a really good Southern cook. And by the way, as much as Paula Dean favored butter secretly, and now I don’t eat meat anymore, but I did, the starting place for any southern food was really a chunk of pork fat. I mean, it could be lemon meringue pie and a chunk of pork fat is the starting point.
GNN: So, when I originally started interviewing performers or content creators of any sort, naive me thought, you started, you wanted to be a performer from an early age, you worked at it, and you became successful. Now I’m starting to learn that there are all kinds of ways to get to where you’re going. I interviewed a gentleman who was a baker on Holiday Baking Championship, and he started out as an accountant. He liked cooking and baking, but then went to school, got his degree, became an accountant, hated that, and went back to cooking. Was comedy always your thing, from the get-go?
PP: Yeah. It was. It’s not always what I thought I would do because I wasn’t sure what the entry place was. This would be when I was growing up. What I wanted to be when I was growing up was a comic performer. I wanted to be Carol Burnett or Lucille Ball or Lily Tomlin or Mary Tyler Moore, or Gilda Radner, all of which I missed by a country mile. But that was what I was really familiar with. I wasn’t particularly familiar with stand-up. In those days, you didn’t see stand-up in so many places. Because I lived in a small town in Massachusetts, we didn’t have nightclubs. And if we did, I wouldn’t have been in them. But I think if you were a kid and you’re growing up in New York City, you were aware of stuff like that, whether or not you’re actually within those places, but you were aware of them in a way that I never was. So yeah, I’d always wanted to, but I had no idea how you go about doing that. It’s not necessarily what I thought I was going to do, but it’s what I wanted to do.
PP: At one point, I was actually going to go to clown college. I just liked the idea of laughter as a response. And I didn’t go to clown college. I’m not sure I would have made a good clown, but I certainly thought about it. I had the application. I’d probably be tying balloons right now if I had done that. But as it happened, and really just the luck of the draw, I happened to be a young adult in Boston when what my brethren and I referred to as the “Stand-up Comedy Renaissance” took place. I mean, obviously, standup comedy has been around since we left the caves, but the proliferation, where it was really like a thing, happened in the late ’70s, early ’80s and I started in 1979.
Somebody in Boston started up a little comedy showcase circuit, and they got their people from somebody, also in Boston, who had started some sort of comedy class. So, these two guys who were in that comedy class started a comedy showcase thing, and they cleaned up. It’s very, very popular. And what’s interesting, and I’ve never known why this is, but different cities like Chicago and Cleveland started up circuits. I mean, as I said, New York City sort of already had a thing. And Los Angeles too, to some degree, had standup comedy for years. But the cities in the middle of the country and around the country, all started these circuits at about the same time. And that was what led to that 80s boom.
And now it’s like, when I was growing up, the Fisher-Price toys, or if you were playing a board game or something, the various characters would be a teacher, a baker, or a bus driver, you know what I mean? Now there would be a stand-up comic in that standardized list of jobs that you saw.
GNN: Right. No, 100%. So, another question I like to ask is about how supportive your family was. When I said I wanted to study English, he just wanted to know how I could make money with it. I think if I told him I wanted to be a comedian or a performer, that would’ve gotten shot down pretty quickly. Was your family supportive?
PP: I never asked them. This is said to me all the time. When I started, people asked, “What do your parents think of that?” I have no idea. I don’t know. I wouldn’t care, and so I didn’t ask.
GNN: Bravo! (Laughs)
PP: Yeah. Well, I left home early, so I wasn’t dependent on them. I’m not dependent on other people in general, but I wasn’t dependent on their approval one way or the other. Not that I wouldn’t have liked to have it, I’m sure. But yeah, and I used to say to my kids all the time, “I’m not going to tell you what to do.” My opinion doesn’t mean anything. I mean, I was always telling them what I thought. But I never said you have to do it my way because I’m not sure; I don’t know. I wouldn’t offer up anything I’ve done ever as the solution for any individual, especially because so many stories that you hear about people having really notable success, they were driven. They really wanted the thing. It was an idea that they had that maybe that other people didn’t even have.
GNN: So, another thing I’ve learned from comics, that I’ve asked them about, is that some comics went for it. There was no backup plan. They moved to L.A. or New York with one goal. Then I interview other comedians that have backup plans or a Plan B to fall back on. Did you have a backup? Or were you all in, pushed all your chips in on comedy and performing?
PP: Oh, no. You couldn’t have. You couldn’t have when I started. I stared in ’79. I was incredibly lucky in terms of time and place. I didn’t select to live in Boston because of…the stand-up comedy thing hadn’t started at that point. So, I just so happened to be there when it did. And I was young, which was helpful, and life was cheaper. Kids today, oh, my gosh, I feel so bad for them. Everything is expensive, and you have to work a lot more, I think, to have a lot less.
So, at the time, working in Boston, we made $10 a show, and life was not that inexpensive back then, so I couldn’t have survived doing that. I can’t remember about the guys I worked with, how many of them had other jobs at that point, but I think a lot of them did. I was there, busting tables. Let’s see, I worked in a bookstore. I worked in another place, busting tables. I was a very good table buster.
GNN: Well yeah, you mentioned the syrup thing. You seemed very thorough.
PP: Yeah, I have OCD, and you really want someone with OCD in your restaurant. That was the cleanest restaurant anybody had ever seen when I worked there.
But I decided to check out what the clubs were like in other cities that I had started to hear about. So, I took a Greyhound bus around the country to go to these other clubs. When I went to San Francisco, I loved it so much that I ended up staying there, and I never moved back to Boston after that. And in San Francisco, I worked a number of jobs. I was a bike messenger. I was a dishwasher. I worked in a warehouse. And at a certain point, I was making enough as a stand-up that I could quit those jobs. I was only a couple of years into doing stand-up at the point at which…I was maybe two years into doing stand-up at the point at which I quit my day jobs, which was great.
PP: That’s the other thing about being young. I was very totable. I could sleep on a couch. I could sleep under a couch. When I took the Greyhound out, I gave up my apartment. And so, I didn’t live anywhere. I just lived on a Greyhound bus, and I loved it. I could fold up small back then. I had a suitcase that I put on the luggage thing under the bus, but I had a yellow knapsack that I carried everywhere. It had a cassette tape player in it. I had a Ricky Lee Jones tape, a Bob Marley tape, and a Paul Simon tape. I had a couple of books and a notebook for writing; I was as happy as a clam.
GNN: Was there ever a point where it started to wear on you? Where you had a bad night or a few bad nights and thought, “Maybe I need to go back to Boston and start working at the bookstore again.”?
PP: No, I knew that when I stopped. My plan was to go back to Massachusetts at that point. I mean, I literally just fell in love with San Francisco. It’s no wonder Tony Bennett left his heart there. I fell in love with the audiences in San Francisco. They still are just such a joyful, funny, fun group to be with. They’re patient. You can have a variety of types of performers that they enjoy, whereas, in Boston, there was a popular style. And if you didn’t practice that popular style, you had an uphill climb. And I had an uphill climb. It was loud and misogynistic. And the other thing is, in terms of the people that are booking, the difference in entertainment now is that there are more than three television stations.
GNN: I get that.
PP: There were the gatekeepers. And in Boston, there was a handful of gatekeepers. And if your style was not what they enjoyed, then you were never going to find the audience that you really hooked up with. And I just think it was broader in San Francisco.
You know what’s really funny about being a stand-up comic? Is that the most fun shows there ever were, were open mic nights. They were long. The whole night was almost like telling a story. On an open mic night, the premise being that anybody who wants to can go up for five minutes. And it was such a popular thing to do back then that there would be 30 people that wanted to go on stage. And again, there was a gatekeeper. The MC had the list, and they would sort of manipulate when they were going to put you on so that…I don’t know, they had some philosophy about it. I don’t know what it was. What I know is, that when you would just arrive there and you were new, you were going on at the end of the night. So, I literally went on at a place called the Holy City Zoo, which was small. When it was packed, it had 50 people. It was a very, very, very small hole-in-the-wall kind of a club. Popular among the comics, but very small. I literally went on there and played to a table of two people because they would insist. At a certain point in the night, the place would be full. But as the hours clicked by, it would empty out.
PP: So, the new people went on at the end of the night. And if you refused, if you said, “Oh, come on. That’s stupid. I’m not going to play with two people,” then you weren’t going to get up there. So, you were really stuck, and it was like crawling through the mud. It could really be humiliating sometimes. At the same time, it’s sort of like running with ankle weights. It’s like if you can do that, then when you take the ankle weights off, boy, you’re going to be really tough.
GNN: That’s a good point.
PP: Those early experiences where you were just flogging through the worst times of the night, kind of did strengthen you. It gave you confidence somehow in a weird way. And the other thing is, really, within two years of working in San Francisco, I had played to two people multiple times, and I had played to 60,000 because they used to have an outdoor event…they still have it…an outdoor event that they started when I was young, called Comedy Day in Golden Gate Park, and it attracted 60,000 people in the beginning. It was an outdoor event. People would sleep outside, in order to get to pick where they wanted to be for the show, and then they’d sleep there so that they could be in the front row or be up near the comics. And they don’t draw as many people anymore, but they still draw in the thousands, I think.
It’s still a really fun day of comedy. It’s like noon to 5:00 on someday in the fall. Anyway, so I had both experiences working to two people and working to 60,000. Let me tell you, both are kind of heavy lifts.
GNN: I was about to say, you’re very interactive with the crowd. So, it seems like you’d want a receptive audience. So, if you do 50 shows, how many of them would say is a good audience?
PP: The best part of the night, 99.9% of the time is talking to the audience.
GNN: Really? That frequently?
PP: Yes. I mean, I, honestly, can I think of an individual where I was moved away from that person and talked to someone else? I talked to one woman one night. I was talking about my son and there was somebody about three-quarters of the way back in the theater that for some reason responded to something I said about my son. And I went, “Oh, you, ma’am?” And I asked her a question. She got really quiet. And I said, “Is there anybody sitting near that lady?” Somebody said, “I am sitting near her,” and it turned out after sort of peeling away some of the layers with questions, it turned out that the woman that I started talking to who had, for some odd reason, responded, that her son had died recently. Now, I mean, when I found that out, obviously it was like, “Oh, my.” So, I moved away as gracefully as I possibly could think to do, which doesn’t mean it was all that gracefully. It was as gracefully as I could. And that stands out in my mind. That was years ago. But that stands out in my mind as like, “Oh, boy, that’s a tough one.” And who knows why the lady responded, to begin with? I didn’t know why she didn’t want me to engage with her until her friend said, “Oh, her son died.” Oh, my God. Like, why on Earth? But I think that somewhere in her mental state that wasn’t all that solid at that point in her life, she just sort of accidentally blurted something out. And I hear stuff and I was on it. Because otherwise, like, really, why would you? It’s a comedy show. That’s the only time I can think of where I really got into trouble and had to kind of like just move.
There are times because I really just do the standard, “Where are you from, what do you do for a living?” That’s generally how I start the conversation. And sometimes people will say, “I’m a software designer.” And it’s all I can do not to just glaze over. And that happens, actually, a fair amount where they say, “I’m a software designer.” At which point I say, “What do you do in your free time?”
NN: Nice pivot. And how long does it take to develop that talent? One comic I talked to said it took him like seven years to hone his act to a nice polish. For something like that, where you have to learn how to pivot, how long to stay on a question or the line of questioning, how long do you feel it’d take to really hone that for you?
PP: Oh, I don’t know. I don’t know. For me, years ago, I did a movie in North Carolina. It wasn’t a good movie, but I was in a movie. And in one of the scenes, we had a cow, and it was supposed to be a dead cow. So, we had gone to shoot this scene at a ranch or a farm. I don’t know what it was. This guy had a bunch of cows. And what we needed was to cull out one of those cows, give it a drug so it would sleep, and bring it someplace where we did this scene with a dead cow. But it wasn’t dead. It was just asleep.
So, we go to this farm and the guy I owned it. He’s standing beside the field, and I’m standing beside the guy. And he has a little teeny dog, I mean, a small dog. I forget what he said to the dog to make him run out into that herd of cows and call out a cow. That little dog separated a cow from a bunch of cows that were running around and made the other cows go away. And then, when it finished doing its job, this guy, he says– he’s a big guy with overalls. And he says, “Come on boy.” That’s all he had to say. And that dog comes away from the cows and sits beside the guy on the ground. And then we proceed to do whatever it was we were doing. And I turned to the guy. It was an astounding thing to see. And I said to the guy, “How on Earth did you ever teach that dog to go after those cows like that?” And he said, “Oh, the hardest thing is teaching it not to.” And that’s me. (Laughs) I’m talking to the audience, right? I could do that all night long. The hardest thing is getting me not to do it. I do think there are times where the audiences…sometimes, I think they get nervous that you’re not going to have a beginning, a middle, and an end. And the truth is, one of the great things about my audiences, in general, is that they do allow me to leave my line out there for a little while, and that’s how you do it.
I know guys that have a standardized thing that they say to people. And then the person says something, and then the comic knows what they’re going to say back to them. Well, it’s a terrible idea. It works great, by the way, when they do it. But I couldn’t do that. Having a genuine conversation with the person, and sometimes, that genuine conversation has to breathe a little bit before you find the thing. I think, generally speaking, my audiences allow me to do that.
And then the other thing is, sometimes, I back away. And then, later, something comes up that reminds me of the person over in the right in the tenth row. You know what I mean? You would think I invented fire when that happens. (Laughs) People are like, “Woah! How do you do that?”
GNN: Yeah. I watched some of your specials and your talent for the callback is a fantastic thing. It’s amazing that you can pull that off because I’ve talked to comedians who say they don’t even engage the audience, not even to ask rhetorical questions or ask how they’re doing because his way of doing it is just telling jokes, bam. Story, punchline, story, punchline, story, punchline.
PP: Well, that works too. For me, I think necessity was the mother of invention because…well, it’s funny because I’m just telling you about how well I remember people from a long time ago, but I also have a hard time memorizing things.
PP: Oh, the idea that I’m going to do this the exact thing night after night…I can’t. In fact, one of the things about the stay-at-home order or the theaters closing during COVID is that those first few jobs out of the gate are a little creaky. It’s really tough because you haven’t done it in a while, and I look at my notebook and I say, “Oh yeah, I used that.” Somebody wrote to me on Twitter the other day and they said, “Oh, you used to do that funny story about your son’s socks.” They said, “I saw it on a YouTube thing…or I saw it on Craig Ferguson. It was the funniest thing I ever saw.” And I wrote back and go, “I have no memory of doing that.” I remember who I went camping with, I remember who I played basketball with, but I don’t remember every word I ever said.
GNN: So, as I read your biography, I saw something about how in 1984 Robin Williams was the one that convinced you to move to LA. Is that true?
PP: He didn’t convince me to move to L.A., but Robin Williams and Dana Carvey made introductions to their managers, and I got picked up by that management company. And they’re down here in L.A., but I’m not sure Robin cared where I lived.
GNN: But he got you there. Maybe he was the one who nudged you in the right direction, “Hey, if you moved to LA you could be seen.”
PP: Yeah. I mean, he was always very supportive.
GNN: Robin Williams and Dana Carvey are two nice names to have on the resume as recommending you.
PP: Yeah. Yeah. And I don’t go to see comedy hardly ever, but I wanted to talk to Dana about something a few years ago. And I knew that he was going to be at a place in L.A. and so I went just so I could get a chance to talk to him, and oh my God he was so funny. It was really fun to watch. I think that was the last…yeah, I think that was the last stand-up that I’ve seen.
GNN: Yeah, I have a friend that played college basketball and he enjoyed playing, but never watched basketball. So, you don’t partake in other comedians?
PP: No, not for the most part. I mean, when I was in clubs there was the middle act, the MC, and the headliner and we were all stuck watching each other. And when you did open mic nights you’re all stuck watching each other. I mean you know what’s funny. I’m not sure if my car is parked in the front of the house or behind the house right now, but I can do Lenny Clarke’s Act from 1979. It’s funny. And it’s not like I even saw it that many times. There’s stuff that just sticks in your head from the formative years of comedy, the people that you saw that you remember.
But when I watch somebody now, I have one of two reactions. And none of them are…I either think to myself, “well, why didn’t I think of that?” Or, “Hey, I do that!” And it’s just better to not know. It’s just better for me to go on, or I’ll feel like, well, how come I don’t do that? I’m always somehow comparing myself, badly, and I don’t find that much fun. There is the occasional time, like, as I said a couple of years ago, watching Dana where it was just plain funny. But a lot of times I get into the weeds.
GNN: So, you’re in the ’80s, ’90s, you’re ramping up. I mean, when I was looking at the things you were doing in the ’90s, you’re doing HBO specials, and you’re a political correspondent on The Tonight Show. Was there ever a moment where you’re saying, “I made it.”?
PP: Well, because everything I did was very short-lived. A lot of videotapes used to get made. And then those big television tapes that come in the big boxes…
GNN: Hold on. Hold on. This site skews younger. Videotapes, you’ll have to explain these devices. What are these weird things you’re talking about? Videocassettes?
PP: (Laughs) Yeah. Well, we used to have things that we recorded things on. So, you would do a show, and as a performer, it’s not on a computer somewhere. It’s on a tape.
GNN: Sure. For more information, folks will have to Google “videotapes.”
PP: So, I have a storage unit that has so many boxes of videotapes from old shows that I did. At least three of those old shows were titled for some odd reason, The Paula Poundstone Show. I don’t know why it never occurred to me to choose a different name. I’ll never know what came from where. But every Paula Poundstone Show got canceled in short order, or they thought they wanted it and then they didn’t want it or whatever. So, the experience of doing it was great, but it was short-lived. And that’s okay. It’s still more than a lot of people get.
PP: And you figure that it’s like a sandy wave going over a rock on the shore. Every part of it shapes you.
GNN: But again, I mean, you’re still doing it. You’re still making people laugh. And people are still watching. What you do and the way you do it seems like…it’s like a constant challenge. I mean, what is this audience going to think? Is this audience going to be good? That seems like a blast. I could never in a million years do it, but you’re amazing at it.
PP: It’s the best job in the entire world. And I’ll tell you, these last couple of years have been a sharp reminder of that. Just how great it was. I went back to work last June after essentially 15 months, and oh, my gosh, it was really great to… one of those things that…before everything shut down, I was working a lot and I was tired. And sometimes there are things that get to you over time. And now after that 15-month slap in the face with the cold fish of reality, I don’t remember anything that bothered me. (Laughs)
GNN: Yeah. I know. Right?
PP: I couldn’t be happier. It’s just fantastic.
GNN: So, you’ve done acting; you’ve done voice work; and then you’ve also written two books, both memoirs.
PP: Both memoirs, because you know one good thing about writing a memoir? You can keep doing it as so long as you’re alive.
GNN: So, one of them is titled, There’s Nothing in This Book That I Meant to Say and the more recent one is titled The Totally Unscientific Study of the Search for Human Happiness. You did one in 2006 and one in 2017. Are they both full-life memoirs or is one kind of the early years and one is more current?
PP: The Totally Unscientific Study of the Search for Human Happiness is a series of experiments of me doing things that I, or other people, thought would make me happy. And then I write up the experiment as a science experiment with the hypothesis and the field notes and the qualitative and quantitative observations and so on. But I would often explain in the “conditions” section of each experiment because you have to know what the baseline is before you can know whether or not this thing increased your happiness one way or the other. So, the conditions I would sort of say where things were with my family and with my work or whatever the story was that I was telling at the time. And the experiments, by the way, were quite sincere. I really was genuinely…I mean, who doesn’t want to be happy? So, I was genuinely hoping that each thing would be the one. And so it’s told pretty damned honestly.
GNN: Did other people recommend the experiments, or were they things that you thought would work?
PP: Some of them were things that came from other people. Like, for example…what’s the word? Meditation kind of stuff. That’s not something I would have thought of. Or one of the experiments, I rent a fancy sports car. I personally wouldn’t have thought that having a fancy sports car would make me happy. But that is a pretty American idea. So, I thought, “Well, I could be wrong.” I wasn’t wrong. I was right. That would make you happy. So, I didn’t own it. I simply rented it. I had problems with the fancy sports car idea, and yet, I have one or two happy memories from the experience. (Laughs)
GNN: Right. I am not a car guy. I would be terrified driving a fancy sports car. Terrified. I wouldn’t even want to get a mark on it.
PP: I was terrified driving, especially because…well, I mean it wouldn’t be good if you owned it either, but it wasn’t mine. I’m renting a fancy sports car. So, it’s like, “Oh, my God,” I mean literally from the moment…I was terrified even coming out of the parking lot of the place! Horrified. Uh, yeah.
And the other thing that’s sort of funny about it, in retrospect, is that Los Angeles has a lot of traffic. And I had through my regular day. My son was still living at home at that point and still in high school, and I have a lot of pets. Got to buy pet food. I got to do this. I got to do that. So, it’s not like I could just joyride. And my point being, that I was driving the fastest car I’ll ever drive in mostly bumper to bumper traffic, which really takes…I mean, not that I’m the kind of person who’s going to “let `er rip” anyways. There’s one section in West LA…I live in Santa Monica, but we’re right beside Los Angeles. There is one section of Wilshire Boulevard with no traffic on it, and I was driving on it late at night, It’s kind of fun to drive there, but it took like five minutes, so. Yeah. But it was a fun chapter.
The irony is…I mean the book came out in hardcover to begin with and then came out in paperback. That book had only been out in paperback not all that long when the pandemic hit. I mean maybe a couple of years, I guess, maybe. But when the pandemic hit, suddenly I think that book fits that time pretty well. Basically, it’s the story of sort of figuring out how to take care of yourself mentally. I mean, my efforts were pretty unsuccessful but that’s the basic premise of the book is how do you maintain– with all the slings and arrows of regular life, how do you manage to feel okay? And now, boy, we need all that we can get.
GNN: Oh, yeah. And I did. Two days ago, I ordered my copy of the book. So, I will be reading it because you can always afford to get a little happier, right?
PP: Yeah. One of the things that I learned, by the way, it’s not a revolutionary idea, but exercise. I hate to say it because I’m not a person who loves exercise. I don’t like exercise. But the truth is, pound for pound, that’s a pretty good investment.
GNN: And folks can get the books on your website, paulapoundstone.com, or on Amazon. And on your website, I saw that you also have a podcast.
PP: Yes, I have a podcast called Nobody Listens To Paula Poundstone. It drops on Tuesdays and it’s available, well, wherever you podcast, of course, but also right at my website which is paulapoundstone.com. It’s right on the first page. I’m trying to make it as easy for people as possible because I’m working theaters to a lot of people who say to me, “well, how do I get a podcast?” And you don’t want to talk too much about clicking. Go right to paulapoundstone.com. That’ll do.
GNN: Right. Absolutely. And it’s killing me because I’ve always had jobs where I’ve commuted, and I could listen to a lot of podcasts, and I could do a lot more reading. Now that I’m working from home, I don’t have three hours of commute time every day to listen to podcasts, which is probably the only drawback. If you could summarize your podcast in a few sentences, what is it about?
PP: Well, most episodes have interviews with someone who has some information to share that I consider valuable. But overall, it’s a comedy podcast. Me and my partner, Adam Felber, and my manager Bonnie Burns, actually is on, and another friend of ours, Toni Anita Hull. It is, I say, it’s like we’ve dropped the rope ladder down to our treehouse and we invite people to come and sit around the fire.
GNN: Wait! You don’t want a fire in a treehouse! Anybody who’s reading this, you do not want a fire in your treehouse!
PP: Well, that’s the problem, isn’t it?
GNN: We’ve got to hammer out that metaphor a little better! (Laughs)
PP: Therein lies the rub. (Laughs] Yeah. So anyways, it’s just about an hour and a half. If you said to yourself after you listen, “Well, boy. I don’t think they’re all that funny today,” at the very least, you go away with some real information. I think one of my favorite episodes just had a plumber. Occasionally we’ll have, like a quote, unquote celebrity, but mostly it’s not celebrity-driven. It’s just some information. We’ll have somebody explain the Constitution. We were supposed to have somebody on the other day to explain Bitcoin, but instead, we explained it. So, we’re going to have that person on soon to explain Bitcoin. Let’s see. We’ve had dog trainers and people to tell you how to buy a car and people to just tell you how to do stuff, adult stuff. You know what I mean? How to be in a relationship, communication. I can’t even think of all the topics, and we’ve been on for about three years. So, it’s a good deal there. So, you can go to paulapoundstone.com and find all the episodes. You can start listening now and not worry about the ones that have already gone by, or you can start in the middle somewhere. It doesn’t matter at all.
GNN: Are they listed by the topic you’re talking about so people can just pick a topic that they’re interested in? Like, “Hey, there’s the Constitution. I like the Constitution.”
PP: Yeah. Yeah. Not too long ago we had Billy Jean King, and I got to say…oh, my gosh, she’s powerful. But, I mean, even if you don’t know anything or care about tennis at all, and I don’t know anything about tennis, she just is a powerful person to talk to. And I read her book. She has a book called All In, and it is great. It was exciting to talk to somebody who’s literally changed the world.
I had Fiona Hill on not all that long ago. Same thing. Is that an American hero? And so brilliant. And funny, too, by the way, but so brilliant. I felt like by the time I finished talking to her, I should have gotten a college credit. She’s a great communicator, so you don’t feel like you’re talking to like a stuffy, brainy person. She’s very personable and funny, but also just an expert on Russia, which is kind of exciting.
GNN: So, another place folks can find you…there’s a little NPR show that’s been on, what, a few months now? Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me.
PP: Yeah. It’s a little engine that could. Yeah. I think I’ve been on that show for 22 or 23 years. I can’t remember anymore. And the show itself was up and running a couple of years before I got there. Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me on NPR, which is so much fun to do. Again, I got to be the luckiest performer in the entire world.
GNN: See? You were talking earlier about how didn’t hit the same levels as those other performers.
PP: But the thing is, what I got was pretty great.
GNN: Yeah. You’re still making people laugh.
PP: It’s the greatest thing in the world.
GNN: 100%. And again, folks can just go to the NPR website and find episodes, right? Forgive me ignorance on this one, but are you still a panelist?
PP: I am. Yes. In fact, I was on last week. I’m not on every week but I’m on and it’s really fun to do. They have about, I don’t know, what do they have? 15 or 20 panelists. There are three of us per show, but that they rotate in some order that makes sense to them. I don’t know. I think I’m on next week, come to think of it, which is very unusual. I think I’m covering for somebody else who had to drop out. But it is. Yeah. It’s really fun.
In fact, Justice Stephen Breyer was a guest on that show one time, and I was lucky enough to be one of the panelists that time. I remember that I asked him about his robes. I asked him, “When you’re a Supreme Court Justice, do they give you the robe, or do you have to have it already?” And he said, “Oh, no. You have to bring your own robe.” And it really baffled me because on the Supreme Court, having unity on an issue is a big deal. That’s what they strive for. They don’t always achieve it, but that’s what they strive for. And you would think, I mean, you would think you might start with that unity. Just, “You know what? Hey, you’re on our team. Here’s a robe. Here’s your Supreme Court robe.” I also asked him if he lint lifted because I have a lot of pets and so lint lifting is a big part of my life. If I wore a black robe, I wouldn’t have time to write briefs. I’d be lint lifting all day long.
GNN: (Laughs) I have a dog, and I know all about lint lifting! Now, we’re getting into the home stretch. Today, it’s a crowded marketplace as far as entertainment goes. There are so many comedians and other content creators. There are just so many people out there now that are funny. How do you think social media helped or hurt the world of comedy and performing? I know you don’t like flat things like you call them…devices like iPads and tablets.
PP: Because they’re addictive and that was always their point. It’s interesting. My son was an electronics addict, and addiction is addiction is addiction. It caused enormous problems in his life and in the life of our family. And having been a drinker myself, I can tell you that addiction is addiction is addiction. The difference is that we don’t generally give our children alcohol. So, for him, he started using the computer when he was three because I thought I was giving him a leg up. It was sold to me as this educational tool. Well, as time went by, it became clear that it was not an educational tool, and by the way, that was never the goal of the companies. Always the goal was addiction.
And now recently, Facebook is coming out with…I mean, we encountered this problem many, many years ago, and I was probably one of the early voices talking about it, although there are many more now. But people used to look at me like I had two heads when I would talk about this. I couldn’t get the schools to be cooperative in any way. And now recently along comes the whistleblower, Facebook, saying, “Oh yeah, they were doing that on purpose.” I mean, I knew that, and some other people knew that, but I said to my assistant, “We have to put in a second phone line. ” And he said, “Why?” And I said, “Because so many people are going to be calling to apologize to me that I just think we want to open up those phones so they can get through.”
So, in life in general, I think on all fronts I would say that the world would be a better place without social media. Having said that, I spend a tremendous amount of time on Twitter. And I can feel, by the way, the chemical hits and drops that you get from it. Absolutely. Especially during the pandemic; it’s like we’ve been in a laboratory for these last two years with these kinds of things. I’m not sure that it served comedy overall. I mean, when you say, yeah, there is a kind of social media stars that get famous for doing not very much, and maybe It doesn’t matter, but I don’t see where it’s been helpful overall.
The only thing I do like is the idea…and it’s not a social media thing. But I like the idea that I can say to somebody, somebody might say to me on Twitter that they’re really depressed or that they’re recovering from an illness. And I say, I prescribe Bob and Ray’s Komodo Dragon routine. And if you go on iTunes, you can find it. That I like.
GNN: Right. Yeah. I’ve always said I think I’m at the perfect age where I can appreciate technology but I can live my life without it. Again, back in the day, man, we had to go to the library to figure things out. My parents had 800-year-old encyclopedias. So, it was one of those things where we’d get in the car, so I could go to the library and do my project.
Now, I mean, everything’s right there. But on the flip side, I have those social skills where if my phone is out and I need directions, I’m not too afraid to go into a gas station and ask. You have some people who don’t even know how, or are afraid, to walk in and interact with a human being.
PP: Yeah. I think it is a generation that’s been raised with it, is going to face some challenges as a result. But on the other hand, there’s a lot of young people that are just so remarkable and so amazing that I imagine they’ll be okay.
GNN: I agree. Any advice for anyone who wants to be funny for a living?
PP: Do what’s in your heart. I think that that is the key to being a good comic is, don’t let anybody else tell you what to do, because what you’re going to do, it’s only going to be effective if it’s not the same as what somebody else is doing.
So, do what’s in your heart. In the end, that’s what’s going to make you feel good. A lot of comedy is…I think for a lot of comedians, comedy is just what they were doing their whole lives. They’re just doing it in a different relationship, you know what I mean? And the audience is my best friend, which is probably a really unhealthy mental thing to say, but they are.
GNN: So, now my last question, because this is for Geek News Network. What are you geeking out on right now? You’re reading any good books? You’re watching any good movies?
PP: I’ve been watching The Americans on DVD. I had to stop myself. I watch a new episode each night, and I have to stop myself from watching another and another. But I’ll tell you from the minute I get up in the morning, all I can think about is getting my chores done so I can go to bed again and watch. It’s like the last thing I do before I go to sleep. I’m walking the dogs fast as I possibly can. Come on dogs! Come on! Just so I can get back to The Americans!
GNN: It’s that good, huh?
PP: It’s really good.
GNN: I’ll have to add that to my list!
PP: And it’s one of those cruel things…the serialized presentation. That’s how the old Dickens novels came out with Oliver Twist and Nicholas Nickleby and A Tale of Two Cities. They all came out serialized, which is why people used to go down to the docks to get the magazines with the next episode. So, it’s this serialized thing, which is cruel. Yeah. I think about it all day long.
GNN: Well, that’s about it. it’s been an absolutely pleasure. It has absolutely been fantastic talking to you. I just want to warn you that there are going to be literally dozens of people seeing this article. So, be ready for these dozens of people to just be flooding your Twitter and your website. Dozens, I tell you. Dozens.
PP: I appreciate that! That’s wonderful.
GNN: All right. Thanks a lot. Take care.
PP: Have a good one.