Over on his blog the other day, Mark Evanier wrote about how you can't judge all comedians by the couple of minutes they get on TV, but need to see their full act to appreciate them. It's a good piece and worth reading. He singled out two in particularly, one of which was Paula Poundstone, who he loved.
Like Mark, I find Paula Poundstone hilarious. Bordering on amazing.
I only saw her “live” once. And in some ways it doesn’t count as seeing her live, though in some ways it counts more because it was comedy at its most pure. Though live, it wasn’t on stage doing her act. But it was a large bulk of her act, sort of.
What I saw was at the Consumer Electronics Show, and she was the celebrity some company had hired for the day. That happens a lot at CES. They'll have a celebrity there to meet-and-great, just to attract attention. She did more than just standing behind a booth though and saying "hi, so nice of you to stop by." Instead, she was on the exhibit floor, getting attention for the product, randomly talking with people who had gathered, which is a large part of her act, just interacting with people and going off on tangents. Needless-to-say, a good-sized group had gathered, and more kept stopping. There were maybe 50 to 100 people. I stood off to the side and just watched for probably 10-15 minutes, because I think she’s great. And this was Paul Poundstone not only doing what she does best, but without a net, no material to fall back on, just talking with strangers. Close-up. No way to pause and use the stage. She was just surrounded and wandering around. And she was absolutely hilarious. It was a joy.
The closest I’ve come to seeing her act was only on TV, but it was on HBO, I think, who was broadcasting one of her concerts from a college campus. It lasted an hour or so, and was one of the funniest things I’ve seen. I’ve tried to track it down for years. The main thing I remember is her talking with some girl in the audience who said that her roommate didn’t come to the concert because she stayed in the room to study. Paula borrowed the girl's phone, got the number and called the roommate. And she talked with her for about 10 minutes. The auditorium was roaring. I don’t recall at this point if they’d hooked it up so that you could hear the roommate or if it was a one-way conversation. Either way, she was great. As I said, that was what she does at her best. The only other thing I remember is her laying down on her back on the stage and ad-libbing with an audience member from flat on her back for about 5 minutes – and she was a hoot.
I like her even in small doses on TV – or on Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me. But then, having seen her do her extended work, I can appreciate the little moments.
Mainly, I’m glad she got her life in order and was able to get over that massive hump that could have been career-ending. (For those unaware, the very short version is that there were charges of abuse of her adopted children. It subsequently turned out to be something else entirely -- bad, but not anywhere remotely the horror that people thought. Basically, she had a drinking problem. And I'm pretty sure she even got to keep custody of them all. But the public damage was done.) It would be tough to overcome a hurdle that bad in any entertainment field, but for a stand-up comedienne, it would seem near impossible. I remember when David Letterman had her on for her first appearance back, after quite a few years (a reason I’ve always liked him and cut him slack for his snarkiness...), and she brought down the house, as they say.
So, here's 9-1/2 minutes of what Paula Poundstone does, jumping into the middle of one of her concerts.
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Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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