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Paula does NYE

by Sari Staver

Paula Poundstone: "I can't help but talk about the mess we're in." Photo: Courtesy the artist
Paula Poundstone: "I can't help but talk about the mess we're in." Photo: Courtesy the artist  

Paula Poundstone brings her quirky, self-deprecating sense of humor to the Sydney Goldstein Theater (formerly the Nourse) in San Francisco for her annual New Year's Eve show.

Poundstone, a longtime standup comic, has been performing in the Bay Area since the early 1980s, when she did improv at the now-closed Other Café in the Haight Ashbury. Her career took off after she was discovered by the late Robin Williams, who encouraged her to move to Los Angeles and got her a spot on a "Saturday Night Live" episode he hosted. Her act changes each year based on the news of the day, her current comings and goings, and input from the audience, which gives the show a local flavor.

We reached the 58-year-old performer at her home in Santa Monica to see if she could give us a preview of who, other than herself, might be the subject of her barbs. She was evasive but conceded that "of course, Trump" would be among the topics she would dissect.

"I can't help but talk about the mess we're in," she said. "That asshole has a gravitational pull." Poundstone said her own reactions to Trump have resembled the stages terminally ill patients experience as described by psychiatrist Elizabeth Kubler Ross: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and finally, acceptance.

During his presidential campaign, Poundstone said she frequently "made fun of the side-show" he presented. But after "that horrible thing happened" when he was elected, "I went into shock." Poundstone had a date to perform in Alexandria, VA, on the weekend following the election. Worried that the audience might not be in any mood to laugh, Poundstone said she was happy that the evening turned out to be a "celebration of life."

"Several people told me afterwards that they were so depressed that they wondered if they'd ever feel like leaving the house again," but were glad to come out to a fun evening. Now, given the entanglements with Russia that have been exposed, the country has become a "tinder box ready to blow," she said. The Russians' "social media bullshit" has created more friction between Americans than ever before, she said. Still, when she goes on stage and cops to being a Democrat, "the Republicans in the audience don't storm out" of the theatre. In fact, audience members have told her that despite political differences, "they have so much more in common" than they do differences.


Poundstone has a new podcast, Nobody Listens to Paula Poundstone. Photo: Courtesy the artist  

Much of Poundstone's monologue is based on her day-to-day experiences. On the morning we spoke in early December, she had just returned from her twice-weekly volunteer gig at a local nursing home, which she initially began for research for a book. After the book was published, "I felt like I'd be a real jerk if I said, 'Well, thanks for your help,' and did not ever return." Besides, she said, "I love doing it."

Now that her children are grown and out of the house, Poundstone said most of her time is spent working.

"I'm very busy, and I like it like that," she said. "I complain about a lot of things, but one thing I don't complain about is work. Whatever mood I'm in and whatever biochemical spin I'm in the midst of, I am lucky enough that I have a job that enables me to go into a theatre with people who've come out to laugh. In the first few minutes on stage, I'm cured."

When she gets home from a road trip, typically three nights in different cities, "I deal with the same crap everyone else does, like the cats peeing on the floor or mold growing on the ceiling."

Poundstone's new gig, a podcast she named "Nobody Listens to Paula Poundstone," has helped her solve some of her household problems. "I rent," she explained, "and my landlord brings his nephew over to do repairs, but the poor guy can't really do much of anything." So when a longtime leak turned into mold and the nephew suggested using bleach, Poundstone had a feeling his solution might not be correct.

"Sure enough," she said after inviting a mold expert to the show, "bleach is the worst thing to use, because it looks like it's gone, but three's a bigger problem somewhere else."

Poundstone also pokes fun at her role as a single parent. "You know how they stick something into a tree to get the sap to drip into a bucket. Raising kids is like having that same device stuck into your heart," she said. She has accused her son of "sucking the bone marrow out of me."

Society says children are adults at age 18, "but that's only because we wanted to send our boys to fight in Vietnam" at that age, she said. "It had nothing to do with brain development."

Poundstone turns serious when she talks about her pet peeve: parents allowing their children to spend countless hours in front of a small screen. "It clearly leads to addiction," she said. "Studies show it can cause brain damage." When her kids reached their last year of high school, she relented and let them get iPhones and iPads, she said. "I'm still hoping flip phones will make a comeback."

Tickets for Paula Poundstone ($49.50-$152): www.cityboxoffice.com


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