Ringing in NYE with Paula Poundstone

  • by Sari Staver
  • Tuesday December 27, 2016
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Stand-up comedian Paula Poundstone: zero sex drive.
Stand-up comedian Paula Poundstone: zero sex drive.

When comic Paula Poundstone has an audience meet-and-greet after her show, people often confide details about their sex lives, or lack of them.

"I'm dead serious," Poundstone, 57, explained in a phone interview with the B.A.R., although many of her answers were anything but serious. Poundstone, who will perform on New Year's Eve at the Nourse Theater in San Francisco, said her shows often include a mention of her lifelong disinterest in sex.

It's a topic Poundstone first broached when she began her standup career almost four decades ago. "But back then," she recalled, "I had two older guys who were my managers, and they really discouraged me from discussing it on stage." The managers "had zero understanding of me, and one was a bit of a drama queen and a bit of a nutter." The managers' advice did not stop Poundstone after she realized how many people identified with her.

"I used to think I was some sort of freak," she said. "As a kid, I was not a terribly sexual human being. I thought one day something would happen, and I'd change, but it hasn't. I just have no desires in that direction." Poundstone said she dated "a few times" when she was younger, but "I have no sexual drive, and I consider myself lucky."

Recent shows have also included riffs about Donald Trump. "Clearly, we are all still in a state of shock" about the election. With a largely Democratic-leaning audience, Poundstone's riff about "all the jobs coming back" usually goes over well. "Then there are those people who believe coal is coming back."

With more than 90 performances in 2016, Poundstone is away from her home in Santa Monica most weekends. But life on the road is anything but glamorous. She flies coach, does her own hair and makeup, and when the show is over, "I'm ready to be wheeled back to my hotel," where she "does some paperwork and packs" for the flight home. At home, Poundstone's calendar is packed. She volunteers at a nursing home, and "a lot of time is spent like this," she said, doing interviews with journalists.

Poundstone said that when her three kids were growing up, "almost everyone I knew was someone I met through my kids' activities. My daughter and I calculated that we had a total of over 70 ping-pong parties at the house."

She is also a frequent panelist on NPR's weekly news quiz show Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me. She's made many television and film appearances over the years, and has had specials on HBO and Bravo.

Poundstone has been appearing in San Francisco since the early 1980s, when she was known for her improvisational sets at the now-closed Other Cafe in the Haight Ashbury. She was seen by the late Robin Williams, who encouraged her to move to Los Angeles, and who included a stand-up set for her on an episode of Saturday Night Live he hosted.

She has always had a strong following among LGBTs, "probably because they knew how much I respected and loved them." In her early days of stand-up, it would "not be unusual" for other comedians to make homophobic remarks during their act. For the past several years, she's been putting on a New Year's Eve show at the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco, but "decided it was time for a change" and moved the show to the Nourse, where she had performed with NPR and "really loved it."

As for the future, Poundstone said she'd love to be a "comic actress" in a film, write a screenplay, and write a novel for middle-school kids that deals with electronics addiction. Next May, Poundstone's book The Totally Unscientific Study of the Secret to Human Happiness will be published by Algonquin Books. When the publisher asked Poundstone to get celebrities to write book-jacket blurbs, Poundstone said she was "really annoyed. It felt so awkward and sticky." But everyone she asked said yes, including Lily Tomlin, Carl Reiner, and Dick Van Dyke. "They all said great things, but I have to remember that if I start to believe my own press, that's a sign of really bad mental health.

"Besides," she added, "Did Dickens have to do this sort of thing?"


Paula Poundstone's Dec. 31 show, 8 p.m. at the Nourse Theatre, 275 Hayes St., SF. Tickets ($57.50): paulapoundstone.com.