Although stand-up comedian Paula Poundstone has never performed in Sheboygan before, she has played in Wisconsin many times.
Besides, she just loves saying the word Sheboygan. She even recited the John Candy line in “Home Alone” during a recent phone interview where his character says his polka band is “big in Sheboygan.”
Area folks will have a chance to hear lots of funny stuff when Ms. Poundstone makes a stop at the Stephanie H. Weill Center of the Performing Arts next Saturday at 7:30 pm.
“My act is largely autobiographical,” Poundstone begins. “I talk about what I’m doing and what I’m thinking.”
However, Poundstone’s favorite part of the night is talking to the audience and doing the time-honored, “Where are you from, and what do you do for a living?” bit. Therefore, no two shows of Poundstone’s are ever the same because you never know what comes up.
And you can bet Ms. Poundstone enjoys these moments.
“I enjoy it more every day,” she agreed. “I think the entire world is in a mental health crisis. People fearing one another so much and people trying to get other people to fear them so much. But laughter is healing and being together as a group. It’s different than looking at a funny Youtube video, being in a room together laughing is I think, the most mentally healthy thing people can do.”
Especially in this day and age when people need to unite, there’s more division and barriers than ever.
“For all of our differences — I don’t care who you are — we have far more in common than we have differences,” Poundstone stated. “And we need each other. But when you’re in a group laughing, it’s just this whole other experience.”
Poundstone began stand-up comedy at open mic nights in 1979 at the age of 19 in her hometown of Boston. In 1980, Poundstone traveled by Greyhound bus heading west, making stops along the way performing at even more open mic nights en route to San Francisco.
While performing in various comedy clubs in the City by the Bay, she encountered one already enormous comedy star by the name of Robin Williams. By that time, Williams was already immensely popular due to his sitcom series “Mork & Mindy. After seeing her act one night, Mr. Williams encouraged Poundstone to move to Los Angeles to pursue a comedy career.
“I have nothing but fond memories of Robin,” Poundstone remembered. “But myself and every comic of my generation and after, pretty much owe their living to Robin Williams. That frenetic energy; jumping from subject to subject and wildly working the room was Robin’s signature act. And with it, he reignited audiences’ interest in stand-up comedy. When the comedy club thing started to happen, it was almost all on the back of Robin Williams.”
Those non-paying, open-mic nights were a good stepping stone to honing Poundstone’s act.
“At the beginning of the night wasn’t a great slot,” Poundstone recalled. “But by 9 O’clock the place would be packed; the energy would be very high and it was a rewarding time slot to go on. But the shows would go till 1:30 or 2 in the morning, and by that time you’re working a dead crowd, maybe five to 10 people. One place in San Francisco made me go on to two people. And I did it!”
Poundstone’s engaging, observational/conversational comedy style has no set boundaries and a lot of her banter is made up on the spot, or are immediate responses to the audience. About a third of Poundstone’s act transforms from these audience participations.
“When I started out, I had my five minutes written out and memorized,” she recalled. “I don’t work like that at all now, I really don’t know what I’m going to say for the most part. I have a skeleton in my head that probably shifts a little bit from month to month maybe, but not deliberately. Overall, I have 37 years of material somewhere in my head and my favorite part of the night is asking people questions and responding.”
In 2006, Poundstone published her first book, “There is Nothing In This Book That I Meant To Say.” The part memoir, part monologue autobiography is loaded with quips about historical figures juxtaposed with her real-life situations, including her well-publicized 2001 arrest. It took her nine years to finish it. On the back of its success, she was contracted to write another book that was tentatively due in the fall of 2016, but now is slated for a January 2017 release. Self-admittedly, Poundstone is a slow writer.
“I just today got an e-mail from my publisher of my new book saying she just finished reading yet another draft,” Poundstone gleefully admits. “When I first started, I said to myself that the good news is that it can’t take possibly as long as the last one took. But by golly, I gave it a run for its money!”