BOOMER talks with the famous comedian.
Paula Poundstone was having a bad week when we caught up with her on the phone. Her 16-year-old son had been in the hospital with an infection, though he was to be released later that day, and she’d had to put the oldest of her 16 cats to sleep.
Still, she managed to put things into humorous perspective. With her son out of danger, she could concentrate on what she sees as his real problem.
“My son has an electronics addiction. And that is so much worse than any … infection or virus,” she said.
“He’s not a good 16-year-old. He’s not fun. I was a nutcase teenager, so I’ve got a lot of nerve talking. But I’m not anymore. Now I’m being paid back.”
Comedians don’t think like the rest of us. Poundstone tends to see herself in terms of any number of pop culture references, such as a minor character in David Copperfield.
Mrs. Gummidge “sat in the corner every day and cried. Everyone in the house deferred to her … because they all thought she felt things more deeply than others,” she said.
A few minutes later, she compared herself to Jude the Obscure, in which the main character decides to learn Latin and is disappointed to realize he cannot do it simply by looking through a book.
“So many times I was so wrong about what I thought something was going to be,” she said.
COMEDY FROM FEELING DEEPLY
The comedian, who will be at the Modlin Center for the Arts for two shows Dec. 5, dropped out of high school, but she has become a voracious, if slow, reader. “I mostly read nonfiction because I’m an idiot and I feel I ought to fill in as many gaps as I can before I hit my grave,” she said.
At 54 – she turns 55 on Dec. 29 – she has been thinking about her own death a lot lately, though she still manages to see the humor in it. If she feels things more deeply than other people, she uses that to build her comedy.
Her son is the youngest of three children. The oldest daughter is 23 and has left home (“that ship has sailed, only sometimes it’s stuck on a sandbar”). The middle daughter is 20 and in college (“I know she’s alive because I get Starbucks charges on my MasterCard”).
“She is a good kid. She is the unusual one in the family … I was a loser’s loser. As bad a screw-up as my oldest and youngest are, they are much better than I ever was,” she said.
Being a parent “is truly one of the most agonizing jobs you can ever possibly imagine. It’s impossible to do it right. Or maybe one is just more reflective about it than one would be about other jobs because it seems like a more important job,” she said.
Of course, being a mother to 16 cats is also a full-time job. She had to leave the hospital every day just to go home “to sift.”
“When you’ve got 16 cats, it’s the gift that keeps on giving and you really can’t ignore it. Not even for a few hours. It’s like a factory.
“I feel like a really unprofitable farmer. There’s no profit. They don’t work, they don’t do a task.”
Working hard is all Poundstone knows. Along with a busy schedule of concerts, she is writing her second book (this one on a computer; the first was longhand), has released two comedy CDs and is a frequent panelist on the NPR quiz show Wait, Wait … Don’t Tell Me, which has brought her a new legion of fans.
Plus, she is active on social media, both Facebook and Twitter. Twitter is where she puts all the excess thoughts and jokes “rattling in my head.”
Which brings up one last pop-culture reference. Dumbledore, in the Harry Potter books, pulls thoughts out of his head and stores them in a magic basin called a pensieve to think about them later.
“Twitter is a little bit like that for me,” she said.