Paula Poundstone Wants You to Fear Incontinence, at Least Once

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Paula Poundstone to appear at the Sheldon Concert Hall. - Press photo
Press photo
Paula Poundstone to appear at the Sheldon Concert Hall.

A humorist quite unlike any other, Paula Poundstone carries the experience she picked up from years of improv into a spontaneous and delightful live show. Channeling the spirit of standup, improv and sketch comedy, her performance is a comedic trinity to be revered. One of the most loved and admired by fans and comics alike, Poundstone refuses to simply sit and revel in her accomplishments.

Poundstone is slated to perform at the Sheldon Concert Hall on Saturday, March 28. She was kind enough to take time out of her busy schedule to answer a few questions via e-mail. (And like a true and honorable pro, she gracefully cut right through David Cross calling St. Louis humorless.)

Kelsey McClure: I read something you said in a recent interview: "For a long time, I knew I wanted to be a comedian, but didn't always think I could be one." was there a pivotal moment that made you realize you could do it, or that you already were?

Paula Poundstone: I was lucky enough to be in Boston, in 1979, when some clubs started having comedy open mic nights. I never would have had the nerve to just go into a club, on my own, and ask if I could go tell some jokes. But guys did that, in years past.

Did you have a "career goals" checklist? If so, what was at the top of it?

I would, someday, like to write a screenplay and get it made, and I'd like to be a comic actress in an ensemble. I've always had career goals, like to do late-night talk shows, to write a book, to do some specials, etc. But somewhere along the way, my career goals became more about not where I was performing, but how I was performing.

My most important goals are that I connect with the audience in a way that makes people go away feeling that they are an important part of a whole. I want to take a chisel to the loneliness and dehumanization that computers, smart phones and social media advances. I want to produce record amounts of endorphins each night. I want each audience member to fear incontinence, at least once, during my show.

Are comedians who are just now coming up more concerned with social media and personal marketing than developing their best material?

I loathe promoting myself, but the truth is, no matter how brilliantly funny any of us may be, it's not worth much without an audience.

We all know that that which is mass-marketed is not always the best in quality, but what's funny is entirely subjective.

At this point in your career, how much of your live show is improvisational and how much is a set routine?

On a good night -- and I like to think that many of them are -- about a third of my show is stuff I've never said before and will never say again. I do not have a "set." I try to set my sails by conversations with audience members during my show.

Do you put much time or effort into reaching out to new audiences or do you rely more on your current or past audiences being enticed out to shows by new material?

I'm thrilled when people come to me after the show and say that they've seen me many times, and that, this time, they brought their friend who had never seen me before.I'm deeply ashamed to say this, but I don't really have a strategy for developing an audience. I guess I could try Craigslist.

David Cross recently called St. Louis "the most humorless city in America." Have you had any memorable experiences that either prove or disprove such a statement?

I've had great shows in St. Louis, which still doesn't prove or disprove David Cross' odd statement.

Paula Poundstone 8 p.m. Saturday, March 28. The Sheldon Concert Hall, 3648 Washington Boulevard. $34.50. 314-533-9900.


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