Paula Poundstone: Making light of the last act

Paula Poundstone's life might have turned out much differently if her mother had been an early riser. "It would have ruined everything," says the comedienne with a laugh.

"I was the youngest in my family," she explains by phone from her home in Santa Monica, Calif. "When the other kids went to school, my mother would make them breakfast and then she would go back to bed for an hour, so I was sort of babysat by television."

As fate (and TV scheduling) would have it, that hour in front of the tube would turn out to play a pivotal role in Poundstone's development. "My relationship with the Three Stooges started very young," she reveals. "I've seen each episode literally hundreds of times."

Clearly, Larry, Moe and Curly made a huge impression.

"I have a very silly sense of humor," Poundstone confides. "I've never laughed harder in my entire life than seeing someone with toilet paper stuck on the bottom of their shoe. I mean, I do love clever and witty, but I think that the Three Stooges were geniuses. They'd have to be for their appeal to have lasted this long."

By the time she was 19, Poundstone was performing stand-up at comedy clubs across the country. She has since hosted her own TV show, written a comedic memoir, and was the first woman to win a cable ACE award for Best Stand-up Comedy Performance.

These days, the 51-year-old funnywoman is heard on Public Radio's hit show, "Wait Wait … Don't Tell Me." On Saturday June 25, the comic brings her act to the stage at Howard Community College as the closing event of the 2011 Columbia Festival of the Arts.

Known for her off-kilter sensibility and sharp wit, Poundstone's career took off in the '90s, thanks to regular appearances on such television game shows as "Hollywood Squares" and "To Tell the Truth." She's also well known for her many guest appearances on the late night talk shows.

In 2006, she released her first book, "There's Nothing In This Book I Meant To Say." Part memoir, part monologue, the tome turned out to be a hit, and her editors requested a follow-up. "Sadly, I must admit that it's coming along very slowly," says Poundstone of her second manuscript.

"I was just watching "The Charlie Rose Show" the other day and he was talking to the head of Random House Publishing. I'm pretty sure he was glowering at me through the screen," she jokes.

"He did say in the interview though that it took Shelby Foote 19 years to write his books," she says of the celebrated Civil War historian. "It made me feel much better. I realize that my work may not have the same weight, but I bet you Shelby Foote didn't have 19 cats."

Perhaps Poundstone's busy agenda is partly to blame for her delayed writing process. The comedienne still does stand-up on most weekends, and for the past seven years she has traveled to Chicago once a month to serve as a panelist on NPR's weekly news quiz show, "Wait Wait … Don't Tell Me."

"It's so much fun," Poundstone says of the program. "You sit in a nice chair and sort of comedically discuss current events with a great group of really smart, funny people."

So, how much prep does the comic do before each taping? "I sort of collect newspapers during the week and then on the flight there, I cram. Some weeks I have great success at being well apprised and other weeks, just not at all.

"I do feel that the others cheat though," she jokes of her fellow panelists. "That's part of the problem. They were simply born into the world knowing more about current events than I, and if they want to play on that uneven playing field, I'm not going to be a bad sport about it."

The mother of three, Poundstone says her hectic schedule doesn't allow for much downtime, but that's fine by her.

"I only do two things in my life, and that's take care of my kids and work," she notes. "Fortunately, these are my favorite things to do, so it works out."

The comic has certainly racked up her share of frequent flyer miles during her career. "If I was Mrs. Weasley and I could just disapparate it truly would be the most perfect job in the world," she jokes of the Harry Potter inspired travel device.

"Not having the ability to do that makes it only the second most perfect job. The travel thing is a bit of a drawback. However, I do have a very nice collection of small shampoos."

Paula Poundstone will perform live at the Columbia Festival of the Arts on Saturday, June 25 at 8 p.m. in the Smith Theatre at Howard Community College. Tickets are $30 or $40, available at or by phone at 1-800-955-5566. For more information, call the festival headquarters at 410-715-3044.

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