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June 18, 2012 | 8:12 p.m. CST
Paula Poundstone’s a veteran on the comedy circuit, but she still comes up with fresh material for every show. She can’t recycle jokes because much of her act is spontaneous. Audience participation and conversation are the foundation for much of what she does.
Poundstone, who will make a one-night stop at The Blue Note this Wednesday for her second-ever performance in Columbia, says she felt the pressure to become a star when she first started doing comedy. And in many ways, she achieved that goal. Today, she says she no longer carries that burden. “I love the crowd that’s in front of me; I don’t much worry about anything else,” Poundstone says.
WHERE: The Blue Note, 17 N. 9th St.
WHEN: June 20, 8:30 p.m.
She can’t much afford to do so, either. She comes prepared with jokes, but her audience interaction has long been a trademark of hers. Although some comics might worry about audience interruptions, Poundstone turns the conversation into comedy — something she says most comics could do if they were prepared to try.
“It has more to do with the fact that I’m willing to do it than that I’m somehow particularly talented at it,” Poundstone says. “I discovered that to be kind of the heart and soul of the night. Not that I don’t have material — because I have tons, and I’d like to think it’s fairly good — but it makes each night unique.”
Poundstone is unconventional in another way, as well. “I’m willing to leave my line out there longer than most comics are,” she says. It takes a leap of faith to wade into the unknown, and Poundstone says she likes that because it gives each night a satisfying, complete feeling. Everyone in the room plays a role, and everyone’s entertained.
Poundstone says conversation wasn’t her goal when she first got into comedy. More than three decades ago, she began participating at open-mic nights with prepared material. She says she’d spend days honing her act only to “choke and just forget what I was going to say out of fear.” It was through her scrambles to save herself on stage that she discovered the power of her own digressions. “I don’t remember what day it was that I realized that’s the fun part,” she says. “That’s really the exciting, interesting part.”
It’s not that Poundstone thinks comedians who rely on scripted acts are doing it wrong, but she just doesn’t have the memory to do what they do. “The harder I try to remember what I was planning to do, the worse I get,” she says.
Throughout her career, Poundstone has also ventured off the stand-up stage. She’s had some brief TV roles, has done some movies and is a regular on NPR’s Peabody-winning Wait Wait ... Don’t Tell Me!, a weekly current events quiz show. But stand-up remains at the heart of what she does.
“It’s not necessarily fun staying in hotels and airports,” she says. “But just the sheer joy of being in a room full of people laughing about stuff, I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”