Comedian Paula Poundstone Wants a Word With You

Performances and Artists

Pure, Unscripted Stand-up

Las Vegas residents going to Paula Poundstone’s stand-up might want to think twice about sitting in the front row.

The award-winning comedian, headed to The Smith Center on January 19, is quick to admit that her favorite activity is hooking audience members into unscripted banter, leading to all kinds of surprises.

“The truth is, I don’t always know what I’m going to talk about. It depends on who’s there and what they say,” Poundstone says. “I do the time-honored ‘Where are you from? What do you do for a living?’ and little biographies emerge and I use that to set my sails for the night.”

Don’t get her wrong. Poundstone, who hosts a satirical podcast on NPR and has been featured in hit films like Disney/Pixar’s “Inside Out,” has plenty of material from her 38 years in comedy.

She has juicy insights on family matters and current events alike, including our nation’s president.

“You can’t help talking about politics. It’s everywhere you turn,” Poundstone says. “I think Brides World magazine has a politics section now.”

But scattered around this prepared material, Poundstone firmly believes unrehearsed interaction offers the best audience experience.

“People like the idea that this is unique,” she says. “What’s happening is just for us, on this night.”


Not Your Average Comedian

Poundstone does a lot of things differently than most stand-up comedians.

For instance, many shy away from heavy audience interaction, while she has depended upon it since early in her career.

“For a really long time I felt like if I was not scripted, that I was somehow unprofessional,” she confesses. “I don’t know what night it occurred to me that the times things were really funniest were when I was saying things I hadn’t planned to say.”

She also insists on performing alone. In fact, Poundstone hasn’t had an opening act in roughly 16 years.

“For audience members, why torture them with someone else when you’ve come to see (a specific comedian)?” she says. “But really it’s pure selfishness for me. I love my audiences and I do around two hours on stage, and I just don’t want to give up any of those minutes.”


Healing with Laughter

Poundstone has the same objective for every show: Seeing audience members leave happier than when they came in.

“I consider myself a proud member of the endorphin production industry,” she says.

This is one reason the mother of three always includes jokes about raising a family. Most parents need a good laugh about their difficult roles, she says.

“It’s healing for me, and it’s healing for the audience,” she says. “So often we think ‘This is just me, I’m the only one who’s ever gone through this,’ and it turns out you’re not.”

She hopes to spread happiness from the stage for years to come, she adds.

“I don’t aim much higher,” she says.


Paula Poundstone performed as part of the 2016-2017 season.