Q&A: Paula Poundstone
The comedienne discusses her career, asexuality, cats, cats and more cats
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by Jacob Pierce on Feb 19, 2013
Paula Poundstone's shoes have been writing her jokes for years.
Paula Poundstone used to babysit me. Not that she remembers it. As a child when I stayed home from school, I used to relish watching the daytime game show To Tell the Truth, on which Poundstone starred. The gruff stand-up comedienne always made me feel better about being sick.
The 53-year-old performer has the hair of Sigourney Weaver, a face like Rosie O’Donnell’s, the colorful suits of Andre 3000 and a voice that’s somewhere in between Christopher Walken and Tom Waits.
Poundstone rose out of the stand-up scene in Boston, and came to national attention with her TV appearances and award-winning HBO special in the late ’80s. She made headlines in 2001 when she was charged with childhood endangerment and lewd acts with a minor, following a drunken drive she took with her adopted kids in the car. The lewd conduct charges were dropped, but it was still six months before she could see her kids.
These days, she is a frequent panelist on NPR’s Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me!, an avowed asexual and an unapologetic crazy cat lady. We caught up her via a phone interview as she prepares to perform at the Rio on Friday, March 1.
SANTA CRUZ WEEKLY: What’s it like have the record for most losses on ‘Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me?’
PAULA POUNDSTONE: You know what’s funny? During the lightning round, I’ll know all of everyone else’s answers—a lot of them. I think part of it is the pressure. In the moment you think, “I don’t know,” but you get the answer, and you’re like “of course.” Sometimes I pride myself on not knowing the answer when the question is about shoving marmoset monkeys down people’s pants.
So what’s with your suits?
They’re fun to wear. I like a little color. I don’t know why men have complained about ties all these years. It couldn’t be easier. I mean, I can’t tie the knot myself, but someone else does it for me, and then I throw it on, and I just don’t untie it.
Wait. You can’t a tie?
I cannot tie a tie. I have a bellman do it sometimes, or a person in the front row do it sometimes. Carl Kasell [from Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me!] tied one once… I can’t remember if I still have a Carl Kasell knot or not. Every now and then, I spill something on myself and have to unfurl the tie to take it to the dry-cleaners.
What do you think of Santa Cruz? Be honest.
I love Santa Cruz. Love Santa Cruz. The audience there is one of the best that I have in the country. I love it for all the selfish reasons. Although I’m not really a nuts n’ berries person myself, I like being with people who are. I eat Butterfingers late at night. I don’t think I’ve tried green tea, but I’m fairly certain I wouldn’t like it, unless I loaded it down with sugar. But the places that I’ve ended up in my life for the most part have been populated by the more nuts n’ berries types.
Nuts n’ berries means hippies and vegetarians?
It means an awareness and a concern for the world around them, and I like people like that.
Do you still think of yourself as asexual?
As happy as I am for the rest of you, the whole sex thing just seems totally unprofitable. It would take up time. I don’t see an upside to it in my life. I work, I take care of my kids and I sift litter boxes.
How do you balance three kids with everything else?
It’s merciless. [Laughing] there’s always goddamn something … I can talk to you now because my son is in school. I have a 22-year-old, who lives at home and who I still do a lot of stuff for. And then I have an 18-year-old who’s at college now… We haven’t had a lot of staying-home-from school days. But on the rare occasion, I think it’s very good for them to see that I go from room-to-room at a trot, because I want to cram as much work in as I can, so that when they’re home, I can be their slave… When my kids are gone, I’m going to be bored to death.
Is that why the 22-year-old sticks around?
She has her own tricks up her sleeve that make her stay around. She still needs help with stuff. Sometimes when I’m annoyed, I tell her, “if you don’t get your act together we’re going to live to live together for the rest of our lives like Laverne and fucking Shirley!” She doesn’t know who Laverne and Shirley are, so it falls on deaf ears.
How hard was it when you couldn’t see your kids for six months?
It was agony. It was just as hard as you would think it was. Time is on my side. I’m glad it’s done and in the past, and it would be great if I could rewind and fix that. But given that I can’t, there you have it.
You have 16 cats. Are they spayed and neutered?
Oh heavens, yes. I get a fever around kitten season each year. My daughter Allie was volunteering at the animal shelter, and who can resist a kitten? Apparently, not me. I have two German Shepard-mixed dogs. It’s fun to watch them, but it’s a lot of work—a tremendous amount of physical labor. I always feel like a really unprofitable farmer. You have to wake up early in the morning and deal with their waste products, but there’s no payroll, just some occasional YouTube films.
And you also have a bearded dragon…
Yep, and a lop-eared bunny. I have one ant left in my ant farm that hangs on. I need to get a new ant farm. I’m fascinated by ants—their work ethic, how they know what to do and go about doing it. They’re chaotic when you first toss them in there. They’re alive, and they’re upside down. You look in twenty minutes later, and by god, they’ve already got the tunnel going on. I have a hard time motivating my children, so I don’t know what system they’re using. But by golly, everybody gets in and does their work with very little problem. They only spend a few seconds in there before they get right to work, and I really admire that.
Do ants inspire you?
I really am inspired by ants. I wouldn’t mind a little slice of what they got, although I don’t like sand.
Do your kitties have fan bases because of the webcam on their dinner bowl?
They do actually. Occasionally someone will tweet me and say, “the dog’s eating from the cat food bowl,” which I find very helpful. I’ll come out, and one section is clean all the way down to the bowl. He has food in his own bowl, but my dog is a lot like a human: “yeah, but what do they have?”
Which is your favorite cat?
I have some cats with weight problems, my cat Matilda in particular—but my cat Luigi is a big, huge male cat. He’s got some silver tabby in him, but he’s white, and he has gorgeous blue eyes. And I believe that a well-done poster of Luigi could go like the Farah Fawcett poster did years ago. But I wouldn’t necessarily call him my favorite. I just think that he’s strikingly handsome. He’s got these gorgeous blue eyes. If he wasn’t fixed. in a different world, he’d be the tomcat who ran the neighborhood.
Sixteen indoor cats is crazy.
It is crazy. I’m managing, thank you. But yeah, is there some mental condition that’s led me to sixteen? Yeah, probably.
Friday, March 1, 2013