If you Google “YouTube Hahaha,” you’ll find an Internet phenomenon known as “The Laughing Baby.” Each time the Swedish man filming this video makes a silly noise, his baby laughs with unbridled joy. Along with being basket-of-bunnies cute, this clip is a fine illustration of standup comedy in its most basic, irreducible form; no matter how clever a comic might be, he or she essentially doing what the* dad in this video is doing: getting in front of an audience, saying “Blong!” and hoping for a laugh.
Paula Poundstone is one of the lucky souls who have turned this activity into a long and fruitful career. As a three-decade-plus veteran of the business, Paula could be forgiven for falling back on stock jokes and time-tested routines. Instead, she sees to it that no two performances are alike: On a good night, anywhere between a quarter and a third of her show is improvised. Her ability to make up jokes on the fly has earned her gigs as a frequent panelist on NPR’s Wait Wait … Don’t Tell Me! and as a regular guest on A Prairie Home Companion.
In anticipation of her Rio Theatre gig on Friday, September 24, Paula recently gave GT her spontaneous thoughts on death, asexuality, antiques and being sentenced to 180 days in an alcohol rehabilitation program in 2001.
Good Times: What’s new, Paula?
Paula Poundstone: Oh, my Gosh. Well, my kids just started school. My daughter was studying history last night, and I said, “You know, the thing is: How do you know when it becomes history?” It could be this thing we’re doing right now! I always say onstage, “I feel so sorry for kids studying history now, ’cause it’s so much longer than when we were kids!” I don’t even know when things become antiques. I had at one point heard 50 years, because it’s an antique/collectible. A smiley face button is a collectible, but is it an antique?
Wow, we’re taking a philosophical turn here.
I’m very philosophical. It’s a problem.
Not at all. Let’s run with it! Do you subscribe to the mechanistic worldview? What’s your view on an afterlife or lack thereof?
Oh! I would say lack thereof. Of course, I can’t be certain. [Laughs.] But yeah, I think the afterlife has a lot to do with mulch.
Nicely stated. You’ve described yourself as asexual. When did it first become clear to you that you weren’t interested in sex?
I think the first time I had sex! [Laughs.] My daughter’s sitting across the room from me right now. What a great phrase to hear someone say without knowing what was going on! She’s been volunteering at the pound all summer long. One day we were walking through the main office of the Santa Monica Animal Shelter, and we hear this woman who’s quite a character anyway—she has red hair, she drives a Dodge Dart, and she’s the kind of lady who might have a pair of dice for earrings. She’s a might-have-one-of-those-eyeglass-holders-for-her-glasses kind of lady. Anyway, so we’re walking through the office, and she’s on the phone, so we obviously can’t hear what the other person is saying. All we hear her say is, [somberly] “So, it’s a black chicken.” [Laughs.] Same kind of thing: one-sided conversation. So anyway, yes, probably that. You know, the truth is that it may turn out that I have some kind of remarkable sex drive hidden somewhere within me, but so far there’s no evidence of that.
What’s your opinion on rehab and Alcoholics Anonymous?
Not too high. [Pause.] I guess it’s not either of those things that bother me so much. I do not feel that the state should be in the business of sending people to AA. And the reason is: There’s supposed to be a separation of church and state. And there’s not. That’s not a separation of church and state. It’s really troubling. And AA insists on reading the 12 rules of their organization, and one of the things they say is that it’s a program of attraction, not promotion. Well, OK, but if you’re having the courts say—AA is not responsible for what the courts say—but what they say is, “OK, Joe, you have to go, and then you have to get these things signed to say that you went.” Well, gee—that’s a breach. I just can’t stand phony. If it’s not true, why the hell say it? One of the ways you can know that something makes no sense is when you try to explain it to a kid. When you go to explain it, sometimes you realize, “Well, there just is no fucking sense to it.” When one of my girls was little, she asked about why women have to wear shirts and men don’t. I already knew there was no reason—not a good one, anyway—so I said, “Well, the truth is that it’s a great unfairness. There’s no good reason. Some day, someone will take that on. And I will totally support them … but it won’t be me.” And I guess that’s how I feel about the AA thing. Maybe if the ACLU didn’t have so much on their plate, they would go after this, but they won’t, because they do. My god, they’re busy as beavers! I did a benefit one time for the ACLU in a place called College Park, Texas, which is the conservative side of red. This guy who worked for the ACLU there came up to me after the show and said, “You guys in California are so lucky.” And the guy is just beaten down by his job. He goes, [grimly] “You get to argue whether a kid gets to wear a pot leaf on his T-shirt.” [Laughs.] And he had a really good point! He was like, “We’re making sure people get fed in prison.” OK, I see what you’re saying! [Laughs.]
Paula Poundstone performs at 8 p.m. Friday, September 24 at The Rio Theatre, 1205 Soquel Ave., Santa Cruz. Tickets are $25 in advance or $28 at the door. For more information, call 423-8209 or go to riotheatre.com.