“I Am Who I Am”—A Conversation with Paula Poundstone
By Alicia K. Gonzales
In advance of improvisational comedian Paula Poundstone’s Nov. 30 performance at Mondavi Center, we decided to ring her for an update—unfortunately catching her in the middle of a Rite Aid. On the second attempt, though, she graciously took us behind the scenes of her weekly podcast, Nobody Listens to Paula Poundstone—“a comedy field guide to life, or at least a set of IKEA assembly instructions.”
On selecting Nobody Listens as her podcast title
The thing is, when nobody’s listening, I can do whatever I want. So really it’s part of the joy of the whole podcast notion to begin with, you know? It’s like you fired the suits. And it’s funny because I went into this project with three other people originally, and they misinterpreted the title entirely; I never bothered to explain it. They thought it meant, like, nobody heeds me. It was just one of those titles that sort of makes people chuckle. They think it’s funny, and that’s good enough for me.
On her neighborly touch when recording in North Hollywood
If you go two blocks from where we are it’s a stretch like most any in the city, but we are on one of the scuzziest blocks. Because I tend to get there earlier, one thing I do a lot of is standing around on this block. I make a point to make eye contact, which law enforcement might tell you, “Never do that.” But I always make eye contact with people and say, “Hello!” And occasionally I'll even say, “I see you out here all the time, what’s your name?” And you should see the looks I get. I'm just being neighborly! I’m using sort of a Mr. Rogers approach, and I’m not sure that’s the neighborhood for it. But you know, I am who I am.
On being a kid again
When I was a kid there were these neighbors—they were the fun house. And they had an addition put in and it gave them a third basement. If our family went to their family’s house for dinner or something, all the kids would go downstairs after dinner and we’d have so much fun. Some of the hardest I’ve ever laughed in my whole life was in that basement. And then at a certain time our parents would come to the top of the stairs and go, “C’mon kids, we gotta go.”
I want my podcast to be like that basement before the parents came to the top of the stairs.
On landing a solo jug player
The house band is different every week, and it’s just one instrument (it’s a very small studio.) I like the sound of the sole instrument because it really sets the tone of the whole show. And I’m loving the idea of having a jug player. So far, apparently, we’ve contacted a jug band, but they were unwilling to send just one player. I think it would be so damn funny to have just one. He could play more than one jug!
On this podcast, at this moment
[Co-host] Adam says all he wants from this podcast is beer money, in terms of profit. And I say all I want is for Adam to have beer. So at this point in our lives it is absolutely simply a labor of love. I’m well aware, and have been for any number of years now, that I am the luckiest performer in the world. There are days where I look at the news and I’m like, “OK, I don't have any answers. I don't know what to do.” And it’s untenable. And then I go sit in a booth on that scuzzy little street with Adam and the house band and Jonah the security guard, and we just laugh and laugh.
On the redemptive power of comedy
It really is a healing job. I can say I found myself renewed as a result of it. To have a job that just has that byproduct by design—it’s nature, it’s science. I actually had a brain scientist on one day to talk about music, about a person who teaches that in school and how much that affects the brain. And I’m sure it’s a very similar dynamic to laughter with a group of people. It just does something to your chemistry. I didn’t invent that or design it, I just benefit from it. So I consider myself a proud member of the endorphin production industry.