Paula Poundstone on Stand-up Comedy

Paula Poundstone.
Picture-Illustration: Vulture; Picture by Michael S. Schwartz/Getty Pictures

Paula Poundstone doesn’t just like the time period “crowd work.” She finds it “antiseptic,” like a service one can request on TaskRabbit: “I would like somebody to do some crowd work for an hour on Saturday night time.” And but, she is among the all-time greats at it. Nobody has ever taken the generic “What do you do for a residing?” questions and been in a position to create mini-biographies, as she calls them, and foster such an environment of closeness to everybody within the crowd. You’ll be able to see this in her stay exhibits (she’s on tour this fall, together with an October 7 present at City Corridor in New York), however possibly much more impressively, her filmed specials, the place she pioneered methods to mic and shoot the viewers. Like this, for instance:

On Vulture’s Good One podcast, Poundstone discusses how she developed this fashion, how she satisfied HBO to let her mic the viewers, and why the viewers is her finest good friend. You’ll be able to learn an excerpt from the transcript or hearken to the total episode under. Tune in to Good One each Thursday on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, Overcast, or wherever you get your podcasts.

Good One

A Podcast About Jokes

My favourite a part of being onstage is simply plain speaking to the viewers. There have been two issues that facilitated that. The very first thing was once I began out in Boston and in San Francisco, open-mic nights have been massively common — massive audiences, and an extended listing of comics who needed to go on. The premise of the open-mic night time was that anyone who needed to may enroll and go on for 5 minutes. Folks have been very sensitive about this five-minute factor. If you happen to went on a second longer, you might hear knives sharpening within the again. The very first time I went on in Boston, I had written and typed out my set on the again of the out of date paper place mat from the restaurant I used to be busing tables at, and I’d spend the entire time I used to be busing tables memorizing that 5 minutes. However out of nervousness, I forgot what I used to be going to say, so I used to be caught speaking to the viewers. I had nothing else to do. I then turned infamous for going over, as a result of now I don’t know what 5 minutes is anymore. Oh my gosh, individuals get mad at me.

The opposite factor that occurred — one of many in all probability the luckiest issues that ever occurred to me as a comic book was on the fantastic Different Café in San Francisco, the place I usually hosted open-mic nights. There you could be bringing on, like, I don’t know, 25 individuals. And your job is you open the night time, inform some jokes, and produce up a comic book. The comedian could also be superb or they could actually be terrible, however your job is to maintain the viewers there. As an individual who solely had like 5 minutes of fabric — and that was if I may bear in mind it — I had exhausted the fabric I had throughout the first half-hour of the present. And so after that, I used to be compelled to work the group.
I labored as a motorcycle messenger in the course of the day. After work, I’d take the bus house from downtown San Francisco. I’d take a bathe and head out to the membership on the bus. Someplace alongside the best way, I’d cease at a market and get junk meals, and I’d sit at a desk close to the stage in order that I might be prepared to leap onstage when the subsequent comedian was completed. Oftentimes I nonetheless had like an enormous chew of Pop-Tart in my mouth or a Hostess apple pie. After which typically I’d learn from the package deal of the Pop-Tarts, or I’d provide all people some, which is the place that joke began. There was this type of group feeling. Actually, typically the comedian can be offstage already, and the entire crowd would flip round and go, “Paula!”

As a lot as potential, I need the room to really feel just like the Rosses’ basement. They have been my next-door neighbors once I was rising up in a small city in Massachusetts. Mrs. Ross, who was actually a beautiful lady, went partially deaf after we have been children. Listening to aids weren’t what they’re now. The excellent news is she may flip that listening to assist off or simply take them out altogether, and we might be as loud and obnoxious as we needed, whereas in my mom’s home, she’d say she had a headache. So, on the Rosses’ home, it was the enjoyable home. We’d go down of their basement. There was part of the basement that was actually undeveloped. There have been no lights in there, and it was our hide-and-seek place. I may by no means even measure how a lot time glided by after we have been down there. Any individual would come down and say, like, “Oh, it’s dinnertime now. It’s a must to go to your home.”

As a comic book, I’ll by no means say something as humorous because the shit that acquired mentioned within the Rosses’ basement. We simply laughed and laughed and laughed. So, my aim as a comic book is to re-create the Rosses’ basement as a lot as I can. Not as loud, I suppose.

I really like working theaters. It’s an actual totally different vibe than the handful of golf equipment — normally they’re music golf equipment — the place I work. However there’s an enormous distinction between somebody “heckling” or interrupting than what I’ve occurring, and typically you attempt to clarify it to the employees. Typically talking, it’s not a problem. However every so often, they’ll be like, “We’ll preserve individuals quiet.” “No, I don’t wish to preserve individuals quiet.” If someone was being an asshole, that’s one factor. I don’t even very a lot react to that, as a result of (a) it’s not usually an issue, and (b) I’ve been an asshole earlier than. From the situation of the glass home that I look out from, it’s very exhausting to search out someone else an even bigger asshole than I might be.

It may imply a few issues. Like possibly I’m a very awful good friend and I don’t do nicely in common relationships. But additionally, I inform them issues about my life. And gosh, top-of-the-line emotions that one can have — for me in any case, as a performer — is that feeling that you just’ve shared one thing that in any other case individuals really feel actually, actually remoted about as a result of they thought they have been the one one. I push for that typically as a result of I’ve had the reverse expertise, which is the place I assumed I used to be the one one after which I blurted one thing out onstage and all people laughed, and I spotted, Oh, my gosh, they weren’t laughing as a result of like, “What a bizarre factor.” They have been laughing as a result of, “Oh my God, I’ve that.

I used to be raised in a small city in Massachusetts, and I at all times thought that the challenges that we have been having in our home have been fully totally different. The Rosses have been a foul instance as a result of it actually was one thing charmed about loads of their experiences with each other. However I simply at all times thought that what we have been going via was one way or the other distinctive, and it wasn’t stuff that you’d inform different individuals, since you felt like an enormous loser. And, because it seems, so many issues — I’d enterprise to say virtually all the pieces that we expertise, given how many individuals there are on the earth and who’ve gone earlier than us — they’re not distinctive. There’s nothing I can say about my life that someone else can’t say, “Oh yeah. I had that.” Particularly, for instance, in elevating my kids, which is such a lonely pursuit in so some ways. I’m a single mother, and possibly that made it extra so, in some methods. However there have been instances the place I simply felt like, Oh my gosh, this doesn’t occur to anyone else. And it seems, no, it occurs to tons of individuals. However while you’re going via it, it does really feel like a slog. So, that’s why they’re my finest good friend. Plus, don’t you wish to have a good time along with your finest good friend? And I’ve a good time with the viewers.

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