By Christopher Treacy
For decades now, Paula Poundstone’s been the subject of sexual speculation. Wherever you stand on that debate, one thing’s certain: The comedian’s not getting any from anyone.
Speaking before her gig on Dec. 13 at the Royal Oak Music Theatre, Poundstone says, “I don’t talk about sex a lot because I don’t actually have sex, and my act is largely autobiographical.”
Is sex too messy?
“I think so, yes – it’s very messy,” she concedes. “It involves much more work than I’m willing to put out. The idea that I’d go to my room after everything else I go through in a day and that there’d be someone in my room that might expect something like that from me – I just can’t even.”
And trust her – she’s had enough practice to know. “I did some experimenting early on, enough to know I’m right,” she continues. “Sometimes I marvel at the rest of you; I think, ‘Wow, they must have nothing else going on in their lives.'”
I ask if it’s possible that maybe this is all just a defensive cover-up and that, deep down, she would secretly love to wake up and face each day with a companion. Or, perhaps she has one that she’s kept hidden all these years.
No dice. And no procreation, either.
“Jesus, no. Not at all,” Poundstone says. “I really just think I’m more of a rational thinker than others. We don’t need more people on this earth. Is it helping get things done? No! It’s not helping with global warming. It’s not helping deal with water shortages and drought.”
I reluctantly confess I’d been hoping for more of a breakthrough, and we have a good laugh about what an audacious, delusional thought that is.
But despite this, Poundstone has a very active nurturing instinct. In keeping with her feelings about procreation, she became a foster mom in the early ’90s, helping upwards of a dozen needy kids and eventually permanently adopting three. The youngest, Thomas, 16, lives with her and their 15 cats – another sign of her need to nurture.
Still, in her own self-deprecating way, she’s quick to let you know that it’s all much more than she bargained for.
“I do not in any way advocate a large cat census; they’re a pain in the ass,” she advises. “You discover somewhere along the way that you’re an ‘animal caretaker,’ not an ‘animal lover’ – I’m not sure there’s any love in it at all! It’s the seedy underbelly of having pets. I’m an idiot and it’s totally my fault.”
With regard to her son, the humor comes with a grain of salt … we hope.
“It’s so hard – you simply wouldn’t believe it. I wanted to take care of him, yes, but I’m bitter nonetheless … because we’re finished with that phase and he’s still here,” she jokes.
Her tone shifts to something more genuine when we discuss her feelings about the Internet, which, it turns out, she feels is about as productive as sex. And perhaps with good reason: the almighty web is the root of current problems with her son.
“He has an electronics addiction, so he’s not allowed to use the computer at all,” Poundstone says. “He really is an addict in the classic sense – the craving, the lengths he’ll go to. I think the whole world is in denial about this problem. Most people live with electronics addicts and don’t realize it, or they won’t blow the whistle because they’re too close to it themselves.”
Poundstone noticed her son’s compulsion a few years ago and says it’s been terribly difficult to “get a hold on it” because the world of psychology isn’t emphasizing electronics addiction in this country. In China, she says, it’s considered the No. 1 threat to youth and cultural well-being.
On a recent flight to Chicago to tape NPR’s “Wait Wait … Don’t Tell Me,” a news quiz show for which Poundstone is a regular contestant, she sat beside a communication studies professor heading to an academic conference in the Windy City.
“She told me that the most common fear people have in their daily lives now is one-on-one communication,” Poundstone says. “We’ve gotten very used to hiding behind these devices. Personally, I want to be able to look people in the eye, shake their hand, stand beside them … and I love making people laugh. But it’s best in a crowd – waves of laughter, shared experience. That’s the part of comedy that’s so healthy.”
7:30 p.m. Dec. 13
Royal Oak Music Theatre
318 W. Fourth St., Royal Oak