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Somewhere between getting three children off to school and ruining a frozen pizza, Paula Poundstone finds time to give us “The Big Picture.” When asked, though, Poundstone isn’t so optimistic about her place in it.
“Oh, Lord, much less of a part than I ever thought I did before,” Poundstone says. “My part became smaller over the years. I think it’s probably wisdom that did that. I think I used to long to have a bigger impact on the world somehow and then the older I get the more I sort of reduce my circle size.”
Although Poundstone’s place may have faded, her kindergarten teacher always knew she’d be destined for stand-up comedy. In May 1965, Poundstone received a note from Mrs. Bump that said: “I have enjoyed many of Paula’s humorous comments about our activities.”
But it wasn’t until nearly the 80s when Poundstone discovered stand-up comedy. “When I was little it wasn’t on TV the same way it is now,” she says. “You only saw stand-up comedy on maybe ‘The Tonight Show’ and, of course, when I was little my parents didn’t enjoy my company well enough to have me up that late.”
Inspired by Gilda Radner and Lily Tomlin, Poundstone began entertaining audiences with her unique and spontaneous style of humor at open-mic nights in 1979. “I could sleep on anybody’s couch,” she recalls. “I could not make very much money and work really hard.”
Is there something she can’t do? Well, that would be everything but comedy. “I don’t know how to do anything else,” Poundstone says, laughing, noting she’d be lost without a comedy career.
For one, Poundstone ain’t no Martha Stewart. “I am the worst cook,” she confesses. A couple of weeks ago, after running an infinite number of errands, Poundstone popped a frozen pizza into the oven.
“I forgot to take the cardboard off the bottom,” Poundstone says, who blames her short attention span. “I really would’ve made them [her children] eat it anyways. I would’ve just pulled the cardboard off the bottom and served it up as if nothing was wrong, but the dough underneath the cardboard doesn’t cook when you cook it with the cardboard on.”
Cooking (or using an oven) may not be Poundstone’s forte, but she’s far too busy to learn. In the midst of a national tour and writing the second draft of a yet-untitled comedy/history book, she juggles single motherhood with her career, performing an average of eight days out of the month. “It’s hard on me, it’s hard on my family,” she says.
While motherhood and a demanding career keeps Poundstone on her feet, she plans on soaking up the single life. “I used to really picture my insides like there was an electrical outlet with a cord just laying beside it and I just wasn’t plugged in,” she says.
While she used to think it was a tragedy, she doesn’t regret it, especially after hearing people’s divorce and affair stories. “I’m just thrilled that I’ve always been single; I’ve always been alone,” she says. “I think it does save me a lot of time.”
And time is precious for Poundstone. The book, which is a series of biographies of empowering historic figures mixed with her own anecdotes, won’t be an autobiography. In fact, she can only blame the notion of crafting a book, due in the fall, on one thing, and one thing only. “Honestly, I think I was really wasted when I thought of it,” she says, her voice tightening.
Wasted wouldn’t be a term used to classify Poundstone’s current state, however. While she may have put her family through hell a few years back with her alcohol problem, she says, it’s now nice to wake up without being hung over.
The topic has been laid to rest in the Poundstone household. “I’m sorry to be growing older and I wish my children would stay just the size they are now, but at the same time I’m happy to put the distance of time between me and that period,” she says.