Paula Poundstone is an institution in American comedy. For nearly 40 years, she’s performed classic standup, spouting sharp humor and engaging in spontaneous crowd work while sporting her trademark tie, vest and suspenders. Poundstone is also a pioneer. In 1992, she was the first woman to host the White House Correspondents’ Dinner. A frequent panelist on NPR’s Wait, Wait...Don’t Tell Me, Poundstone also voices cartoon characters — she recently played Forgetter Paula in Pixar’s Inside Out. Though the old-school comedian avoids other comics’ acts, she stays on top of politics and has a strong social media presence. After President Trump’s executive order banning entry to immigrants to refugees, Poundstone tweeted, “Maybe we should take down the Statue of Liberty. When a performer is no longer at a venue, you don’t leave their name on the marquee.” Isthmus talked to Poundstone in advance of her appearance at the Barrymore Theatre Feb. 11.
You’ve been in the business 38 years. What keeps you inspired and enthusiastic?
It is so much fun. People who type in “LOL” are generally lying. When you’re at home or with your screen device, you just don’t laugh the way you do when you’re with other people. Laughter is contagious, and you’ve got no one to catch it from when you’re watching alone. Whatever ails me, whatever frustration I have with my life, I get to go talk about it on stage, which is so healing to be able to laugh about it. Nature gave us this really terrific device. I don’t know if any other animal has it. Maybe raccoons.
Where do you find your material?
I try not to watch other standups because I want to know — when I go onstage and an idea floods into my head — I want to know that it came from me. If I watch a bunch of standups, everybody’s saying a bunch of funny stuff. Last night, I went out to a club in Los Angeles because my friend Kevin Nealon called me up. I went to see him and Dana Carvey, and they were so funny. Dana and I were roommates a thousand years ago in the early ’80s, and you tend to start to sound like the people that you live with. We had catch phrases in common. Who knows who started it. After a while as a performer, I realized I just need to not be around other comics.
Your new book, The Totally Unscientific Study of the Search for Human Happiness, will be released in May. What findings can you share?
The truth about happiness is it’s really more medical science than anything else. It probably has a lot to do with good sleep and balanced nutrition and exercise — which is a really depressing answer. I rented a Lamborghini. I was so hoping that was it. My book is kind of the anti-Facebook. They say that the more time people spend on Facebook, the more depressed they are.
How many dates a year do you book?
I think it’s like 90. I have 14 cats — I have to sift [litter boxes] four times a day. So the more often I can be on the road, the better.
Did you just start collecting cats?
I’m an idiot. I have more cats buried around the perimeter of the house than I have inside. So, yeah, there’s 14 of them ruining the little bit of furniture and carpet that I have now.
Your Twitter feed includes zingers about the new administration. (“I’ll bet those 3-5 million illegal voters were laughing after they voted illegally, and I’ll bet Trump saw them laughing.”)
I just can’t help myself. There’s stuff that cries out to be said.