Paula Poundstone

Photo by Michael Schwartz

Comedian Paula Poundstone loves Flagstaff. She’s been here for a few shows and for vacation, which apparently is a rare treat for her family.

“We had a vacation there one summer,” she told Flagstaff Live! prior to her Friday show. “We thought we’d be hot. We had no idea we’d freeze our asses off! It rained and hailed.”

They intersected with a few monsoon days, stayed at the Days Inn and made requisite stops at the Grand Canyon (“It is grand, just as they say.”) and Oak Creek Canyon.

At Slide Rock, her son fell in a swimming hole.

“The water was orange, not clear. It must have been deep and he just disappeared. He was just gone. And it was kind of joyous, for a second. Then, I guess, I reached in and pulled him out.”

All joking aside, Poundstone uses familiar adjectives for the area.

“It’s beautiful, just gorgeous. One of the few places we’ve had a real vacation.”

There may be few vacations because she keeps pretty busy at being funny.

She’s a regular on the highly-rated NPR quiz show Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me!; has a new public radio podcast, Live from the Poundstone Institute (“Where we gather all the knowledge of the world and mock it relentlessly.”); and this year released a book, The Totally Unscientific Study of the Search for Human Happiness, which became a bestseller soon after its May debut. She’s also produced shows for HBO and ABC and three performance CDs.

Wait Wait host Peter Sagal says Poundstone is “made of funny.”

When asked what ingredients make up funny, she doesn’t skip a beat. “Practice!” she says.

Poundstone has practiced stand-up comedy for 38 years.

“I’m a proud member of the endorphin-production industry. And it’s pretty wonderful.”

But it’s everyday bizarre moments that make her laugh.

“I personally have never laughed harder seeing a person with a piece of toilet paper stuck to their shoe and they don’t know it. … I like just plain silly sometimes.”

She chuckles too at the verbosity of the foodie movement.

“You go to a new restaurant and read the menu, there’s fancy names and lengthy descriptions. … Then the food comes and you taste it and find out, oh, it’s a stew!”

And, about that flourless cake: “Don’t you think it’s weird that they describe it by what’s not in it.” Today’s waiters have to be “more like counselors” than servers, she says.

Poundstone began her entertainment career early, garnering laughs from her 7th grade class during a science presentation.

“We had to pick an element from the periodic table, and I picked tin.” The problem was there were no tin items readily available for her show-and-tell, so she brought to class two aluminum items—a can and pie plate—and did her best to pass them off as tin.

“My teacher said, ‘I’m giving you an A+ for entertainment. But for the science part I’m going to give you a C.’”

Poundstone admits that many of her fans are diehard public radio fans. One local follower said he can recall her family stories from years ago.

“I’m a single working mother with three children, twelve cats, a German shepherd mix dog, a bearded dragon lizard, a lop-eared bunny and one ant left from my ant farm.” That’s how Poundstone describes herself in her book, which begs us to ask, “What happened to the other ants?”

“I can’t kill them in my kitchen, and I can’t keep them alive in the farm. They are workers … It’s fascinating watching them work, but there are casualties … They just don’t stay alive, unless they’re in my kitchen.”

Paula didn’t give away the topics she might be discussing at her Orpheum show, but one’s likely off the table.

“I don’t talk about sex because my act is largely autobiographical and I don’t have sex. … I don’t know that I’ve ever even been naked before!”

Paula Poundstone appears fully clothed Friday, Sept. 22, at the Orpheum Theater, 15 W. Aspen Ave. Doors open at 7 p.m.

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