Paula Poundstone will get to her performance at the Bay Street Theatre on Monday much the way she usually does. “I arrive on an airplane and I remember that it’s a long drive in from where I fly,” the comedian said, speaking from her home in Los Angeles. “I take a quick nap, eat dinner, take a shower, and go to work.”
She appears to be in the middle of an East Coast weekender tour, with stops in Nantucket, Old Saybrook, and Woodstock, but she actually flies back to the coast between gigs to keep up with her three children, 16 cats, and two shepherd mixes. “I don’t spend a lot of time anywhere.” Even before she had children, “I never liked the idea of being on the road. I spent a month doing it once and it was awful.”
She actually flew home once between gigs in Florida just to spend two hours there. She may have changed her clothes and fed the cats too. “If I want to regroup, I go home.”
This is Ms. Poundstone’s fifth visit, and she has been here enough to know that the audience — with which she is famous for interacting — is really no different, or maybe just slightly so, from Tulsa, Okla. or Grand Junction, Colo. where she was headed when she spoke to The Star.
“The differences from town to town and region to region are not that great. The truth is we’re not terribly unique and have far more in common as Americans than you would think. There may be a different ambience and the people are a little bit different, but very few of us live where we were raised, so there is not that tribal mentality to any particular group at any time that I’ve noticed.”
Ms. Poundstone has had a long career of firsts and honors as a female comic, but, at least among a certain crowd, she is known primarily for her pithy and irreverent observations and contributions to “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me,” the NPR news quiz hosted by Peter Sagal and broadcast locally on Saturday and Sunday mornings. The banter is improvised, the only preparation being what the three panelists might have gleaned from that week’s news. “We don’t have a script,” she said. “If there was someone industrious enough among us to write a joke or two, I’m sure it would land, but none of us do.”
She said that at one point the show’s producers floated the idea that there should be prepared material, but “everyone to a man said no, that’s a terrible idea. The magic is in the ideas being thought of on the spot. If people thought those things were written they would be crushed, and none of us want to be phonies.”
Not every episode is magic, “but you can suck with a script, too. Most of the time I think it’s so much fun to riff on stuff with one another. That energy carries across whether everything we say is particularly brilliant or not.”
She finds every panelist fun to work with, but said she believes the producers have kept her and Adam Felber apart on purpose. The two met through the show and have become friends, but bring out what she called “behavior problems” in each other on set. She traced it back to a night on location at a theater in Berkeley, Calif., which always had a signer for the hearing-impaired. “It was the ‘Not My Job’ game and there was a Ronald Reagan quote that you had to pick A, B, or C for the correct response. One of the answers was ‘he passed a budget like he was crapping a pineapple,’ ” which happened to be the correct response.
As the answer was repeated in the exchange, said Ms. Poundstone, “I thought to look over at the signer to see how on earth you would sign it. Adam and I were fascinated by it and laughed at it. Those signers are like British guards, they don’t react. We decided we’d get her to sign really weird things that you would crap. Adam peaked, I think, at ‘wriggling ferret.’ ”
She said they knew none of it was going to make it on air so they kept it up. “We were getting off on it, and then through our headsets we heard the directors saying, ‘You know we can’t use this. Could you just stop now?’ ”
“Since then we haven’t been put together on the show that often.”
Tickets for Monday’s performance, which starts at 8 p.m., are $69 and $62 for members. They are available through the Bay Street Theatre box office or baystreet.org.