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Paula Poundstone

Prior to her Jan. 17 appearance in Boise, she talks to BW about Wait, Wait... Don't Tell Me, CNN, Doritos, Lamborghinis and happiness


Paula Poundstone is, without question, one of the funniest people on the planet. But she's also smart-funny, offering that rare blend of observational humor heard from notables like Lily Tomlin, David Letterman, Jon Stewart and Sarah Silverman. It's no wonder the country is so enamored with the brilliantly crafted The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, the American period comedy series about... well, comedy. Poundstone has authored best-selling books, hosted variety series, provided commentary from national political conventions and is a regular panelist on the wildly popular Wait, Wait... Don't Tell Me radio show on NPR. On Thursday, Jan. 17, she'll appear at The Egyptian Theatre in Boise.

2019 is a pretty big anniversary for you, right?

Wow, you're right. I started doing stand-up in 1979.

And you're well-known for never performing the same act twice.

My favorite part of the night is talking with the audience. I certainly don't know what they're going to say, so naturally, I have no idea what I'm going to say. But there's 39 years of comedy material wandering around in my head.

I still laugh my fool head off when you talk about your dream of working at the International House of Pancakes someday.

A good joke is a good joke. For the record, I did get a job at IHOP when I was 18.

Full disclosure, I have to tell you that I'm the weekend host on the NPR affiliate here in Idaho, Boise State Public Radio. I'm one of the very few people who gets paid to listen to Wait, Wait... Don't Tell Me, but I'm the one who should be paying them. The show is priceless.

Wait, Wait was a perfect marriage for me from the start. I have never been told, "Don't say that," or, "Don't talk about that." You cultivate the freedom to say things that might be funny. I remember years ago doing Jeopardy, and the producers were appalled that I didn't know how to play. I discovered right away that it doesn't matter if you know the answer or not if you don't push the buzzer. On Wait, Wait, it's never an issue. It's like the buzzer is always pushed and you give the answer.

The show requires you to be plugged into current events, so what are your go-to sources for news and pop culture?

I watch CNN, but I really hate it at the same time. I don't even like the anchors they have to begin with. But during the holidays they bring in the B Team, and boy, that's really difficult to watch. For the purpose of Wait, Wait, my favorite news broadcast is News Hour on PBS. I love it when I'm able to listen to Morning Edition and Weekend Edition. Sadly, my boombox in my kitchen doesn't tune in to public radio too well, so I listen to the soundtrack of Hamilton over and over again when I'm in the kitchen. And here's something that I'm not too proud of: For the purpose of doing Wait, Wait...and again, I'm not proud of this, but I read the New York Post.

Wait a minute...what?

I know, I know. It's horrible. The first reason is that it's easy to read on a plane because it's a tabloid. The New York Times and Los Angeles Times are hard to fold and fumble with when you're sitting on a plane. But here's the other reason I read the stupid New York Post—it literally has a section called "News of the Weird."

I'm a little embarrassed to admit this, but one of my first journalism professors used to write headlines for the New York Post. And one of their most famous cover story headlines at the time was Headless Body in Topless Bar.

That's brilliant. I give them credit for having very clever headlines. But make no mistake, I throw it into [the] recycling as early as possible. And when my son used to come into my room and see the New York Post laying there and pick it up, I'd shout, "Put that down! That is not a newspaper. That's not for touching." Most of the paper is absolutely unconscionable.

Let's talk about your book, The Totally Unscientific Study of the Search for Human Happiness. It's filled with ideas about trying to find happiness. Were these ideas from other people who thought this was how you could find happiness? Or were these your ideas?

Both. For example, driving a Lamborghini.

Did that make you even remotely happy?

Well...remotely. It wouldn't call it happiness. It just highlighted this awful...


More than that. It highlighted the economic imbalance. What's funny is that when I drove around Santa Monica, people would shout, "Nice car." It's such an American thing. But I think that if any one of those people were to think that through, they might think, "Well, oh my God, what a waste. What a pointless, shallow, awful thing."

So what's on your short list of things that make you happy?

Physical activity is very important for emotional wellbeing. I wish it wasn't. I was hoping that it was going to be sitting in a chair, eating Doritos, which I'm very good at.

Does 40 years of comedy make you happy?

It really does.

And do you recognize how much happiness you've brought others?

One of my favorite kinds of laughter is the laugh of recognition. One of the spokes in the wheel of unhappiness is feeling you're the only one. Parenting for example, can be an incredibly lonely job because it's impossible to do it right. It's absolutely not 24-hour-a-day happiness. When my son was little, he once asked me if I talked about him on stage. I said, "I do. If we were telling things that were totally unique to us, it would just sound freakish and no one would laugh. What I'm telling people is the same stuff that they're going through. That's why it's funny."

That's a pretty great answer.

Well, it got him off my back for a few seconds.