SOUTH ORANGE, NJ — Paula Poundstone has a treadmill desk in her office, but she never turns it on to use it.
“Here’s the thing,” she said in a phone interview with the News-Record on Aug. 29. “It makes everything on there shimmy and shake!”
The comedian was talking about how she writes jokes, in advance of her Sept. 13 show at the South Orange Performing Arts Center. There are notes all over her office and bedroom, with happenings in her life that she thinks she can turn into a funny monologue onstage. A lot of these happenings come from weird things her 13 cats do, or from the news. But she also does a lot of crowd work, asking people in the audience about themselves and turning the conversation into something that will make people laugh. Poundstone said she never sits down to write.
“It started out as a memory and nerves thing,” she said about the unscripted part of her set, which takes up a lot of the show. “When I was starting to do open mics, I would be so nervous, even though I was practicing for a week. I would either blank or see something on my way to the stage and get distracted, and then blurt it out.”
For a long time, Poundstone thought not being able to get through her written standup set and just talking to audience members was a liability to her blossoming career. Then she decided to embrace it.
“One day it dawned on me that it was often the funniest part,” Poundstone said. “So that’s where the heart of the show is.”
It’s not the whole show, though. She also talks about her cats, mining their daily odd activity for jokes.
“It’s at this point the only reason I still have them,” Poundstone joked, talking about the long amount of time it takes to feed and clean up after a clowder of cats. “I always tell people I’m an unprofessional farmer. I’m waiting for a scientist to discover some use for cat pee. Maybe we can drop it on the rainforest.”
She also leans in to political comedy, which some comedians hesitantly back away from these days. Poundstone keeps up with the news every day and tries to find the humor in a lot of non-humorous situations.
“We are just teetering on the edge of all sorts of bad things, and not just in one category,” Poundstone said. “Not just the political landscape, but the comeuppance from the earth with climate change. It’s hard not to pay attention when things are happening with such regularity. I have this job that’s strange and I feel like it’s part of the distraction and relief.”
Most people know what they’re in for when they go see Poundstone perform, she said. She doesn’t hide her disdain for the current presidential administration, and doesn’t care if anyone in the audience disagrees.
“They’re rarely shocked or appalled,” Poundstone said. “I went through a little period after Trump was elected that was fraught. People were behaving oddly because there was just no spirit of fun. I want everyone in the room to have a good time and know that they’re going to have a good time. At that time emotions were running high, but it seems like we’ve gotten through that.”
She paused for a second, contemplating if circumstances have really gotten better.
“Though with climate change now, I don’t know,” Poundstone said. “Maybe I’ll have to give out floaties at the end of the show.”
Tickets for Poundstone’s show can be purchased at www.sopacnow.org/events/paula-poundstone. Her other projects, including her podcast “Nobody Listens to Paula Poundstone,” can be found at www.paulapoundstone.com.