Paula Poundstone loves to work an audience

Tinseltown Talks

As Paula Poundstone continues her 2024 U.S. tour, audiences can be assured of an evening of hilarity as the comedian launches into a string of humorous stories typical of most observational stand-up comics. But at some point into her routine, the sharp-witted Poundstone will seamlessly morph into her trademark banter with audience members-a part of the show fans have come to expect and adore. It's a style that evolved out of necessity.

"I've been doing stand-up for over 40 years, but have a terrible memory," said Poundstone by phone from Florida recently, while preparing for an evening event. "I started out doing the five-minute open mic thing and spent years trying to memorize an act. Then I just began talking with the audience. My first thought was that it might be a liability, but one night I realized it was kind of the heart and soul of the whole show. Now it's my favorite part of the evening."

How she selects audience members to engage varies from venue to venue as the blinding house lights will often obscure distant individual faces. Sometimes she'll spot a guest arriving late, or perhaps someone getting up to leave temporarily, while others grab her attention by yelling out answers to her rhetorical questions-and Poundstone pounces.

"I'll often start with the time-honored question of asking what they do for a living," she explained. "In this way, little biographies of audience members come up and I use that to set my sails. Their profession might remind me of a piece of material I have stored away in my mind and I'll run with it."

A memorable interaction occurred in 2006 during a show recorded for the Bravo cable network. About a half-hour into her performance, Poundstone began questioning an engaged couple who revealed the woman worked for an insurance company and the man was in banking. A seemingly innocuous inquiry about who proposed to whom brought a response from the gentleman, "What kind of a question is that?" prompting immediate gasps from the audience-an opening for the comedian to fire off her frequently heard laugh-inducing response to the crowd's reaction: "I'll handle it."

And she did, brilliantly, with lightning-fast improvisational skills during a sidesplitting six-minute interaction with the pair.

"People still come up to me and ask about that one and to this day I wonder whatever happened to the couple and if they did get married," said Poundstone. "And every now and then, someone will ask me if it's all planned-that the people somehow know they will be picked. That always makes me laugh and my response is how would that even be possible? It would require a lot of effort and I wouldn't even know how to begin. This is why my shows are never exactly the same wherever I go."

Like many entertainers with a busy tour schedule, Poundstone has little time for sightseeing (see for cities and tour dates).

"I don't get a chance to look around much since the touring only allows me to fly in for a show and then I'm off again," she says. "But I still think it's the best job in the world."

Nick Thomas teaches at Auburn University at Montgomery in Alabama and writes features, columns, and interviews for newspapers and magazines around the country. See

Author Bio

Nick Thomas teaches at Auburn University at Montgomery, Ala., and has written features, columns, and interviews for over 750 magazines and newspapers.

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