Headlining Utah Pride festivities this year is longtime comic Paula Poundstone. She started doing stand-up in 1979, on open-mic nights in Boston, and has been entertaining en masse ever since. Poundstone says, though, her childhood dream was to be a comedic actress, and though that dream doesn’t fully exist anymore, she is occasionally reminded of it with cartoon voice gigs and paneling the gameshow circuit on To Tell the Truth and The Hollywood Squares. Her short-lived 1993 television variety series, The Paula Poundstone Show, could have made that dream a reality. Yet, Poundstone says she is quite happy where she is in her life. “I like the sound of laughter and I like the attention,” admits Poundstone, about doing stand-up. Simply, she says, she tells her jokes and takes care of her kids, and that’s good enough.
Along with stand-up gigs around the country, Poundstone also is a regular on NPR’s quiz show Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me — where the best and brightest in the news and entertainment world go head-to-head while figuring out what’s real news and what’s made up. Perhaps Poundstone continues doing radio because of who she says is, or in her case, are her favorite comedians. Bob and Ray (Bob Elliott, Ray Goulding) was an American television and radio comedy team of some 50 years. Their style was deadpan, and many of their segments were purely improvised, both of which are much like Poundstone’s routines. However, Poundstone also finds Lily Tomlin “brilliant” and “there’s nobody better.”
Perhaps Poundstone’s mentors had helped her garner an American Comedy Award in 1989 as “the nation’s best female stand-up comic;” as well as two Cable ACE Awards — one for her HBO comedy special Cats, Cops and Stuff and, ironically, one for her two-episode run of The Paula Poundstone Show.
Stretcing her talents even further, Poundstone was a columnist for Mother Jones magazine for several years in the 1990s and in 2007 her first book was published, entitled There Is Nothing in This Book That I Meant to Say. “It took me nine years to write it,” says Poundstone. “I’m just scattered, but I knew how it would end first so I wrote the ending and then wrote backwards to the beginning. I barely slept those last few months, I was possessed by it.”
Poundstone’s private life spills over into her public persona since her act typically contains self-deprecating humor. She has quipped: “I don’t have a bank account because I don’t know my mother’s maiden name,” and “I got my dog three years ago because I was drunk in a pet store. We had nine cats at the time. The cats started hiding the alcohol after that.”
Poundstone is a liberal, atheist, Capricorn, animal-lover and mother to three adopted children. Though her masculine attire and demeanor may suggest otherwise, Poundstone is asexual, doesn’t date and has never been romantically involved with anyone. “I don’t have sex because I don’t like it,” she says. “I’d have to marry a Mormon so someone could cover my shift.”
Poundstone also admits she’s a bit obsessive-compulsive — she will eat a whole box of Pop Tarts in one sitting just to “tidy up, really.” Plus, she says that her best friend is her multiple personality, and that she’s “no stroll in the park.”
Poundstone may not be a “stroll in the park,” but she has a large, loyal fanbase. Her laid-back attitude on a simple stage — a stool, a mic and a can of soda pop — and her time-honored, unscripted “Who are you? What do you do?” act is what makes Poundstone so damn likable. She admits she used to rehearse her act endlessly before going on stage, but no matter how much she rehearsed she would always forget what she meant to say. “I’d forget because I was nervous, so I was forced to talk to the crowds.”
And crowds of hundreds are likey to form for Poundstone on the Washington Square grounds on Saturday, June 6, just as they had in 2008 for Meshell N’degeocello, and in 2007 for Sheena Easton and En Vogue. Poundstone says she has been to Salt Lake City many times to do shows, but this is the first doing Utah Pride, and only her second ever pride festival. “I did Philadelphia Pride awhile back  and it was great,” says Poundstone. “There was a man in a purple tux and hot pants, and he was like an ‘honorary mayor’ or something like that. The whole thing had a carnivalesque feeling.”
“I’ve enjoyed coming to Salt Lake City, the audiences are great,” she states. “But I don’t come out of my hotel room much when I’m on the road, so I don’t really know the nuances [of Salt Lake] … but I’ve seen that big church thing.”