Wait, wait, don’t tell her

NPR comedienne Paula Poundstone will perform benefit in Brattleboro

BRATTLEBORO — Comedian Paula Poundstone is headed to the Latchis Theatre Oct. 26 with Dummerston resident Tom Bodett, her cohort from NPR's “Wait Wait Don't Tell Me!,” in a benefit show for the Windham & Windsor Housing Trust.

Poundstone, celebrated for her spontaneous humor, and instantly recognizable in her trademark suit and tie, delights in connecting with her audience and keeping the show as fresh as a sparkling conversation.

“I feel that we're sharing this experience together. I never find stand-up to be hard work. I go in front of an audience, loaded up with stories I want to tell, just like in a conversation when you meet friends. The audience moves me along,” she says.

Poundstone explains that she taps the same material from show to show on tour, “but how I use it can vary greatly; that's what keeps both me and the material fresh.”

Her website ( quotes a Boston Globe review of her work: “Poundstone improvises with a crowd like a jazz musician … swinging in unexpected directions without a plan, without a net.”

No. 88 Comedy Central's 2004 list of greatest stand-up comics, she was inducted into the Comedy Hall of Fame in 2010.

All proceeds from the benefit support WWHT, which, for more than 25 years, has developed affordable housing throughout southeast Vermont. The organization also provides comprehensive property management services and offers a variety of programs and specialized services to support successful home ownership.

Bodett made his national broadcasting debut in 1984 on NPR's evening news program “All Things Considered,” and has been the brand spokesman for the Motel 6 lodging chain for more than 25 years.

Bodett has written seven books and numerous audio publications, and his work has appeared in a wide variety of national newspapers and periodicals.

He's a frequent supporter of local arts, culture, and service organizations.

His website biography says he grew up in Sturgis, Mich., then went to Alaska in 1976 where he lived for 23 years.

“He now lives in the middle of a hay field in Dummerston, where he has served on the local Selectboard, raises kids, makes things out of wood, and explores the tipping point of his tractor,” the copy reads.

Ladies and gentlemen, Paula Poundstone

Poundstone's visit to Brattleboro will be a near homecoming. Although she was born in Huntsville, Ala., and lives with her three children in Santa Monica, Calif., Paula grew up just outside Boston, in Sudbury, Mass.

She began her comedy career braving stand-up in Boston in 1979, when she was 19.

“The comedy scene in Boston at that time was quite extraordinary,” she says. “I don't know how or why it happened, but all of a sudden comedy clubs were springing up everywhere. I worked Boston's open mic nights, as did lots of newcomers to stand-up. Nobody was polished or experienced, but audiences went for it anyway.”

Then she hit the road.

“After I got some experience in Boston, I took a Greyhound bus across the country to see what different comedy clubs in different places were like,” she recalls.

She traveled for months learning her craft, and in the early 1980s settled in San Francisco, where she began performing regular improvisational sets at The Other Cafe in Haight-Ashbury.

Her career was so successful that, by 1989, Poundstone won the American Comedy Award for best female stand-up comic. By 1990, she'd relocated to Los Angeles and starred in several comedy specials for HBO, and appeared on “Saturday Night Live” when friend and mentor Robin Williams hosted the show.

She wrote and starred in an HBO special, “Cats, Cops and Stuff,” for which she won a CableACE Award, making her the first woman to win the ACE for best stand up comedy special.

Her second HBO standup special, “Paula Poundstone Goes To Harvard,” taped on campus at Saunders Hall, was the first time the institution had allowed its name to be used in conjunction with a television show.

Poundstone had her own Bravo special as part of the network's three-part “Funny Girls” series, along with Caroline Rhea and Joan Rivers: “Look What the Cat Dragged In.”

Today she might be best known for her years of appearances on “Wait Wait” (, which is heard in all major domestic markets, internationally on NPR Worldwide, and on via podcast. The show tapes weekly before a live audience at the Chase Auditorium in Chicago and on location around the county.

“Originally, the different people on “Wait Wait Don't Tell Me!” were recorded at places all over the county,” she says. “But then it was decided to bring us all together in one place so we could interact with both each other and the live audience, which I think made the show stronger.”

How did Poundstone hook in with “Wait Wait”?

“They asked me,” she says. “Frankly, I didn't know the show at the time, but my nanny did. When a package marked “Wait Wait Don't Tell Me!” came in the mail, he exclaimed, 'You've got to get on this one!'”

What Poundstone feels that she brings to the show, which is hosted by Peter Sagal and Carl Kasell, is her unique improv experience.

“I am pretty quick on my feet,” she says. “Being live on a comic quiz show is like being in a batting cage, and you got to watch out for what's coming at you.”

In addition to that show, Paula usually performs in concert across the country around three nights a week, and works as ever to find the right balance in her career.

“If I work too much. I get burnt out, but if I don't work enough, I start to get rusty,” she says.

One thing people probably don't expect from Paula Poundstone is that she also co-wrote three math textbooks.

“Math with a Laugh” is a series of workbooks which brings together math practice and comedy, offering students and teachers funny and functional skills-development experiences.

Working with her former math teacher, Faye Nisonoff Ruopp, who provides problems carefully crafted to help children strengthen their mathematical thinking, Poundstone sets the problems within funny stories so entertaining to read and solve that students find they're immersed in the mathematics.

“Each of the three textbooks is for advancing levels of students, and by the time we got to the highest age group, word problems didn't work well anymore,” says Poundstone.

“Here I had to add comedy to math concepts, which could be a little more daunting to make funny. Nonetheless, I think the whole project came out well. We succeeded in our goal to make math fun, not desperate.”

Poundstone also wrote “There's Nothing in this Book That I Meant to Say” (2006, Three Rivers Press), “part memoir, part monologue, with a dash of startling honesty.”

And she's working on something of a sequel to her first book, in which, among other things, she turn the unique Paula Poundstone perspective to the experience of raising her three adopted children.

“What can be difficult about writing is finding my focus despite an inner voice telling me that this isn't going to work,” says Poundstone.

“Performing live I have an audience to help me along, although even on stage I get some of that inner dialogue. Nonetheless, unlike performing, writing can be very lonely; it's just you and the football field of your inner thoughts.”

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