Standup Straight

What's the worst way to begin an interview with Paula Poundstone?

"Uh, well, how about, 'Got any TV coming up?' Yeah, that's a bad way," Poundstone says, as a matter of fact. "People have a tendency to belittle [me]. You know, like, 'Got anything that really impresses me?'"

No belittling here, honest! After all, it's been about three and a half years since Poundstone -- the 45-year-old comedienne most recognized for her loud neckties -- last tied one on, er, dipped into the liquor cabinet, that is. Then she drove drunk with her three adopted kids in the car, pleaded no contest to a felony count of child endangerment and a misdemeanor charge of inflicting injury on a child, consequently had her kids temporarily taken from her, and ended up serving 180 days at a drug and alcohol rehab center (to go along with five years of probation).

Certainly old enough news to keep from prodding the woman for apologies and explanations. She's gotta be perturbed when reporters struggle, between awkward silences, not to dredge up the past, eh?

"Actually, they don't seem to struggle with it at all," says Poundstone, who performs at the Tempe Improv beginning Friday, February 18. "What reporters do ask me is if I'm tired of answering those questions. And if they didn't ask, the answer would be no! It's like people saying, 'Did I wake you?'"

For the record, we didn't. But it was a hectic morning for Poundstone, who was busy trying to get one of her kids, with a bad cold, off to see a doctor in suburban L.A., where Poundstone, her kids and 10 cats reside.

While Poundstone says her arrest and legal problems from a few years back are "receding further into the woodwork," she's still defending the way she raises her kids. Not because she had a drinking problem. And not because she's back to touring the country's comedy venues on a more regular basis.

Rather, Poundstone says, she hears it from religious types.

"These people, they ask me, where are my children going to get moral guidance?" says Poundstone, an atheist. "What if you or I were to approach these people -- most of whom wouldn't know how to do almost anything were it not for biblical teachings -- and say, 'Uh, we need to talk. You've been mistaken all your life'?

"You know, all my kids need is the first-season DVD of Lost in Space," she says. "It's all there, every bit of moral guidance. Whatever they weren't getting from me, they need only witness Dr. Smith's bad behavior."

And while Poundstone says she's having a hell of a time getting back on TV herself ("Surely the impact has been negative on my business," she admits), it's not like she's struggling for work, between touring, spots on National Public Radio's "Wait, Wait -- Don't Tell Me!" news trivia show, and putting the final touches on a book she's been writing for years -- longhand, on the back of reused paper.

"It's taken me forever," she says, describing the book as "a series of biographies and how they relate to me." "And I got paid in advance for it. So I don't have a minute to spare.

"I feel like I have too much to do, partly to make up for lost time."

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Joe Watson