For comedian Paula Poundstone, it's all about bringing people together through laughter. Well, and making people lose control over their bodily functions due to laughter. Oh, and also getting a break from her 15 cats at home.
"I know that not everyone is going to find everything I say hysterically funny, but I hope there's at least one moment for each member where they fear incontinence," says Poundstone, who will be performing at Mesa Arts Center on New Year's Eve. "Where they have that kind of cathartic wonderful laughter. I don't tell them that, I don't say to them at the beginning of the show, but it's certainly my game plan. And again for me, it's just a chance to be away from cat pee for a few hours."
The cat thing has not always been a motivating factor, but Poundstone says laughter has been. Before she was a renowned, Emmy Award-winning comedian, panelist on NPR's Wait, Wait... Don't Tell Me, and the national spokesperson for American Library Association's United for Libraries, Poundstone simply liked to make people laugh. She remembers everyone from her kindergarten teacher to her elderly neighbor remarking on her "humorous comments" and calling her a comedian.
"Honestly, I didn't even know what [being a comedian] meant back then," Poundstone says. "But I liked being viewed in that way, and I love the sound of laughter and always have."
Poundstone went from being a kid listening through the floorboards to the laughter from her mom and her mom's friends as they played Canasta downstairs to listening to an audience laughing at her own jokes.
As she made her way through open mic nights around Boston, Poundstone says her audience participation-heavy style developed almost by accident.
"It really started out because I couldn't remember anything," Poundstone says.
Despite how much she memorized and practiced her allotted, strictly-enforced five-minute act while she was busing tables during the day, Poundstone says she would inevitably blank on a certain part of her act or notice something in the audience that she wanted to comment on. Either way, she'd be thrown off and forget where she was in her set. So she improvised.
"In my mind, this was the thing that was holding me back and over time," Poundstone says. "I don't remember what day, but there was a point at which I figured out this was where the magic was. And so now I try to go on with lots of parts that could be assembled lots of ways."
Now. Poundstone says she purposefully does not plan out her acts so that she can create a unique and memorable experience for each audience, largely based on "sharing honestly" her own life experiences.
Often after shows, Poundstone will hold meet and greets with audience members and says that countless times people will come to her and tell her how her act resonated with them, things like "Oh my god, you're raising our son." To Poundstone, this has been her reward over the years.
"That exchange is so gratifying and so healing and so great and that's the whole deal right there," Poundstone says. "To feel like you're not the only one and there's nothing weird or freaky about it. It just is. We all have so many things in common. We all like to pretend that we're all terribly, terribly different but, the truth is, we're just big bags of chemicals sloshing around, so we're not that different. And I find that reassuring."
Ring in the New Year with Paula Poundstone and a bunch of other big bags of chemicals at Mesa Arts Center, 1 East Main Street, on Wednesday, December 31, at 8 p.m. Tickets range from $35 to $45 for regular seats to $90 for a VIP dinner package and can be purchased by calling 480-644-6500 or visiting mesaartscenter.com.