Stand-up comic Paula Poundstone made her mark in the 1990s with award-winning stand-up comedy specials and humorous “correspondence” work for Jay Leno and Rosie O’Donnell.
She now has more of a radio presence as a regular panelist role on the popular NPR comedic news quiz show “Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me,” which airs locally Saturday mornings on 90.1/WABE-FM and 88.5/WRAS-FM.
Poundstone will be visiting Atlanta Friday, July 25 for her first time ever at the Variety Playhouse. Her last time in town was in 2010 at Georgia Tech’s Ferst Center.
“I don’t do a lot of sightseeing when I visit cities,” she said. “I remember the driver from the Atlanta airport pointing out all the points of interest. We were pulling into the driveway of the hotel and he mentioned the Margaret Mitchell house and said I should go there. I couldn’t figure out why anyone would want to visit the house where someone from the Nixon adminiistration had lived.”
She was thinking about Watergate-era attorney general John Mitchell’s wife Martha. “Fortunately, he then said something about ‘Gone With the Wind,’ and that cleared things up,” Poundstone said.
Poundstone, who now lives in Santa Monica and grew up in Massachusetts, admits her knowledge of the South isn’t deep. Nonetheless, she was born in Huntsville, Ala. and spent many summers there as a child at her grandmother’s trailer park.
“We played a lot in the red clay by a creek behind the trailer,” she remembered. “We’d engage with stray cats and beg our parents to take them home. I remember the five and dime where nothing was five or a dime. And everything was a Coke. All soda. And for some reason, the gas station vending machine had Mexican jumping beans.”
And she has warm memories of Waffle House. “I love the scrambled eggs and raisin toast,” she said. “I’ve taken a cab to a Waffle House during one of my Southern stops. That eggs and raisin toast cost me $40. But it was worth it!”
Nowadays, she gets her greatest exposure on “Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me,” where she gets to crack off-the-cuff jokes about whatever host Peter Sagal utters.
“It’s a perfect match for me,” Poundstone said. “It’s a place where I’m encouraged to do and say whatever I want to say – within the format obviously.”
She does get to write bluff stories to try to trick listeners but says people usually pick the real one, not her fake story. “I try hard to make it funny but let me tell ya,” she said. “It’s hit or miss. I always whine about it. It’s like homework!”
She admits whenever she knows she’s going on the show, she does prep work for the end-of-the-hour “lightning fill in the blank” quiz because she’s naturally competitive and wants to win, even if victory has no prize beyond an ego boost. “I try to cram,” she said, “with very poor results.” She said there’s a guy online who actually keeps track of panelist records and “I believe I hold the record for most losses.”
Poundstone said she may also be the only panelist to ever get every question wrong on the quiz.
Bizarrely, when told this had happened, she didn’t recall. “My brain must have been so traumatized, I purposely blocked it out,” she said.
On the bright side, she did win the May 17 show, which was judge and scorekeeper Carl Kasell‘s final appearance.
8 p.m., Friday, July 25
$35 in advance, $40 day of show
The Variety Playhouse
1099 Euclid Ave. NE, Atlanta