Every time I talk to Paula Poundstone, I feel better than I did before—six conversations and counting. Paula Poundstone is a comic, author, podcaster (“Nobody Listens to Paula Poundstone”) and regular panelist on NPR’s “Wait Wait, Don’t Tell Me”. She will be performing at the State Theatreon Oct. 5 at 8 p.m.
The Ithaca Times spoke to her about cussing, driving and sensitive feline-inflicted injuries.
IT: I grew up with you on “Star Search” and “The Tonight Show”, where nobody swears ever. “Nobody Listens to Paula Poundstone” is the first time I ever heard you swear. And all the other times we talked, I made sure not to swear. So I might cuss some.
PP: Yeah, well, there are venues where you’re not allowed to use the full range of language. But when I work, when I’m in a venue where that’s not an issue, I like to use all the words that I know. And I don’t like to feel hemmed in. You know, when I was young, my father was trying to teach me to drive, which he didn’t do a lot of, but once or twice, he took me out driving. And I remember one time there was glass up ahead on the road. And he said, “Okay, see that glass up ahead? Avoid that glass.” What happened was, I looked at the glass, and I sort of naturally turned in the direction I was looking at, and went right over the glass. And my father just couldn’t understand — “I just told ya, don’t go over the glass. You went over the glass!” And that’s a little bit the way it is when somebody says, “Okay, they really don’t want you to say f**k.” [sighs] That’s all I can think of!
IT: [laughs] Sometimes it’s the only response.
PP: Well, the other thing is, with everything going on in our world, you know? With everything, all the problems that we have, the idea that anybody focuses on that even for a moment, is shocking. It’s irresponsible, you know? How come when we have a problem with violence and guns… I saw “The Godfather” on commercial television, [and] they didn’t take out one bullet, not one bullet at the tollbooth scene when Sonny gets killed, but they changed the phrase “piece of ass” to the phrase “piece of stuff.” By the way, I would argue that it has the same meaning.
It’s like how when you’re really broke—I don’t know if you’ve ever experienced this—but when you’re really broke is when you buy the stupidest s**t.
PP: I remember one time, I was comin’ home on a Greyhound bus for a really long time, and now I was back in Boston. I’d been in Florida [and] I’d purchased a poster of Cinderella’s castle. And one day I was walking around the city of Boston, trying to find a frame for my Cinderella’s castle poster, and then it just dawned on me — I think I had the frame in my hand and I was about to buy it before I went, “You know what? I don’t have a job!” [laughs]
IT: “I got no business buying this frame!”
PP: Yeah! Yeah! But when you’re overwhelmed with the challenges of your circumstances, that’s when you buy a happy-face keychain. I think that’s us with cursing. The idea that, “Oh, that’s so offensive.” It’s just foolish, it’s ridiculous. It’s a tchotchke topic. And we turn to it when we are overwhelmed with corruption, and honestly, the end of the world. So when they go, “Okay, don’t say f**k” … [sighs]
IT: As long as we’re working blue here, do you ever get bleeped on “Wait Wait”?
PP: Oh, yeah. I always tease the audience about halfway through my show: “I know at least half the people in here right now are thinking, “She doesn’t curse like that on NPR!’” [laughs] I go, “I do! They cut it out!”
IT: I’m just thinking of our last five conversations —
PP: Where you were so careful and you didn’t have to be?
PP: You don’t have to be. I have spent 40 years on stage trying to be more myself. And there’s other kinds of performing, you know; there’s other choices that a performer could make, other than that. But that’s the direction I’ve gone in. It’s just being myself. And myself, if I slam my thumb in the door, I say “F**k!” You know? When there’s tons of traffic, I don’t yell it out the window at people, but I’m like, “Aww, m**********r.” Yeah. Shocking!