October 6, 2013

Applefest, OCD and Oreos: Paula Poundstone at The State

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By JULIA MOSER

On Friday night, all of the NPR listeners in Ithaca (all of Ithaca) flocked to the State Theater to see Paula Poundstone. Poundstone, best known for being a regular panelist on the NPR news quiz show Wait Wait … Don’t Tell Me!, has been a stand-up comedian for over 30 years, and apparently a big hit in the Ithaca community for most of that time.

Poundstone was introduced at the show by fellow WWDTM panelist Amy Dickinson, who grew up in the Ithaca area and is a board member of the State Theater. After being introduced, Poundstone, wearing her characteristic suit and tie (it looked like a seasonally appropriate pumpkin patterned tie), walked on stage to bountiful applause and proceeded to talk for approximately two hours.

During her set, Poundstone said that her continuous talking is a form of her OCD and that she would be doing what she does whether or not people paid to listen. Interestingly enough, she also informed the audience that having a song stuck in one’s head is also a mild form of OCD. So, I can blame OCD for having had “Tik Tok” stuck in my head since last Sunday.

After seeing Poundstone perform, I have a newfound respect for the comedian. While some of her jokes about her children and personal life were clearly ones that she had done before, the majority of the show was Paula Poundstone creating and performing jokes as she thought of them. Watching her, it was clear that she is just an extremely smart, talented and hysterically funny individual.

There was a decent amount of Applefest-related humor and a large part of the show involved Poundstone interacting with the audience. While crowd-work can sometimes be cause for eye-rolls, in Poundstone’s case, it was done skillfully. Not only did Poundstone spontaneously think of hilarious responses to audience members, but she also succeeded in calling back those comments at the end of the show in such a way that one would think it must have been planned.

Though the crowd-work was great, I do think that the more rehearsed bits were the funniest parts of the show, simply because the timing was more on point. For example, when talking about a former English teacher she had had, Poundstone expressed frustration with Shakespeare and accused British people of unnecessary cruelty in making Americans try to understand it. She then went on to imagine some English, English teacher teaching Elvis to his students. In a wonderful, terrible English accent, Poundstone analyzed the lyrics to “Hound Dog,” emphasizing the different uses of the word, “ain’t.”

Similarly, when Poundstone described her dislike of eating fruits because of how difficult it is to eat them at exactly the moment when they are ripe, but not overripe, but that she has never had a problem with a bad oreo, the crowd went wild. That was the joke I think I related the most to.

Overall, my only complaint about the show is that it lasted about 20 minutes too long. That seems like an insane amount of time for a show to drag on, but it dragged on in the most pleasant and laugh-filled way possible. Many of the funniest comments were in the last moments of the show, such as the callbacks to earlier jokes about Applefest or the staggering amount of crowd-members who said they were retired when Poundstone asked what their occupation was.

And I’m not even really complaining about the extended length of the show — as Poundstone pointed out, both laughter and running give you endorphins, and of the two of those, laughing (of which there was plenty of the uproarious variety on Friday) is definitely the more appealing option.

Julia Moser is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at jmoser@cornellsun.com.