By ALI JENKINS
Paula Poundstone, standup comedian and star of National Public Radio’s Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me, recently travelled to Ithaca to perform at the State Theatre. She strode onto stage right after 8 p.m. with a florescent pink suit and an enormous presence. For the next two hours, she engaged the audience with her informal comedy routine. Known for never performing the same routine twice, she mixed old jokes together with improvisational banter with the audience for an evening full of laughs.
Poundstone began the night by poking fun at Ithaca itself, sarcastically explaining how thrilled she was by her timing: “What is it, the Apple Festival or something? Oh, well then I timed it just right.” At a later point, she heard some crinkling in the audience and asked if someone was passing around a loaf of bread. “Well it is Ithaca,” she conceded. “You never know.” Although Ithaca was the butt of many jokes, Poundstone did remark on the beauty of the area several times.
Poundstone also spent several minutes talking about Mayor Svante Myrick ’09, who was not at the event but whom she met earlier in the day. She told the audience he was the “cutest little fellow I ever did see.” She went on to comment that Ithaca is the only place that you can find a “10-year-old mayor,” and that since it was past the mayor’s bedtime we would probably have a “fussy mayor in the morning.” Though the audience members laughed at the mayor’s expense, the crowd was clearly comprised of many of his supporters. When Poundstone asked if he is a good mayor, she received an enthusiastic “yes” from the crowd along with applause.
Poundstone was very open about her political and religious leanings and she spent a large portion of the beginning of the show on current events. She explained that she did more Pope-watching than she expected to as an atheist and remarked, “You know I thought it was great that he went around saying we should take care of one another and love one another and we should work our problems out and work as a team. I thought it was embarrassing that the Congress didn’t know that already.” She went on to pick apart a woman’s comment that the Pope was extraordinary simply because his first words after being elected were “good evening” instead of the traditional “my brothers and sisters.” Poundstone stated, “If ‘good evening’ is extraordinary, hold on to your hats because I’m going to blow you the fuck away tonight.”
The political tone of her jokes was overwhelmingly progressive. At one point, she expressed her dismay at the Republican candidates, imitating the goldfish-like facial expression of Donald Trump. She stated that we might have dumbed ourselves down enough as a society at this point that “Trump can make his move now.” Luckily, she had the right audience for her political statements. In contrast to some of her experiences in the South, her political jokes went over well with the Ithaca crowd. She even recounted the time in which she was accused of being a “rich, stupid Liberal,” to which she countered that she may be a “stupid Liberal” but she wasn’t rich.
Poundstone wove some of her personal life into her comedy as well, bringing her three kids into many jokes. She shared with the audience that she has a 17-year-old son, which she claims “is just about the worst thing that can happen to a person.” She said that she gets so tired of arguing with her son that sometimes after he goes to sleep she goes back into her room and just completes her sentences. She connected this back to the book she recently published, titled There’s Nothing in This Book That I Meant to Say. Each chapter in the book compares her life with that of a historical figure, such as Abraham Lincoln, and the entire work focuses heavily on parenting.
Later, Poundstone went on to explain her view on technology in schools. She stated, “In schools, they don’t write […] PowerPoint is the enemy of education and intelligent oration.” Going to the audience, she asked if anyone had to use PowerPoints regularly. A college student in the audience told Poundstone about her PowerPoint slides about “immersive theater.” Poundstone took her time dissecting this term, acting out her interpretations, and trying to understand its meaning. She returned to the topic of “immersive theater” many times throughout the night.
This audience interaction was a common occurrence in Poundstone’s show. She took great pleasure in calling audience members out and asking them what they did for a living and where they worked, before turning the responses into impromptu jokes. This technique gave the event a breath of fresh air, as much of the routine was unscripted and personalized for the Ithaca crowd. She did express her surprise at the hesitancy of the crowd to engage with her banter, concluding that she must be ignorant of the Ithaca culture. However, many audience members did call out jokes throughout the show and it was overall an interactive performance.
She finished with a final reference to NPR: “I’m actually always happy to talk about Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me publicly because I’d like to clear up this misconception: Yes, I’m trying to win!”