Courtesy of DSP Shows

October 8, 2019

Paula Poundstone Captures the Essence of Ithaca at the State Theatre

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Paula Poundstone, known for her excellent comedic timing as a frequent panelist on National Public Radio’s Wait Wait … Don’t Tell Me, performed at the State Theater on Oct. 5. Dressed in a vibrant red suit and sporting her iconic bob haircut, she filled the theater with laughs for the next two hours with jokes about Trump, her adopted children and her “various ailments.”

Poundstone started out the night, like many comedians these days, with some jokes aimed at Trump’s administration and its various failures. “I recently read Bill Barr’s summary of A Tale of Two Cities; ‘It was the best of times.’” After a big laugh from the audience, Poundstone remarks how Ithaca is one of the few cities where she doesn’t have to explain that joke, eliciting another resounding laugh.

From politics, Poundstone moved on to her descent into aging. “Must we crawl to the finish line?!” she asked the mostly middle-aged crowd. “My jowls came in,” she remarked, feeling her face. Despite her self-deprecation about her age, Poundstone’s set was still full of energy as she waltzed back and forth across the stage, pointing out audience members and launching into tangents about her personal life.

Even though she has been a comedian for four decades, Poundstone is known for keeping her routine fresh for every show. She delved into her gift to keep her stories new and interesting with a bit about her OCD and how it manifests in her need to talk constantly, despite the circumstances she finds herself in. “I can’t shut up to save my life,” she said, laughing. After several tangents, she described an experience on an airplane sitting next to a senator involved in the Anita Hill hearings, where just as the senator was about to describe her viewpoint on that historic moment, Poundstone said: “I heard myself saying, oh, I went to the Senate once!”

The backbone of her performance was based on her interaction with the audience, ranging from discussion of the various designs around the theater to the broken leg of an audience member. After discovering that he worked for the Cornell registrar’s office but was home-bound because of his leg, she remarked “I notice you are here, sir!” before jokingly berating him for not helping students find their classes in person.

Poundstone also incorporated her political and religious viewpoints into her show. Wanting “everyone to feel welcome,” she said that she did not used to make her political stance known to the crowd. However, she soon came to the conclusion that despite steering away from political jokes, everyone in the audience would just “know” she was a liberal, leaving her free to make as many jokes at Trump’s expense as she saw fit. On being an atheist, she joked about audience members getting mad at her when she did shows in the Bible Belt and mentioned her lack of religious inclination. In response, she said she would tell them that without a mandate to convert, Atheists would likely get along better with Christians than most other religious groups. “You won’t find me on your doorstep in the morning … [with] a blank book … hello, there is no Word!”

Ithaca was the target of several jokes as well. After an audience member Poundstone had been conversing with mentioned that they used to work for a company called Sun Microsystem, another audience member piped up to say “I used to meditate with the father of the head of Quality Control for Sun Microsystems!” Upon hearing this, Poundstone declared that “if you were to boil down” all the conversations in Ithaca, that statement is the essence that one would be left with.

After nearly two hours on stage, Poundstone said goodbye to the audience, and her performance received thundering applause from the crowd. If you missed Paula Poundstone this time around but want to hear more from her, check out her Maximum Fun podcast Nobody Listens to Paula Poundstone.


Carolyn Hale is a sophomore in the College of arts and sciences. She can be reached at [email protected].