Paula Poundstone is on the road a lot these days. When she's not in Chicago as a panelist for NPR quiz show Wait! Wait! Don't Tell Me, she's out two or three nights a week performing standup in clubs and theaters across the country. It's actually not too different from the nights-all-running-together lifestyle of up-and-coming comedians, but now, Poundstone's accommodations tend to be Hilton Garden Inns rather than the seedy apartments rented by club owners to put up traveling comics in the '80s.
"It's kind of a yin and yang to it, I guess," Poundstone reminisces in a rare moment from her home in Santa Monica, California. "There were clubs where it was like going to camp with somebody. When you worked together for a week, you had the trauma of the week in common...I wouldn't have become friends with them in the same way if we had just done a one-nighter together."
There was a level of mistrust in those days between the comics and the club owners, who each believed the other was out to fleece them. Back then, only the very rich and Zack Morris had cell phones, and Poundstone once asked a club owner if she could use the phone. He answered that they didn't have a phone.
"I swear, I looked at him for a few seconds, and I smashed my head into the wall," she says, laughing. "Then he said, 'OK, we have a phone.' That was all it took."
The phone, by the way, was a cheap one you would get with a Time Magazine subscription ("It was something that would come out of a cereal box or something").
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Poundstone in real life is pretty close to the one public radio nerds can hear on Wait! Wait! Don't Tell Me. She breathes a good-natured sarcasm and has an opinion about damn near everything, from the 405 closure to town rivalries. "Almost every night, I get someone, and they'll tell me the name of the town they're from, and the whole crowd will be like "'oooooohhhhh,'" she says. "And it turns out that town is the whipping boy for the town I'm playing in. I don't care if you live in Bumfuck, Alabama, there's a town next door that you think less of."
Her show, which she will bring to the Alley Theatre August 27, is largely made up of improvisational material culled from conversations with audience members.
"I happen to have obsessive compulsive disorder, and everything that gets said reminds me of something else that I feel that I must say," she says. "I only need a little opening, and we're off to the races."
8 p.m. August 27. 615 Texas Avenue. $25 to $57. For information, visit paulainhouston.com or call 713-220-5700.