Paula Poundstone Is Back After Failing To Land a Grocery Store Gig

Paula Poundstone is not the only one jumping for joy to be back out of the house.
Paula Poundstone is not the only one jumping for joy to be back out of the house. Photo by Shannon Greer

Believe it or not, it sounds like one of the best comics working today almost put her career on the back burner over the last year plus.

Paula Poundstone, who will be headlining a night of laughs at The Grand 1894 on Saturday, October 30, reveals one of her pandemic coping tactics was to stay busy and provide positivity to her community.

Recalling the beginning of the March 2020, Poundstone says: “I felt bad for everybody, we were scared. You go to the grocery store and people looked horrified... And it was the only place you saw other people, for me anyways. My diagnosis of them was that we were not doing well. So I can make comedy videos, to help people get through – and I did. And after a while going at this break-neck pace, I realized I don’t think this is going away in a couple of weeks."

So she applied to work in a couple of grocery stores. "Two reasons: One, I think an income is a good idea? That’s one reason. And maybe it's three reasons – I really like physical labor. I’m a good worker. And the other reason is because the grocery store is the only place I went, I saw how miserable everybody was. I thought at least while I’m ringing people up or helping people find the raisins, and I defy anybody to find the raisins in the grocery store because they keep moving them, they get reclassified every day or so — the Russians keep trying to get the raisins but we just keep moving them around. So at least while I’m doing that, I could say: ‘How are you doing? Stay strong, we ARE going to get through this.’”

“But no one would hire me!" she says. "One of the lessons I learned in the last year was I am not essential. In fact the grocery store that I shop at, The Vons, and I said to one of the clerks if I put in an application, would you put in a good word for me? She said yeah, but I go back and fill out the stupid online application, and a week later or two weeks later, I go back and they tell me: ‘Oh, I’m so sorry – we hired like 12 people just before we got your application.’ So I’m pushing my cart and trying to follow the arrows, and over the PA, they play this announcement: ‘Would YOU like a job? We’re hiring!’ Yeah, everyone but Paula... They didn’t have their messaging straight.”

It probably is for the better, as Poundstone found other ways to distract herself creatively in the ensuing year apart from her touring schedule. “Instead,” she says, “I created a goofy little homemade game show I ended up taping at home on Sundays. It was called Nobody Asked You with Paula Poundstone. I played Paula Poundstone. And I have my regular podcast, which is called Nobody Listens to Paula Poundstone. And of course, we’re all scrambling and trying to figure out how to tape from home. I think lots of people were in that situation. I could not pay my rent on what I could scrape together from these various endeavors, but I could stem the tide of loss.

“It's fun because my accounts had been hammering literally a month or two months before, asking about these podcasts and saying they weren’t cost effective. And the same thing I sell T-shirts and some CDs, and I usually did meet-and-greets after the show was one of the ways I sold those. And they asked why I was doing that, and I said, I don’t know – maybe I’ll make it grow some time, but I don’t want to get rid of it. And thank goodness! Those became the life blood!”

While the Zoom game show has taken a break, Poundstone’s podcast has continued to deliver both laughter and insight on a regular basis. For newbies to her auditory experience, the comic lays out some of her favorite episodes, at least in her memory. “I don’t listen to the episodes for the most part — as soon as one show is over, you’re thinking about the other. The good news, you could pretty much start anywhere.”

“Generally speaking, we interview somebody in the middle of the show, and it is a person who has real information to share. Me and my partner make jokes and stuff, but they have real information. For me, one time we had a plumber and it really changed my life. She said don’t put Kleenex down your toilet because it is a different weave and too thick for your toilet; it will stop it up. And you can pour hot water down your drain and will help them keep flowing. I don’t call the plumber nearly as much as I used to! Our pipes were always clogging up.”

Highlighting her brushes with more famous guests, a recent hit comes to mind. “[John] Cleese was great,” she exclaims. “He did a section of the show we do occasionally called Outside the Actor’s Studio, where I write a scene and the premise is that the person is coaching me. So I write a scene for us, and I used to try to make it like the stuff I would get for auditions, which was so not helpful. Like it would say stuff like, “she really likes pugs” – and I’m like, how do you play that? I’m not making up the dialogue, so how do I put a love of pugs into how I read that line? So I write this scene and we talk about bad audition experiences and then we’d read the scene, they’d coach me on how to do it and we would read it again.

"I’ll tell you a particularly delightfully funny actor who really nailed it in terms of his role in it was Fred Willard. I have to give myself a little bit of credit. I do believe I wrote a scene that gave Fred Willard a chance to do really good Fred Willard. And to hear somebody say your line that way you were hoping they would say your line is a euphoric experience.”

Even making jokes on her podcast kept Poundstone from staring at the walls during the shut down, there appears to be no substitute for the joys of the real thing.

“Well, I can tell you the return has been so much fun,” she says. “I thought I was going to cry when I stepped up on stage the other night. Yeah, yeah. I mean, I got back to work in June... doing generally about three nights a week, which is really more than I used to do but because everything kept getting postponed and moved, so I’m actually pretty busy. I actually figured we’d be shut down again by mid September! But it's good news we haven’t been. And the reason it has gone OK is I think most of my audience is vaccinated.

"I would just guess – I don’t have stupid fans. And they are masked. I feel like that’s what we need to do to keep this thing that we all love doing. I think it also helps audiences feel safe. My average audience member is about my age. Old enough to where some of our youthful stupidity has fallen away. That ‘can’t hurt me’ [confidence] is gone now. We’ve lived long enough to say no, we’ve been hurt by that. It has been really wonderful to get back to it. I feel like honestly my first couple of shows back I had lost my sea legs a bit. There is a certain Malcolm Gladwell-10,000 hours element to it. Talking to the audience, we’ve all been through this thing – and its ongoing, its not done. But I feel like they really look forward to coming out, and I really look forward to going out and being able to entertain – so we’re a pretty happy pair.”

Performances are scheduled for October 30 at 8 p.m. at 2020 Postoffice, Galveston. For more information, call 409-765-1894 or visit $25-$75

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Vic covers the comedy scene, in Houston and beyond. When not writing articles, he's working on his scripts, editing a podcast, doing some funny make-em-ups or preaching the good word of supporting education in the arts.
Contact: Vic Shuttee