Paula Poundstone says people make mistakes, and all you can do is learn from them and move on.
The 44-year-old comedian — known for her trademark necktie and interaction with her audience — lost custody of her three adopted children following her arrest in 2001. She pleaded no contest to a felony count of child endangerment and misdemeanor infliction of injury on a child. The endangerment charge involved driving drunk with children in her car.
She was sentenced to 180 days at a drug and alcohol rehabilitation center, plus five years’ probation. Poundstone has since regained custody of her children, ages 12, 9 and 5.
Poundstone, winner of the American Comedy Award in 1989 for best female comedy club stand-up comic, is back on the stage, and her routine covers everything from sobriety, Iraq and obesity in children to Abraham Lincoln and Canada.
AP: Since your arrest, what’s the best thing that’s happened to you?
Poundstone: The best thing? Probably my kids. Definitely. That and during an HBO special I started chatting with a man in the audience who said he designed prison furniture for a living. I thought that was great.
AP: Were you nervous about performing after your legal troubles?
Poundstone: Absolutely! There was a six-month period where I didn’t work at all, but I didn’t want people to think that I was on some sort of comeback tour when I did resurface. After all, I come through most cities about once a year, so for some people maybe it didn’t seem like I was gone that long.
AP: Do your children think you’re funny?
Poundstone: Sometimes we’ll be out and someone will recognize me and come over and they’ll say to them, ‘Isn’t your mom funny?’ But then again, I am the mom, and I have to say ‘no’ a lot and I have to discipline.
AP: You’ve been an advocate for many causes, from foster care to AIDS. Does being a comic help get your message across?
Poundstone: I suppose. I did some political stuff in the ’90s, which sounds so far away now. I’ve never shied away from giving my opinion. But I wish I were more of a clever wordsmith so I could be a little wittier, because my first goal in the evening is to entertain.
AP: You seem to keep your act pretty clean. Is that by design?
Poundstone: Not exactly. Sometimes I’ll curse but I don’t see that as an issue whether I do or if I don’t. There’s also not too much about my act that’s overtly sexual, probably because I don’t date. Most of my act is me interacting with the audience, and that’s what I like to do best.
AP: Do you know what you’re going to say when you get on stage?
Poundstone: I have a basic Rolodex in my head of things I could talk about, and I flip to what makes sense at the given time. But I prefer to just interact with my audience and that’s obviously unscripted.
AP: Do people in the audience ever heckle you?
Poundstone: I wouldn’t say heckle, since all I’m really doing is just trying to have a conversation. There’s nothing adversarial about it. Sometimes someone will be drunk and they won’t talk at the right time, kind of like when you’re at a party and you move on to talk to someone else and someone keeps butting in.
AP: What’s the reason for your longevity?
Poundstone: The other day I was in Connecticut, and about 15 college girls were there. That made me feel good, getting to see a new batch of people. After all, I used to work at the International House of Pancakes and I’ve been telling those jokes for 25 years. Then again, I like to think that I am fairly prolific and I have a good flow of new material.