Paula Poundstone

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Paula Poundstone
Poundstone in 2008
Born (1959-12-29) December 29, 1959 (age 62)
Huntsville, Alabama, U.S.
MediumStandup comedy, television, radio, print, internet
Years active1979–present
Genresstandup, improvisational comedy, crowd work, voice acting, commentator, interviewer
Subject(s)Observational humor
Notable works and roles
  • Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me!
  • The Totally Unscientific Study of the Search for Human Happiness
  • Nobody Listens to Paula Poundstone, the comedy podcast
  • Cats, Cops and Stuff
  • Paula Poundstone Goes to Harvard
  • The French Trump Weekly Press Conference

Paula Poundstone (born December 29, 1959) is an American stand-up comedian, author, actor, interviewer, and commentator. Beginning in the late 1980s, she performed a series of one-hour HBO comedy specials. She provided backstage commentary during the 1992 presidential election on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. She is the host of the Starburns Audio podcast (previously a member of the Maximum Fun network) Nobody Listens to Paula Poundstone, which is the successor to the National Public Radio program Live from the Poundstone Institute. She is a frequent panelist on NPR's weekly news quiz show Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me, and was a recurring guest on the network's A Prairie Home Companion variety program during Garrison Keillor's years as host.

Early life[edit]

Poundstone was born in Huntsville, Alabama, the daughter of Vera, a housewife, and Jack Poundstone, an engineer.[1] Her family moved to Sudbury, Massachusetts, about a month after her birth.[2]


Poundstone started doing stand-up comedy at open-mic nights in Boston in 1979. In the early 1980s, she traveled across the United States by Greyhound bus, stopping in at open-mic nights at comedy clubs en route. She stayed in San Francisco, where she became known for improvisational sets at Holy City Zoo on Clement Street and The Other Café comedy club in Cole Valley.

In 1984, Robin Williams saw her act and encouraged her to move to Los Angeles. She performed her act when Williams hosted an episode of Saturday Night Live.[3] That year, Poundstone was cast in the movie Gremloids. She continued as a comedian and began appearing on several talk shows. In 1989, she won the American Comedy Award for "Best Female Stand-Up Comic".

In 1990, she wrote and starred in an HBO special called Cats, Cops and Stuff, for which she won a CableACE Award, making her the first woman to win the ACE for best Standup Comedy Special.[4] In March 2019, comedian Tig Notaro named "Cats, Cops and Stuff" one of The 5 Funniest Stand-Up Specials Ever for TIME Magazine.[5] Poundstone went on to another first with her second HBO stand-up special, Paula Poundstone Goes to Harvard, taped on campus in Sanders Theatre. Poundstone had her own Bravo special in 2006 as part of their three-part Funny Girls series, along with Caroline Rhea and Joan Rivers, titled Paula Poundstone: Look What the Cat Dragged In.

Poundstone worked as a political correspondent for The Tonight Show during the 1992 US Presidential campaign and did field pieces for The Rosie O'Donnell Show in 1996. In 1993, Poundstone won a second CableACE Award for "Best Program Interviewer" for her HBO series The Paula Poundstone Show. She was then featured in her own variety show, The Paula Poundstone Show, on ABC (which lasted two episodes). She also appeared on Hollywood Squares and was a regular panelist for the remake of To Tell the Truth. Poundstone had a recurring role in Cybill Shepherd's TV series Cybill (1997).

Poundstone has also worked as a voice actress. She voiced Judge Stone on Science Court (also known as Squigglevision), an edutainment cartoon series done in the Squigglevision style that aired on Saturday mornings, on ABC Kids in 1997.

Staying with the makers of Science Court, Tom Snyder Productions, she was the voice of the mom, Paula Small, in the cartoon series Home Movies for the show's first five episodes, which aired on UPN. Between the show's 1999 UPN cancellation and 2000 revival on Cartoon Network, Poundstone chose to leave the show and was replaced by Janine Ditullio,

The show's character, Paula Small, was named and loosely modeled on Poundstone.[6]

Poundstone is a frequent panelist on National Public Radio (NPR)'s weekly news quiz show, Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me.[7] In 2017, she launched a new science-comedy-interview program on NPR called Live from the Poundstone Institute that released episodes weekly, then stopped suddenly, saying “the semester is over”. In July 2018, Poundstone began co-hosting the information-based, comedy podcast "Nobody Listens to Paula Poundstone" with Adam Felber.

Poundstone tours the country extensively, performing stand-up comedy in theaters and performing arts centers. She is known for never doing the same act twice and spontaneously interacting with the crowd. Writes Nick Zaino III of the Boston Globe, "Her crowd work has always been unusual—her natural disposition, curious and ever-perplexed, allows Poundstone to aggressively question audience members without ever seeming threatening. And no one does the callback better." She has released three comedy CDs: I Heart Jokes: Paula Tells Them in Boston on April Fools' Day 2013;[8] North by Northwest: Paula Poundstone Live! (her first double album) in June 2016;[9] and I Heart Jokes: Paula Tells Them in Maine in January 2009.[8]

Poundstone at a book signing in 2007

Poundstone's first book, There Is Nothing in This Book That I Meant to Say, was published by Crown in 2006. Her second book, published by Algonquin in May 2017, is titled The Totally Unscientific Study of the Search for Human Happiness. She also wrote the column Hey, Paula! for Mother Jones (1993–1998) and articles for The Los Angeles Times, Glamour, and Entertainment Weekly, among others.

An avid reader, Poundstone has been the National Spokesperson for the American Library Association's "United for Libraries" since 2007. It is a citizens' support group that works to raise funds and awareness for their local libraries.[10]

Poundstone is No. 88 on Comedy Central's 2004 list of the 100 greatest stand-ups of all time.[11]

Personal life[edit]

Poundstone began serving as a foster parent in the 1990s. She has fostered eight children, and eventually adopted two daughters and a son.[12]

In October 2001, Poundstone was charged with felony child endangerment in connection with driving while intoxicated with children in the car. She was also charged with three counts of lewd acts upon a girl younger than 14.[13] The charge involved inappropriate touching of a 12-year-old girl.[14] In a plea bargain, she changed her earlier plea of not guilty, and in exchange prosecutors asked for the court records to be sealed, dropped three counts of committing lewd acts against a child, and added a misdemeanor count of inflicting injury upon a child.[13][14] Poundstone also pleaded no contest to one count of felony child endangerment.[14] She was barred from taking in foster children again, sentenced to five years of probation and six months in rehabilitation, and ordered to perform 200 hours of community service, attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and a child-abuse program, and receive random drug and alcohol tests.[14] In 2002, Poundstone talked about her personal responsibility for the events that led to her arrest and the steps she has taken, including a six-month treatment program for alcoholism, but she said that she did not commit any lewd acts or child abuse.[14]

Poundstone identifies as asexual[15] and an atheist.[16][17]



Year Title Role Notes
1984 Hyperspace Karen 3-D movie
1991 Wisecracks Herself Documentary
2003 When Stand Up Stood Out Herself Documentary
2008 No Brainer Herself Comedy feature
2013 Why We Laugh: Funny Women Herself Documentary
2013 Wait Wait Don't Tell Me Live! Herself Panelist, live cinema
2014 3 Still Standing Herself Documentary
2015 Inside Out Forgetter Paula Voice actor, animated film
2015 By Any Means Necessary Herself Documentary
2016 The Comedy Club Herself Documentary


Year Title Role Notes
1988 Poison Writer, TV movie
1989 It's Garry Shandling's Show Herself 1 episode
1989 Not Necessarily the News Commentator 1 episode
1993 Reasonable Doubts Betty Tannebaum 1 episode
1993 The Paula Poundstone Show Herself/Host Variety show, 3 episodes, VHS
1995 Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman The Computer 1 episode
1996 Adventures from the Book of Virtues The Djinn Voice actor, 1 episode, animated series
1997 Cybill Minni Arbogast 2 episodes
1998 Hercules Armageddon Bow Voice actor, 1 episode, animated series
1997-99 Science Court Judge Stone Voice actor, 29 episodes, animated series
1999 Home Movies Paula Small Voice actor for 5 episodes, and writer on a different set of 5 episodes, animated series
2013 Wanda Sykes Presents Herlarious Usher 4 episodes, TV series
2015 The HOA Lorraine TV movie
2016 Major Crimes Herself Cameo, Season 5 Episode 4
2019 Summer Camp Island Paulette Voice actor, 4 episodes, animated series
2020 The Fungies! Queen Antagonista Voice actor, 1 episode, animated series

Comedy specials[edit]

Year Title Studio Formats
1989 One Night Stand HBO Broadcast/streaming
1990 Paula Poundstone: Cats, Cops and Stuff HBO Broadcast/streaming
1996 Paula Poundstone Goes to Harvard HBO Broadcast
2006 Bravo's Funny Girls - Paula Poundstone: Look What the Cat Dragged In Bravo Broadcast/download/streaming


Stand-up appearances[edit]

Year Title Notes
1983 The 8th Annual Young Comedians Show Comedy special
1984 The Merv Griffin Show 1 episode
1987 On Location: Women of the Night Comedy special, VHS
1981-88 An Evening at the Improv 2 episodes, stand-up compilation VHS/streaming
1989 Comic Relief III Charity comedy special, VHS
1989 Comic Relief '90 Charity comedy special, VHS
1984-90 Late Night with David Letterman 13 episodes
1986-92 The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson 14 episodes
1992 Kellogg's Pop-Tarts Comedy Video Comedy special VHS
1992 Comic Relief V Charity comedy special, VHS
1994 Comic Relief VI Charity comedy special, VHS
1995 Comic Relief VII Charity comedy special, VHS
1992-97 The Tonight Show with Jay Leno 15 episodes
1997-98 The Rosie O'Donnell Show 4 episodes
1998 Comic Relief 8 Charity comedy special, VHS
2003 Best of the Improv 2 Stand-up compilation VHS
2005 Just for Laughs 1 episode, streaming
2006-15 The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson 17 episodes
2019 William H. Macy: Comedy Ambassador Comedy special, streaming
2020 Bring Back Laughs Charity comedy special, streaming


Comedy albums[edit]

Year Title Label Formats
2009 I Heart Jokes: Paula Tells Them in Maine CD Baby/Lipstick Nancy CD/download/streaming
2013 I Heart Jokes: Paula Tells Them in Boston CD Baby/Lipstick Nancy CD/download/streaming
2016 North By Northwest: Paula Poundstone Live! Vol. 1 & 2 HighBridge Audio 2xCD/download/streaming
2022 Cats, Cops and Stuff Clown Jewels download/streaming


Year Title Label Formats
2019 Not My Butterfinger Lipstick Nancy Download/streaming

Compilation appearances[edit]

Year Title Label Formats
1988 Women of the Night: A Comedy Album A&M Records LP/Cassette/CD
1989 The Best Of Comic Relief 3 Rhino Records Cassette/CD
1990 The Best Of Comic Relief '90 Rhino Records Cassette/CD
1994 Comic Relief VI Rhino Records CD
1996 Comic Relief VII Rhino Records CD
2000 A Prairie Home Companion: Pretty Good Jokes HighBridge Audio 2xCassette/2xCD
2013 Laughter Therapy: A Comedy Collection For The Chronically Serious NPR/HighBridge Audio 2xCD
2018 Just for Laughs - The Archives, Vol. 36 JFL CD/download/streaming



Year Title Publisher Formats
2006 There's Nothing in This Book That I Meant to Say Harmony Books Print: Hardcover/Large Print/Paperback, Audiobook: CD/download/streaming
2017 The Totally Unscientific Study of the Search for Human Happiness Algonquin Books Print: Hardcover/Paperback/E-book, Audiobook: CD/download/streaming



  1. ^ Lambert, Pam (September 10, 2001). "Matter of Trust". People. New York City: Meredith Corporation. Archived from the original on April 20, 2014. Retrieved August 11, 2014.
  2. ^ "Paula Poundstone". Notable Names Data Base. Archived from the original on 2008-04-17. Retrieved 2008-04-02.
  3. ^ Roe, Dale (August 21, 2014). "Paula Poundstone talks crowd work, Robin Williams". Austin, Texas: Gatehouse Media. Archived from the original on July 16, 2018. Retrieved July 15, 2018.
  4. ^ Ress, Arieh (September 1, 2016). "What Are You Reading? Paula Poundstone Edition". New York Public Library. Archived from the original on May 22, 2020. Retrieved November 20, 2019.
  5. ^ Notaro, Tig (March 1, 2019). "The 5 Funniest Stand-Up Specials Ever". New York, New York: TIME USA, LLC. Archived from the original on June 2, 2019. Retrieved November 17, 2019.
  6. ^ "The Ups and Downs of Paula Poundstone". Retrieved 2022-03-04.
  7. ^ "Programs: Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me!". NPR. Archived from the original on January 21, 2009. Retrieved January 26, 2009.
  8. ^ a b "". The Official Website of Paula Poundstone. Archived from the original on 2020-10-03. Retrieved 2020-10-31.
  9. ^ "". Highbridge Audio. Archived from the original on 2020-10-31. Retrieved 2018-03-02.
  10. ^ "United for Libraries Forms National Partnership with Paula Poundstone". July 2, 2009. Archived from the original on August 20, 2016. Retrieved July 10, 2016.
  11. ^ "Comedy Central Top 100 Greatest Standups of All Time". Archived from the original on November 25, 2010. Retrieved December 2, 2009.
  12. ^ Conan, Neal (November 20, 2006). "The Ups and Downs of Paula Poundstone". Talk of the Nation. Washington DC: NPR. Archived from the original on January 20, 2012. Retrieved October 3, 2011.
  13. ^ a b Gorman, Anna (September 13, 2001). "Paula Poundstone's Plea Deal Ends Child Abuse Case". Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles, California. Archived from the original on November 25, 2016. Retrieved November 19, 2016.
  14. ^ a b c d e Weinraub, Bernard (January 22, 2002). "The Hard Road Back For Paula Poundstone; Comic Tries to Save Her Career After Arrest". The New York Times. New York City. Archived from the original on June 21, 2016. Retrieved July 10, 2016.
  15. ^ Nesti, Robert (August 21, 2013). "Paula Poundstone Lives Her Life In Her Comedy". Edge Media Network. Archived from the original on August 10, 2016. Retrieved July 10, 2016.
  16. ^ Poundstone, Paula (2006). There's Nothing in This Book That I Meant to Say. Three Rivers Press. ISBN 9780307382283. Archived from the original on July 21, 2018. Retrieved November 23, 2019. I’m an atheist. The good news about atheists is that we have no mandate to convert anyone. So you’ll never find me on your doorstep on a Saturday morning with a big smile, saying, ‘Just stopped by to tell you there is no word. I brought along this little blank book I was hoping you could take a look at.’
  17. ^ Meyer, Ronald Bruce (February 11, 2011). "December 29: Paula Poundstone (1959)". Free thought Almanac. Archived from the original on October 31, 2020. Retrieved November 23, 2019. My family, we are atheists, and many times people have had the nerve to say to us, because this is a terrible thing to say to anybody, but they say it to me: “Where will your children get their moral guidance without religion?” And I quickly assure them that we have three seasons of “Lost in Space” on DVD [which, she says, “we use for moral and spiritual guidance.”]. So I believe we’re covered in that area.
  18. ^ "Paula Poundstone". Retrieved 2021-02-10.
  19. ^ "Paula Poundstone". Retrieved 2021-02-10.
  20. ^ "Paula Poundstone Shop". Retrieved 2021-02-10.

External links[edit]