Jump to content

Paula Poundstone

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Paula Poundstone
Poundstone in 2008
Born (1959-12-29) December 29, 1959 (age 64)
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, actress, 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 podcast Nobody Listens to Paula Poundstone, which is the successor to the National Public Radio program Live from the Poundstone Institute. She was a frequent panelist on NPR's weekly news quiz show Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me, and 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][5] In March 2019, comedian Tig Notaro named "Cats, Cops and Stuff" one of The 5 Funniest Stand-Up Specials Ever for TIME Magazine.[6] 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).

In the mid 1990s, she was featured in a series of instructional, hybrid animation shorts that were called "Another Pointer from Paula Poundstone." These were used as bumpers for PTV Park, a PBS children's programming block that was the precursor to PBS Kids. These were directed by Francesca Rizzo and animated by Gene Mackles.

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.[7]

Poundstone is a frequent panelist on National Public Radio (NPR)'s weekly news quiz show, Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me.[8] 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 hosting the information-based, comedy podcast "Nobody Listens to Paula Poundstone" with Adam Felber, who appears on every show.[4][9]

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;[10] North by Northwest: Paula Poundstone Live! (her first double album) in June 2016;[11] and I Heart Jokes: Paula Tells Them in Maine in January 2009.[10]

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.[12]

Poundstone is No. 88 on Comedy Central's 2004 list of the 100 greatest stand-ups of all time.[13]

In 2023, she performed at Comedy Day in San Francisco alongside Marga Gomez.[14]

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.[15]

Poundstone identifies as asexual[16] and an atheist.[17][18]

Child endangerment, child sexual charges and legal issues[edit]

In October 2001, Poundstone was charged with felony child endangerment in connection with driving while intoxicated with her children in the car. She was also charged with three counts of lewd acts upon a girl younger than 14.[4][19] The charge involved inappropriate touching of a 12-year-old girl.[20] 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.[19][20] Poundstone also pleaded no contest to one count of felony child endangerment.[20] 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.[20] 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.[20]



Year Title Role Notes
1984 Hyperspace Karen
1991 Wisecracks Herself Documentary
2003 When Stand Up Stood Out Herself Documentary
2008 No Brainer Herself
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
2015 By Any Means Necessary Herself Documentary
2016 The Comedy Club Herself Documentary
2024 Inside Out 2 Forgetter Paula Voice[21]


Year Title Role Notes
1988 Poison Writer, television film
1989 It's Garry Shandling's Show Herself Episode: "Save Mr. Peck's, Part 2"
1989 Not Necessarily the News Commentator 1 episode
1993 Reasonable Doubts Betty Tannebaum Episode: "Thank God, It's Friday"
1993 The Paula Poundstone Show Herself/host 3 episodes
1995 Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman The Computer Episode: "Virtually Destroyed"
1996 Adventures from the Book of Virtues The Djinn Voice, episode: "Work"
1997 Cybill Minni Arbogast 2 episodes
1998 Hercules Armageddon Bow Voice, episode: "Hercules and the Secret Weapon"
1997-99 Science Court Judge Stone Voice, 29 episodes
1999 Home Movies Paula Small Voice, 5 episodes
2000-01 To Tell the Truth Herself 4 episodes
2013 Wanda Sykes Presents Herlarious Usher 4 episodes
2015 The HOA Lorraine Television film
2016 Major Crimes Herself Cameo, Season 5 Episode 4
2019 Summer Camp Island Paulette Voice, 4 episodes
2020 The Fungies! Queen Antagonista Voice, episode: "The Twins Bug Seth"

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
1990 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 April 17, 2008. Retrieved April 2, 2008.
  3. ^ Roe, Dale (August 21, 2014). "Paula Poundstone talks crowd work, Robin Williams". austin360.com. Austin, Texas: Gatehouse Media. Archived from the original on July 16, 2018. Retrieved July 15, 2018.
  4. ^ a b c Wilstein, Matt (June 13, 2023). "Paula Poundstone opens up about the highs and lows of her comedy career". Daily Beast. Archived from the original on June 13, 2023. Retrieved May 29, 2024.
  5. ^ Ress, Arieh (September 1, 2016). "What Are You Reading? Paula Poundstone Edition". nypl.org. New York Public Library. Archived from the original on May 22, 2020. Retrieved November 20, 2019.
  6. ^ Notaro, Tig (March 1, 2019). "The 5 Funniest Stand-Up Specials Ever". time.com. New York, New York: TIME USA, LLC. Archived from the original on June 2, 2019. Retrieved November 17, 2019.
  7. ^ "The Ups and Downs of Paula Poundstone". NPR. Retrieved March 4, 2022.
  8. ^ "Programs: Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me!". NPR. Archived from the original on January 21, 2009. Retrieved January 26, 2009.
  9. ^ "Homepage". Nobody Listens to Paula Poundstone. Archived from the original on December 20, 2021. Retrieved May 29, 2024.
  10. ^ a b "PaulaPoundstone.com". The Official Website of Paula Poundstone. Archived from the original on October 3, 2020. Retrieved October 31, 2020.
  11. ^ "highbridgeaudio.com". Highbridge Audio. Archived from the original on October 31, 2020. Retrieved March 2, 2018.
  12. ^ "United for Libraries Forms National Partnership with Paula Poundstone". ala.org. July 2, 2009. Archived from the original on August 20, 2016. Retrieved July 10, 2016.
  13. ^ "Comedy Central Top 100 Greatest Standups of All Time". listology.com. Archived from the original on November 25, 2010. Retrieved December 2, 2009.
  14. ^ Staff, Chronicle. "Photos: Comedy Day fans bask in the sun and laughter for 42nd edition". San Francisco Chronicle. Archived from the original on December 25, 2023. Retrieved February 28, 2024.
  15. ^ 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.
  16. ^ 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.
  17. ^ 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.'
  18. ^ 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.
  19. ^ 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.
  20. ^ 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.
  21. ^ "Disney and Pixar's 'Inside Out 2' Reveals New Trailer and Voice Cast". thewaltdisneycompany.com. March 7, 2024. Retrieved March 13, 2024.
  22. ^ "Paula Poundstone". Dead-Frog.com. Retrieved February 10, 2021.
  23. ^ "Paula Poundstone". Discogs.com. Retrieved February 10, 2021.
  24. ^ "Paula Poundstone Shop". paulapoundstone.com. Retrieved February 10, 2021.

External links[edit]