Funny lady

Paula Poundstone

The witty, world-famous comedian performs in Reno on June 3 at the Pioneer Center, 100 S. Virginia St. For tickets or more information, visit

You’ve got a new book that just came out, right?

It’s called the Totally Unscientific Study of the Search for Human Happiness. Each chapter is written as an experiment. It’s a series of experiments doing things that I or other people thought would make me happy. Each chapter is written with a hypothesis and conditions and variables and qualitative and quantitative observations, and hopefully the funniest field notes ever written. … My question wasn’t whether I would enjoy doing something. The question was, what can I do that would leave me with a lasting umbrella of sorts for the inevitable rains that come during plain old daily life? So the analysis part was telling the story of raising a house full of kids and animals, and being a standup comic, and being stuck being me 24 hours a day. … So it’s a memoir of raising my kids and the like. … The blurbs are pretty damn good comedy pedigree. I got blurbs from Carl Reiner, Dick Van Dyke, Dick Cavett, and Peter Sagal, and Pete Docter, and Garrison Keillor, et cetera, et cetera. So it got a pretty good send-off.

What were some of the things you tried?

Well, there was the get-fit experiment, where I took grueling tae kwon do self-defense lessons, which required, by the way, a lot of left and right, which I—I must have some kind of learning disability. I cannot do left and right. So if an attacker comes at me, they have to allow me enough time to pretend to eat so I know which one is my right hand. So that’s going to cause a problem. I rented a Lamborghini. I was going to do it for a week. But when I went to the website from the place that I rented it from—you know, some fancy Beverly Hills place—they had these pictures of the various fancy sports car, and beneath them I saw what, at first glance, looked like some sort of a lengthy serial number. And then when I looked more closely, I realized, oh my god, that’s the price! So I thought, yeah, well, for a week, I guess it’s OK, you know. And then I get the guy on the phone and say something about renting it for a week and he says [imitating macho salesman voice], “That’s not for a week. That’s for the day.” So I rented it for 24 hours. And I can safely say it was not the key to happiness, thank goodness.

Was there anything that did work for you?

Well, sadly, it’s not a real romantic answer. It’s a lot of the stuff that we all kind of know, but it’s still so hard to get ourselves to do. One of the chapters, I volunteered, which I still do. Having a sense of purpose is very helpful.

I’m a fan of your performances on the NPR show “Wait Wait … Don’t Tell Me!,” which you’re a regular panelist on. And I wonder how closely you see yourself as associated with the show, and when you started doing it whether you thought it would be a big part of your career?

I guess I didn’t, come to think of it. I figured I’d go and do it, and that would be that. But it’s been 15 years, and I’ve enjoyed the heck out of it every single time I’ve gotten to be on there. It’s a very clever show. It’s just inherently funny. The Not My Job questions, what they ask of the celebrities that they’re not likely to know anything about. They had Bill Clinton on, and they asked him questions about My Little Pony. By the way, he got them all right.