The CultureMap Interview

Word hero: Paula Poundstone tries to save Houston's public libraries one joke at a time

Word hero: Paula Poundstone tries to save Houston's public libraries one joke at a time

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Comedy Hall of Fame inductee Paula Poundstone is back in the Bayou City for An Evening at The Alley Theatre with Paula Poundstone. Her sold-out performance at the Alley last year drew the comic/author/cat-owner back for round two, and this time, Poundstone will be selling and signing her book, There’s Nothing In This Book Which I Meant To Say, after her 8 p.m. Saturday night show to benefit the Houston Public Library system.

CultureMap talked to Poundstone about her upcoming show and her passion for stand up, libraries and flamboyant ties from the '90s.

CultureMap: Tell me about Saturday's event at The Alley Theatre?

Paula Poundstone: Well it would be me, Paula Poundstone, at The Alley Theatre, but I guess that was too self explanatory. My act is autobiographical, I talk about raising a house full of kids and animals. I talk about politics and current events, only as I know it and not because I’m always right.

I talk about Abraham Lincoln and The Hardy Boys, but only where appropriate. I love talking to the audience. In the course of talking to individuals, little biographies immerge and I use those to go on to one thing and another. Most of everything is unplanned.

CM: Some people think your interaction with the audience is so funny, that they question if you plant your audience. Is that the case?

PP: Sometimes people think that I have, in fact, already talked to the person and pre-interviewed them before the show. Like they were a part of a written joke and this person was already part of the act. That is never the case though.

CM: What is your involvement with The Association of Library Trustees Advocates Friends & Foundations and what are you all trying to do in Houston?

PP: I partner with the head of the ALTAFF to make myself available with local library organizations. They are a group that makes libraries possible. I used to think libraries were all paid for by taxes — and all though it's mostly true, they are also much supported by local groups that help put books on shelves and help bring in speakers.

I don’t know anything about making a budget, but I do know that they are always up on the chopping block but libraries are the best deal in town! When I was a kid they were one of the first places I ever had a sense of autonomy, because I would go to the library to do work for school and be in charge of myself there. They're filled with sex and scandal and crime and Pippy Longstocking. What’s not to love?

I feel like they are a really important part of our communities. Some people think that just having a computer in your home can be a substitute, but I don’t feel that way. There's good stuff there and I don’t think we should throw the baby out with the bath water.

CM: You partnered with Houston public libraries, how exactly will they benefit from your event?

PP: The library has my books, they sell them, and I sign them. I don’t get paid and they take all of the proceeds of that.

CM: Are you working on another book?

PP: I am. Not quickly enough to rescue any libraries with it though. My first book, There’s Nothing In This Book Which I Meant To Say, took me nine years to write. When I started writing this one I thought, surely I will write it faster, but I’ve been working on it for a while and it’s taken forever. I’m not a writer for a living, I don’t know if I would want to be, really.

I love Charles Dickens and sometimes I feel a little shabby knowing how many books he wrote. He did have 10 kids but I don’t think he did that back to school shopping.

CM: Do you wear a tie every day? Where did your costume design come from?

PP: I love to wear ties! I don’t wear one every day, it's mostly for show, but it’s a nice splash of color on any given suit. You can put on a different tie and it kind of looks like you’ve gone to the trouble of getting a whole different suit. I’m certainly not the first woman who’s worn a tie. I probably was influenced by old I Love Lucy episodes. She often wore ties and she had a really great sense of style in my opinion. I also, of course, loved Annie Hall as well.

 I’m certainly not the first woman who’s worn a tie. I probably was influenced by old I Love Lucy episodes. 

I was in Beverly Hills once and stumbled into some fancy-ass store that had a green tie with cream colored polka dots on it, and I though, ya know, this could be it. I bought more ties soon there after, because A) I liked that one and I thought it looked good, and B) Nicole Miller, who’s a designer, had just come out with these wonderful silk ties. My favorite one by her had snack food on it, like Oreos and M&M’S or something.

There just happened to be a great fabrics out then. If I were to go to a tie store now it is likely I wouldn’t find anything that I liked because designers went back to dull fabrics.

I caught the good tie wave in the early nineties and have ridden it ever since.