Stand-up Comedian Paula Poundstone on Improvising On Stage, Her Bad Memory and Lord Buckethead

Best known as one of the wittiest panelists on National Public Radio’s comedy news quiz show Wait, Wait…Don’t Tell Me, comedian Paula Poundstone has come a long way since starring in the cheesy 1984 cult sci-fi movie Hyperspace as a transmission repair shop cashier who is kidnapped by an intergalactic villain known as Lord Buckethead.

Since her clash with space aliens 34 years ago, Poundstone has gone on to thrive on the stand-up comedy circuit. Along with her steady guest appearances on NPR, Poundstone has recently started her own podcast, Nobody Listens to Paula Poundstone, and released her new book The Totally Unscientific Study of the Search for Human Happiness.

The Current caught up with Poundstone late last month to talk about her upcoming stand-up show and why America’s Founding Fathers could never have predicted a Donald Trump presidency.

Explain how the show you’re bringing to San Antonio is different from what we hear from you on the radio?
Well, I won’t be answering any questions about the week’s news, so let’s have no disappointment there. You know, I’m a stand-up. My act is largely autobiographical. My favorite part of the night is talking to the audience. If you start with, “What do you do for a living?” little biographies of audience members emerge and I use that to set my sails. Usually, what I say is unique to the people in front of me, but I do have 39 years of material rattling around in my head.

Most stand-up comedians have a script they stick to and maybe improvise a little if it’s called for, but it sounds like you do the exact opposite.
In the beginning, I tried really hard to stick to a script. The truth is, I haven’t really developed my memorizing abilities. I wasn’t very good at that, so I don’t ask it of myself anymore. I noticed that trying so hard to say what I planned to say created this rigidity for me — the stress of trying to memorize stuff. The funniest stuff I say is the stuff I haven’t planned. I like to be in the here and now and allow myself to say whatever I want.

It’s funny that we’re talking about memory and you had a role in the Pixar film Inside Out as a character who dumps memories.
Yes, that truly is my role in life. I’m good on stage when I can build a story with what people say, but in the rest of my life — oh my gosh, I have the worst memory. My children have mocked me about it for years and manipulated me as a result. They used to love to tell me I said stuff that I absolutely never said.

Your podcast Nobody Listens to Paula Poundstone seems to be doing really well. On your most recent podcast, you had a professional poker player, a nutrition specialist and a flutist on your panel. How do you decide on the combination of guests? So far, I’ve asked [producers] to get guests who could answer my questions about life in general. It’s a mixture of who [I request] and which [guests] are available. Then we say, “Well, this sounds like a fun combination.” The truth is, the only guy to really make any money off of a podcast is Marc Maron. Everyone has a podcast. Asking someone to be on your podcast is the new asking someone with a truck to help you move. You do it sheepishly.

Your latest book, The Totally Unscientific Study of the Search for Human Happiness, was nominated for the 2018 Audio Book of the Year, but lost to a book (Lincoln in the Bardo) with 166 narrators. How is that fair?
[Laughs] Well, life isn’t fair. I didn’t write an acceptance speech because I saw that Margaret Atwood was on the list of [nominees]. So, I thought, “What are the odds of [my book] beating out A Handmaid’s Tale?!” How would that look if I was standing on stage saying, “Good try, Margaret! Some clever ideas in your book. Keep it up!”

Who would make a better President, Donald Trump or Lord Buckethead (who ended up on ballots of real parliamentary elections in the U.K.)?
Oh, Lord Buckethead by far! You know, there’s almost no one who wouldn’t make a better president. It’s mind-blowing what’s happening. I’m not a great historian and I have large gaps in my body of knowledge and I’m certainly not a genius of constitutional study, but it strikes me that our founders never saw this coming. Along comes this despot who uses [social media] effectively. There’s no way anybody could’ve predicted that back when they had to have somebody hold the scrolls so it didn’t keep rolling up on their quill.

Paula Poundstone
$29.50-$65, 8pm Fri, Oct. 19, Charline McCombs Empire Theater, 226 N. St. Mary’s St., (210) 226-3333,

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