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Are You Out
There, Audience? It's Me, Paula 

Are You Out
There, Audience? It's Me, Paula 


After much controversy and a long absence from the stage, Paula Poundstone stages a successful return to stand-up Saturday night at the Wadsworth Theater in Los Angeles

Paula Poundstone, in her shiny beige zoot suit with the thin red pinstripes, has already told the audience at the Wadsworth Theater in Los Angeles's Westwood area that 12 indoor cats live with her and her three adopted children at their Santa Monica home. "And it's just as disgusting as you think," she adds.

But now she makes mention of additional residents in the menagerie: a dog that puts cats in its mouth and an old bunny.

"I was really drunk when I got my bunny," says the 48-year-old comic. "I think most people are drunk when they get a bunny. [At an AA meeting] anyone can get up and say, 'I'm an alcoholic'; it takes real guts to say, 'and I have a bunny.'"

It's a relief to hear Poundstone riff on past drunkenness: She's let us know that she recognizes the elephant in the room. Seven years ago her inebriation turned into a public humiliation, as she was charged with child endangerment for driving intoxicated with children in her car (another charge, of lewd conduct with a child, was dropped and vehemently denied). Poundstone got five years' probation and rehabbed for six months, regained custody of her kids (now 17, 14, and 10 years old), and has slowly but surely rebuilt her career.

The Wadsworth gig was her first big L.A. show in ages -- did she still have the audience that loved her in the '80s, when she became known for her stand-up? The answer was affirmative: A near sellout crowd -- filled with progressive boomers, some younger folks, and a number of cuddly lesbian couples -- packed the auditorium, and she kept us giggling for nearly two hours.

She talked self-deprecatingly about aging and her new jowls ("I called everyone I knew and said, 'My jowls are in!'"), about her parenting skills ("I guess 'Don't fuckin' lie to me!' isn't exactly the right phrase to use to my son"), and about recently screening One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest for her kids ("Mommy seems good, doesn't she?" she asked them afterward). We also got a dose of politics, as when she told us that the only speech of George W. Bush's that she liked was when he talked about colonizing the moon. "I would blow George Bush to get on that list [of colonizers]!" she shouted.

That comment was the closest Poundstone came to mentioning sex, however. Many of have assumed she's a lesbian because of her oddball suits, single motherhood, and lack of relationship jokes, but in a recent interview she insisted that she neither dates nor has sex and doesn't know what she is, predilection-wise.

But that romantic-love lacuna doesn't thwart her comedy, which is based on mixing her written routines with audience interaction. She publicly chatted with a number of patrons, turning the biographical details of their lives into comic fodder. "I'm an animal activist," one person said when asked by Poundstone what she does. "And yet you look so human!" Poundstone retorted.

At the end of the night, having left us satiated with guffaws, Poundstone blamed her chatterbox personality on obsessive-complusive disorder -- something that, if she wasn't kidding, has been great fuel for her wildly associative mind. "My show was once reviewed as a hostage crisis," she said. "Everything reminds me of something. Martin Luther King Jr. could have said to me, 'I had a dream,' and I would have said, 'Hey, I had a dream too!'"

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