Comedy legend Paula Poundstone brings post-election levity to Birchmere

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews Paula Poundstone at The Birchmere (Part 1)

Election Week was a roller coaster of emotions with President-elect Joe Biden declared the winner after five days and outgoing President Donald Trump refusing to concede.

So if you need comedy to take the edge off our heated political climate, check out Paula Poundstone at The Birchmere in Alexandria, Virginia, on Friday and Saturday.

“It’s insane,” Poundstone told WTOP. “I was at The Birchmere in Alexandria, Virginia, in 2016. The election was on a Tuesday and I was at The Birchmere that weekend and the whole crowd had this feeling that we would never recover. Little did we know that four years later we would still be climbing out of the morass.”

Once again, she expects an unrivaled post-election energy in the room.

“There was something so magical about being with that group of people on those nights,” Poundstone said. “Our laughter was explosive. It was so healing to be together and although I’ve come back to The Birchmere every year in the ensuing four years, this time around once again it will serve an almost medicinal purpose.”

How did she watch the results come in?

“On the night of the election, I watched ‘[PBS] NewsHour,'” Poundstone said. “I got up the next morning and I figured out how to make the news play through my iPhone. … Little Steve Kornacki in my pocket. There’s something about him that makes you want to throw a ball around with him. He’s a very childlike countenance.”

Poundstone herself ran for class president in sixth grade.

“I keep thinking of that because I think I conceded right away,” Poundstone said. “It was a tight race as far as I know. … In sixth grade politics, the hardest thing about writing a speech is that there are no issues. Even when you’re class president in the sixth grade, you control nothing. … You’re not in charge of anything, the curriculum, the lunch, nothing! … Imagine how badly that prepared us for adult politics.”

Born in Alabama in 1959, Poundstone bounced around from Boston to Orlando with her first job being bussing tables at IHOP.

“I did work at the International House of Pancakes, but I believe Trump has taken us out of that now,” Poundstone said. “I went to see a band [in Cambridge, Massachusetts] and there was a flyer on the all saying they had comedy every Sunday night. … I was like, ‘You know what? I can do that.’ So they began having open mic nights and I jumped in with both feet.”

Before long, Poundstone began pounding the pavement by taking her act on the road.

“After about a year of telling little jokes in Boston at mostly open-mic nights, I got on a Greyhound bus and I went all around the country and up into Canada to see what comedy clubs were like in different cities,” Poundstone said. “When I got to San Francisco, I so fell in love with the audience that I just didn’t leave.”

While in San Francisco, she was discovered by the late great Robin Williams.

“Any comic my age or younger owes a debt to Robin Williams,” Poundstone said. “The renewed excitement in that form of entertainment that he created was all over the country. … There was this almost palpable electricity around the country with this feeling that Robin Williams might stop by. … This made audiences come out in part hoping to see him and when they saw the rest of us they kind of liked us.”

In 1989, Poundstone won the American Comedy Award for Best Female Stand-Up Comic. In 1990, she became the first woman to win the CableACE Award for Best Stand-up Comedy Special for her HBO special “Cats, Cops and Stuff.”

In 1992, she became a household name on Jay Leno’s “The Tonight Show,” doing backstage reports from the presidential conventions of George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton.

“It was right after Jay took over ‘The Tonight Show’ from Johnny Carson,” Poundstone said. “The idea was that I’d take my ignorance on the road. I had followed politics by that time in my life, but I was still relatively new. … I had certainly never been to a convention before. … I was kind of discovering it as I was reporting it.”

More recently, she joined Joan Rivers on BRAVO’s “Funny Girls” (2006), voiced one of the characters in Pixar’s “Inside Out” (2015) and released the double-disc album “North By Northwest: Paula Poundstone Live,” which debuted at No. 1 on Amazon.

Lately, it’s been wild being a comedian during a pandemic.

“I hope that [Dr.] Fauci will be on the new coronavirus task force,” Poundstone said. “I’m not sure that I would take a vaccine unless he told me to. If he said it’s good to go, then I’m all in. … I have a theory that we should all be keeping journals for future generations … because I feel that people in the future need to know to what level we’ve been affected.”

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews Paula Poundstone at The Birchmere (Part 2)

Listen to our full conversation here.

Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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