Going for the jocular

Paula Poundstone hones her wit & raises funds for local libraries at Poughkeepsie’s Bardavon on February 4

by Frances Marion Platt
January 31, 2011 10:00 AM | 0 0 comments | 18 18 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Paula Poundstone
Paula Poundstone
Having grown up in the era of Mad magazine, the Smothers Brothers, Tom Lehrer, Laugh-In, Firesign Theatre and the early days of Saturday Night Live, this correspondent long ago subscribed to the school of thought that it is an intrinsic part of the role of comedians, like journalists, to “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” A certain spark of intelligence always seemed to be required to sustain a level of satire that would satisfy.

But then, in the 1980s, along came the era of stand-up comics of the ilk of Andrew Dice Clay who seemed interested only in being offensive for offensiveness’ sake, without any redeeming sociopolitical value. At that point I just stopped paying attention to media venues that touted up-and-coming comedians, looking instead to satirical songwriters like Randy Newman for my jollies. So it was that I almost missed the existence of Paula Poundstone.

Fortunately, Paula Poundstone didn’t let me ignore her so easily. She insinuated herself into venues where intelligent, biting commentary was still de rigueur, like Mother Jones, the Huffington Post and National Public Radio. My homely-but-faithful regular Saturday-night date Garrison Keillor brought her into my home at frequent intervals, and then I started catching her extemporizing on the issues of the day on Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me! I could no longer dodge the truth: that there is still at least one purveyor of comedy with a brain out there, and also that she is truly funny.

Bios of Poundstone rattle off long lists of awards and distinctions, generally starting with her being voted among the “100 Greatest Stand-Ups of All Time” by Comedy Central. The ones that impressed me included having been the first woman ever to perform at the White House Correspondents’ Association Annual Dinner and the fact that she served as a judge in the Humor category of Scholastic’s 2010 Art & Writing Awards, the largest, longest-running recognition and scholarship program for teenage artists and writers. We’re talking seriously cerebral comedy here, folks.

Cooler yet, and news to me, is Poundstone’s deep involvement with and advocacy for those hotbeds of evil socialism in America, public libraries. “It’s funny that we think of libraries as quiet, demure places where we are shushed by dusty, bun-balancing, bespectacled women,” she says. “The truth is, libraries are raucous clubhouses for free speech, controversy and community. Librarians have stood up to the Patriot Act, sat down with noisy toddlers and reached out to illiterate adults. Libraries can never be shushed. If you haven’t been to your library lately, you’re overdue.”

Poundstone is the national spokesperson for the Association of Library Trustees, Advocates, Friends and Foundations (ALTAFF), a national network of enthusiastic library supporters that believes in the importance of libraries as the social and intellectual centers of communities and campuses. No mere figurehead, Poundstone puts her money where her mouth is, supporting libraries on a local level by partnering with promoters and local Friends organization in cities where she performs.

Happily for mid-Hudson residents, Poundstone is bringing her razor wit into the Bardavon 1869 Opera House in Poughkeepsie next Friday, February 4 at 8 p.m. In the lobby, ALTAFF supporters of the Friends of the Poughkeepsie Public Library District will sell Poundstone’s book, There’s Nothing in this Book that I Meant to Say, and receive a percentage of the proceeds. Poundstone will make herself available for a book-signing (and free-range quip session, no doubt) after the performance.

Tickets for the performance go for $36 general admission, $31 for Bardavon members and are available at the Bardavon box office at 35 Market Street in Poughkeepsie, (845) 473-2072; at the Ulster Performing Arts Center (UPAC) box office at 602 Broadway in Kingston, (845) 339-6088; and through TicketMaster at (800) 745-3000 or For further information, please visit

The Friends of the Poughkeepsie Public Library District are headquartered at 93 Market Street in Poughkeepsie. For more information about the organization, call (845) 485-3445, extension 3351.

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