Comic Paula Poundstone gets the crowd roaring at the Garde

Here’s what watching comedian Paula Poundstone do some absolutely genius improvisation Friday at the Garde Arts Center got me thinking:

I wish my mind was even half as fast as hers.

My favorite part of her standup is always when Poundstone does segments where she’s asking simple questions of theatergoers, like where they’re from and what they do — and, from that, she weaves incredible Rube Goldberg-like constructs of humor on the spot. On Friday, she played off responses from a chemist (among others) that became highlights of the night. When she learned this guy was a pharmaceutical chemist, she shot back, “Did you like ‘Breaking Bad’?” When he responded that he didn’t watch much TV, she was aghast. She asked what TV series he liked growing up, he answered “Gilligan’s Island,” and she was even more aghast. “Is it because of the Professor?” she wondered.

Poundstone asked that, since he didn’t really watch TV, what did he do for fun, and he said that he exercised a lot, prompting her to look askance and ask, “You want to talk about your charity work and reading poetry?”

The chemist grew up in Virginia Beach, which sent Poundstone off on an amusing tangent about a cat she had gotten in Virginia Beach years ago and about that cat’s struggle with an oversized neck cone a veterinarian put on her.

Poundstone has perfected the art of improvisation not only through years of performances but also by being on shows like NPR’s beloved “Wait Wait ... Don’t Tell Me!,” where she is a regular panelist. (For the uninitiated, “Wait Wait” is a news quiz show where comedians joke about the headlines of the week.) Poundstone does her amazing ad-lib thing, too, on her new podcast, “Nobody Listens to Paula Poundstone,” with another “Wait Wait” star, Adam Felber.

That isn’t to say Poundstone didn’t have killer prepared material Friday, because she did, on topics ranging from politics to parenting.

“Electing Trump is to Americans what beaching themselves is to whales,” she said.

Her three adopted kids are grown and, when people ask if she misses them, Poundstone said that all she has to do is make a tapping sound with a pen on her checkbook, and they suddenly turn up.

She spoke about her OCD and how, as a result of that, she often can’t stop talking. She admits she talks over other people. She said that if Martin Luther King ever told her, “I have a dream,” she’d respond, “I had one, too, only in mine ...”

Because of her tendency to have difficulty halting the gabbing, Poundstone’s shows can run long. She laughingly recalled that one reviewer likened her show to a hostage crisis. She said sometimes it helps if she dismisses audience members one at a time. In reality, the Garde gig wasn’t too long; it ran a brisk hour and 40 minutes, and it didn’t lag. In fact, although Poundstone doesn’t have a tightly structured set and she proceeded through Friday’s set in a not-always-linear way, it all added up to a quite enjoyable evening that felt like a peek into a wonderfully creative mind.

Another element that added to the overall entertainment: Poundstone has a talent for bringing back certain bits a long time later in the evening, creating hilarious recurring motifs. On Friday, they included surfing (she was perplexed that the chemist surfed in Rhode Island, which Poundstone clearly couldn’t believe has surfable water) and a repeated and varying use of the phrase “perjury trap.”

Poundstone, as usual, wore an eye-catching suit. This one was candy-cane-striped white and red, and she finished the ensemble off with a pair of shiny red shoes. It has always amused me that her suits are so loud while her comedy is often so cerebral.

Finally, a note about Poundstone herself. While a lot of comics seem to have an edge, an overriding aspect of Poundstone’s onstage personality is her niceness. Even when her jokes are barbed, she comes across as just plain nice. And that's a pleasure.

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