Utahns who attend Paula Poundstone’s standup performance in Park City on Saturday can be assured of a singular performance. Because no two of her shows are alike.
That grew out of Poundstone’s inability to memorize a 5-minute act back when she was performing at open-mic nights. “I’d forget what I was going to say,’ she said. “I would get distracted on my way to stage.”
Eventually, she decided, that was the fun part, where the real magic lies. Which is when she decided to allow herself to do that.
Poundstone was performing an interactive act before most people were using the word interactive. She picks out people in the audience, asks them about themselves, and she’s off and running. “I use that to sort of set my sails by and decide what to talk about,” Poundstone said. “The involvement of the audience determines so much. Every now and then I run myself into a dead end. But it doesn’t happen often and it doesn’t happen for long. And it seems to work out.”
She recently noticed the same couple at her performances on consecutive nights. They chatted a bit, and Poundstone asked, “Was it different?” “And they said, ‘Almost entirely.’ ”
Poundstone tailors her shows to the audience, not to where the audience is. For example, she won’t be preparing anything specifically Utah for her show in Park City. “Some people think I research before I go on,” she said. “I’m flattered. But, no, that would take far too much organization.”
And as much as the audiences she performs for are different, they’re also the same. “For example, in every single town there is a town nearby that is the whipping boy for all that is not good,” Poundstone said. “Somebody always mentions this town. It always looks like I know what I’m talking about, and I don’t. I’m just following the lead of the people in front of me.”
Some of those people are fans of the National Public Radio show “Wait Wait … Don’t Tell Me.” Some of them “have no idea that I had ever done anything else.”
And “WWDTM” gives her the opportunity to do comedy with high-profile figures, including former President Bill Clinton and then-future President Barack Obama, who appeared in person shortly before he declared his candidacy.
“Every single one of us, after he left, went, ‘He’s going to be president.’ Because he was just so charming.”
Poundstone enjoys trying to “horn my way into the interview” host Peter Sagal conducts with big-name guests.
“We had a Supreme Court justice,” Poundstone said, recalling when Stephen Breyer appeared on the show in 2007. “He was funny and charming and I was able to ask him some questions about his robe. And I was stunned by his answer.”
Turns out they have to go out and buy their own robes.
“I said, ‘What the hell?’ ” she said. “We could have avoided Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s doily altogether if we had just standardized the robes. And wouldn’t the nation be better off?”
When • Saturday, Nov. 10, 7:30 p.m.
Where • Eccles Center for the Performing Arts, 1750 Kearns Blvd., Park City
Tickets • $20-$67 at the box office; 435-655-3114; or ecclescenter.org