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Comedian Paula Poundstone can’t keep a secret

Paula Poundstone

Comedian Paula Poundstone is just trying to figure things out.

Poundstone described her improv style as “accidental — same as almost everything about me.” Her comedy career started with an open mic night in 1979 in Boston. She spent time preparing for 5-minute sets, only to forget that preparation once she was on stage. Out of nervousness, she started talking to audience members and commenting on things in the room until she said she realized that was the real fun. That’s exactly what the audience can expect when Poundstone performs Saturday in St. Louis, she said.

“I mean, I have 35 years of material somewhere stored in my head,” she told St. Louis Public Radio arts reporter Willis Ryder Arnold. “It’s a little bit like a computer — I’m not always sure where I filed it.”

Rather than giving an improv performance, Poundstone said she has conversations. The framework is well-known, she said: there’s a “hi” up front and a “nice to see you” toward the end with some talk about current events, work or family struggles in the middle.

“In a way, it’s the most natural thing in the world,” she said. “All I do is talk to people. Once you get people talking … you can tell a tremendous amount about the area.”

But if you’re having a conversation with Poundstone, be careful.

“If there’s a secret you want kept, gee, don’t tell it to me,” she said. “I can’t stop talking.”

Poundstone is a frequent panelist on “Wait Wait … Don’t Tell Me,” an NPR news-quiz show. She said she doesn’t have a favorite news topic, but does watch for “shady studies.” One such study that recently made the show was about the forgiving nature of animals — or lack thereof for cats, according to the study.

“I spent quite a while talking about that one because it’s ridiculous,” Poundstone said. “Who had offended a rhino and then waited to see if they were forgiven? I’m not sure that we could even do that study with human beings.”

Poundstone said she gets nervous when people say they get their news from shows like “Wait Wait” or “The Daily Show.”

“You should probably get your news from public radio or public television if you’re really looking for the news,” she said. “What I like about the shows like them is it brings a conversation to the dinner table and it brings the conversations to the bus and the subway and the workplace.”

She has similar reservations about social media.

“It’s not a conversation,” Poundstone said. “It’s more like yelling something out your car window and then rolling up the window really fast. You don’t have to hear what somebody else says back if you just have the platform for the moment.”

Poundstone has visited St. Louis several times over the years, starting with childhood trips to see her cousins who lived here. During one of those trips, the family visited the St. Louis Zoo, where a goat ate one of her cousin’s shoelaces.

“Probably not a big part of St. Louis lore,” she quipped.

Related event

Paula Poundstone

  • When: 8 p.m. Saturday, March 28, 2015
  • Where: Sheldon Concert Hall, 3648 Washington Blvd., St. Louis
  • More information

“Cityscape” is produced by Mary Edwards and Alex Heuer and sponsored in part by the Missouri Arts Council, the Regional Arts Commission, and the Arts and Education Council of Greater St. Louis.