Many comedians try to hone the perfect set and spend countless hours crafting segues so that their material flows from joke to joke. In her Friday night show at The Pabst Theater, Paula Poundstone performed with minimal transitions, creating an unpredictable, scatterbrained night of comedy.
Poundstone, dressed in one of her traditional suits, began the night with a breakdown of all of the Republican Party's most recent presidential frontrunners leading up to Mitt Romney. After a lengthy summary of the foibles or missteps that cost these individuals their shot as their party's champion, Poundstone came clean that she was far from non-partisan. "I should have told you that I have a bias when I talk ... perhaps you figured it out."
While there was a smattering of boos after she declared herself as a Democrat, most of The Pabst crowd seemed to share and applaud her political views. Later in the set, after making a joke that all presidents (including Obama) have short-term memory, Poundstone exclaimed, "Please don't go Dixie Chick-ing me on that," a reference to the music group's controversial anti-Bush remarks in 2003.
Despite opening the show with such a strong political slant, Poundstone dropped the subject for the most part and instead bounced around from topic to topic. The Olympics, Suzie Orman and television ads for prescription drugs were among the numerous items she discussed.
While talking about prescription drugs, Poundstone started to tell a joke about the potential side effect called "anal leakage." Unfortunately, she botched the first part of her set-up, something she realized moments later as she began the punchline. Reflecting on telling the story backwards, Poundstone laughed at her error and explained, "It just doesn't nearly make as much sense that way."
The highlight of Poundstone's set revolved around her interacting with various members of the audience, gleaning information from these individuals and creating jokes on the spot. This began when Paula asked the audience if anyone was from out of town or if everyone was from Milwaukee.
A sixth-grade girl in the second row responded by saying that she was from Muskego, which generated a big round of laughs from The Pabst crowd. Picking up on the audience's cue, Poundstone asked the girl, "Is that a land far, far away?"
Other audience members that Poundstone singled out included a woman whose boss had bought her the ticket to the show and was also in attendance (but not sitting with her), the aforementioned ticket-buying boss and an administrative assistant from Madison. The latter provided the most material for Poundstone, especially after describing that her workplace tried to help people quit smoking.
This individual also revealed that she had recently cut back on sugar and began working out. When Poundstone questioned when she started exercising, the woman replied that it had been two days earlier. Coyly, Poundstone elicited big laughs with her response, "What are the odds of me catching you at the beginning of your fitness journey?"
Unfortunately, by breaking the fourth wall, Poundstone also had an uninvited audience member who felt compelled to interject a non sequitur about caffeine during some of Poundstone's material. By asking for clarification regarding the audience member's caffeine comment, Poundstone opened a Pandora's box as the woman rambled about her battles with insomnia while she was in college. Unlike the interactions Poundstone had sought out with other audience members, this exchange had little give and take, but did feature an impressive lack of awareness from the college insomniac.
As Poundstone entered the home stretch of her performance, she returned to the sixth-grader toward the front of the house and asked about her favorite school subjects. Through this question, she was told that the student enjoyed everything but social studies.
"I feel bad for those studying history now, because it's so much longer than when we were kids," said Poundstone. She then asked the entire audience what Milwaukee was named after and received a confusing swirl of responses such as "beer," "Native American tribes" and "the rivers."
After humorously recapping her interpretation of the answers she received, Poundstone noted how much she had enjoyed performing for this Milwaukee audience.
In a somewhat bizarre ending to the show, Poundstone got down on the stage and offered a puppet show. While lying on her back, she raised her feet on a stool. With her shoes serving as the "puppets," Poundstone created a teacher/student scene that incorporated all the key moments from her one-on-one audience interactions during the set, including the uninvited insomniac. It was a perfect note that encapsulated the best moments from her hour-and-45-minute show.
Even with her choppiness, Poundstone gave a one-of-a-kind performance thanks to the material she'd mined from The Pabst crowd.