By DAVE EMKE
Special to the OBSERVER
As a young girl growing up in the 1960s, Paula Poundstone wanted to become the next Lucille Ball.
Paula Poundstone will bring her standup comedy show to the Reg Lenna Civic Center on Saturday, Aug. 6.
Saying that syndicated episodes of "I Love Lucy" were her baby-sitter many mornings, Poundstone remembers watching the program and imagining growing up in the famous actress' footsteps.
"There's no question, what I really wanted to be was a comic actress," Poundstone said in a recent interview with the OBSERVER. "I loved what (Lucy) did."
As an adult, Poundstone has the episodes on DVD and video, she said, and her middle daughter especially enjoys watching them with her. And though she didn't follow Ball's path exactly as an actress, Poundstone has made quite a name for herself in the world of comedy - as a cutting-edge standup comedian who has hosted her own cable television specials, had her own network variety show, and has been a regular panelist on game shows including "Hollywood Squares" and "To Tell the Truth."
Saturday, Aug. 6, Poundstone will perform in the Reg Lenna Civic Center as one of the headlining acts of the Lucille Ball Festival of Comedy. It will be the latest stop in a standup career that started in 1979 in Boston, Poundstone said.
She said she was lucky to be starting in the business when she did, when artists such as Robin Williams were touring the nation and creating a resurgence in interest in the art.
"You could go on during an open-mic night and the room would be packed," Poundstone said. "It was an exciting time to be a part of it, and it was luck of the draw that I happened to be 19, living in Boston, bussing tables for a living right at the tip of that."
Poundstone quickly found that she was able to build a strong rapport with her audiences and get a positive response from them with her conversational nature, talking to people directly and bouncing ideas of them to build a unique show each night.
"I love talking to the audience - I find the real magic of the night is with them," she said. "I don't really have a set exactly, but I certainly have material. I try to fold in fresh ingredients on a regular basis, but it's this mixture of stuff that will never be repeated because it's unique to that crowd, that individual, and stuff that I'm excited to tell people because it's current in my life or all of our lives. It seems to work out pretty good."
Poundstone's wit and interest in current events makes her a perfect fit for the National Public Radio weekly news quiz show "Wait Wait ... Don't Tell Me!," on which she is a regular panelist. Saying that everyone who works on the show with her is a genius, Poundstone said she has enjoyed her experience on the panel because she is given freedom to say what she wants.
"Instead of getting people together and telling them exactly what to do, they get everybody together and allow them to do what they do, which is pretty darn clever," she said.
The comedian said that isn't often the case in the business, when producers of talk shows and other such programs want to know exactly what is going to be said so they can organize the show and decide whether or not they think it is going to be funny. An exception, she said, is "The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson," where the main goal is "to have a good time." She says the NPR production has the same bottom line.
"What's great about it is you go into it with a feeling of excitement and fun," Poundstone said. "There are no suits in the room, and that really brings out the funny part."
In her live show that she'll bringing to Jamestown on Aug. 6, Poundstone said she enjoys bringing the funniness out of the room without putting anyone on the spot and asking them to be funny individually, or by making them uncomfortable.
"It's just a conversation, and I'm not picking on anybody," she said. "I really just try to make sure everybody is having a good time."
Poundstone is co-headlining the festival of comedy along with Joan Rivers, who will be performing in Jamestown on Aug. 4. While she said she has never met Rivers, she said she has great admiration for the legend of the stage.
"I watched her when she used to host 'The Tonight Show' and loved it when she did - I thought she was great," Poundstone said. "It's exciting to be a part of the same event, though we'll just be two ships passing in the night."
Tickets to Poundstone's show in the Reg Lenna Civic Center on Saturday, Aug. 6, range in price from $15 to $30. They are available by calling the Reg Lenna box office at 484-7070 or visiting www.reglenna.com.
The show is part of the Lucille Ball Festival of Comedy, scheduled for Aug. 3-7 in Jamestown. For more information about the festival, visit www.lucycomedyfest.com.