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Back From The Edge

Paula Poundstone's "Unauthorized Biography"

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In the immortal words of LL Cool J, "Don't call it a comeback." Comedian Paula Poundstone has indeed been here for years -- since 1979, in fact, when she first began performing at open mic nights in her hometown of Sudbury, Massachusetts.

She rose to prominence as one of the smartest, quirkiest and most original stand-ups during the comedy boom of the 80s, and went on to win a host of awards, starred in two HBO specials, had her own TV series, was a frequent guest on The Tonight Show, etc., etc., etc. But suddenly, about two and a half years ago her career hit a rough spot with well-publicized, nasty legal trouble. But she says all that's behind her, and she's now embarking on her national "Unauthorized Biography" tour. But again, don't call it a comeback.

"I hate the word comeback only because I've been working for two years," Poundstone says. "I was only out of work for six months. But the media, of course, are huge manipulators. There's a sad, awful story there, but it's not Valley of the Dolls."

The sad, awful story goes like this: Poundstone was arrested for driving drunk with her three adopted kids in the car in June 2001. She pleaded no contest to a felony count of child endangerment and a misdemeanor for infliction of injury on a child, and was sentenced to 180 days in rehab and five years' probation. A charge of sexual misconduct with a child in her care was thrown out. This past December, Poundstone regained custody of her kids after they spent 18 months in foster care.

Poundstone touches upon her legal troubles turned tabloid fodder in her current show. "Thank goodness it was over two years ago and therefore it's not the main focus, but my act has always been autobiographical. The whole thing was my fault. I was court ordered to AA on TV. I'm now a nationally known child abuser, and believe me, what a pleasure it is to carry that moniker around."

It was just that kind of honest, self-depreciating humor that helped Poundstone rise to acclaim during the "great comedy boom" of the 80s, as she describes it. It's a time that she looks back on with great fondness.

"I was so lucky to have been a part of it," Poundstone says. "And there's a certain dust-settling quality about working now. I often liken San Francisco in the 80s to what Paris might have been like when the Impressionists were there. There was a big crowd of us that hung out all the time. And what was really cool is that the comedians and the people who were coming out to enjoy and appreciate the shows were all sort of in the same economic group. The nights that were really great were open mic nights. It had a momentum about it that was really fun and exciting."

Poundstone says that same kind of vibrant and exciting community no longer exists, and while she's glad to have been a part of it, she's also glad to have moved on.

"The best part of my life is right now," she says. "There's nobody I'd rather be with than my children. There was some really fun things that went on back then. But I'm 43, and looking back I wonder if I used that time as effectively as I could have, and I guess I didn't. But that's all part of being young and stupid. If I had to live it over again I'd do it the exact same way."

Poundstone admits that the often-grueling schedule of a touring comedian can make single motherhood tough, but says it's what she prefers both professionally and personally.

"I'm at heart a stand-up comic. Even when I had TV deals -- which have been few and far between -- I was always so grateful to get back up on stage in front of a crowd. There's a dynamic there that simply can't exist in the TV corporate world. TV is looked at as this really freewheeling medium. It's not. It's so conservative. Everything is "committeed.' That's why I love the idea of doing stand-up -- I get to say what I want to say and do what I want to do, and people either like it or they don't."

Poundstone takes the same attitude toward romantic relationships and parenting. While she's always had a big gay following, and has long been rumored to be lesbian, she describes herself as nonsexual, and couldn't care less about having a partner to help her raise her kids.

"I thank my lucky stars I don't have a partner," she says. "I happen to have been born into the world a totally asexual human being. I don't think I'd be a good partner. I don't want anyone else's opinion. I'll talk to friends who are married or are with somebody, and I shudder at the discussions they have. I don't like TV because I don't like "committeeing' what I'm going to say or do. It's the same thing in parenting. I've made some bad choices, but after all the stuff I've dealt with, I finally took the reins and said "right or wrong, I'm the mom and this is the way I'm doing it.' But I think it helps to have had the crap beaten out of you first to able to say everyone else can take a hike."

So what does the older, wiser and slightly beaten up Poundstone have planned if this whole comedy thing doesn't work out?

"I often think of opening a laundromat," she says. "Partly because I have obsessive compulsive disorder, so I think my fluff and fold would be unbelievable. People would travel from all over to bring me their dirty clothes."

Paula Poundstone will perform at the Comedy Zone Thursday and Sunday at 8pm, and Friday and Saturday at 8pm and 10:15pm. Tickets are $20. For more information call 704-348-4242.

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