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Paula Poundstone on Alcohol (which improves absolutely nothing) and Why HB2 Won't Keep Her Out of NC

Paula Poundstone performs at the Wilson Center at CFCC Friday, October 7, 2016 at 8 PM.

Comedian Paula Poundstone of NPR’s Wait! Wait! Don’t Tell Me notoriety is coming to Wilmington this Friday.  She recently spoke with me about one critical revelation regarding alcohol, why the HB2 controversy won’t keep her out of North Carolina, and lessons the Democrats still need to learn. 

RLH:  You’ve grappled very publicly with substance abuse.  You even joked that you didn’t get the advantage of the second A in AA…

PP:  No, I did not.  I was actually court-ordered to Alcoholics Anonymous on television…

RLH:  Right, so—

PP:  --which does rather blow the hell out of the second A.  And by the way, I think it’s great for those who opt for AA.  I have a very strong feeling that the government has no business telling anybody that they have to go to AA.  Because it is a religious program.  I don’t care what anybody says.  I mean, I did everything that I was told I had to do because the stakes were very, very high.  But having said that, I am a proud atheist.

RLH:  Yeah.  And is this still a journey for you?  Or is this something…

PP:  What – am I tossing back a gin and tonic right now?  That’s very delicately and statesman-ly put – the way you asked that.  I still don’t drink. 

RLH:  How do you maintain sobriety? 

PP:  The truth is, looking back on it, I realize now I can say this with – it’s not one of my steps – it’s just because it’s true – not because I’m trying to impress anyone – but it never made any situation better in any way.  Ever.  Not even once.  Not a party.  Not a movie.  You know what I mean? 

What I’ve discovered and I tell my children this – I can honestly say -- it never made anything better in any way and if I could take it back I sure would.  Too late now, though.

RLH:  Yeah, yeah… HB2 – you’ve probably heard some of the dialogue about this.  People in North Carolina have been watching performers, athletic organizations cancel shows, games, championship events.  We lost out on Itzhak Perlman, Bruce Springsteen, Maroon 5.  David Sedaris actually came to Wilmington and said that he would donate his box office to an LGBTQ advocacy group.  Did you think about that at all before deciding to come here? 

PP:  Not until just this moment. 

RLH:  Oh, no! 

PP:  No.  I really didn’t.  It’s funny because I do a joke about it onstage – but when I took the job – until when you just brought it up – I never went, “oh yeah!  North Carolina!” 

Nope.  I really didn’t.  And I probably should go David Sedaris’ route…

RLH:  What’s the joke?

PP:  Oh – well, I talk about Mississippi because they have the ridiculous --- what I call the – I think it’s called the Religious Freedom Act -- but I refer to it as the Petulant Mississippi Law since the Supreme Court insists that we have to allow same sex marriage, Mississippi says, fine, but they’re not getting any cake. 

I talk about Mississippi and then I go, oh, and North Carolina -- where you have to use the bathroom of the gender on your birth certificate.  First of all, who brings their birth certificate in to pee, but second of all, who checks?  I’m assuming it’s yet another responsibility for TSA.  It’s another Homeland Security one. 

No, I’m so glad you brought that up because honestly how stupid could I be?

RLH:  Well, I’m almost sorry that I brought that up, then, because—

PP:   You know, the truth is if Bruce Springsteen doesn’t go, if Bruce Springsteen cancels, or if the NBA won’t go there or the NCAA or whatever – won’t go there, okay, well this brings economic hardship.  It’s a newsworthy thing.  If Paula Poundstone doesn’t go, a few hundred people that really weren’t the problem to begin with lose some cash that night.  So it wouldn’t quite be the same statement. 

RLH:  So you’re punishing the wrong people, is what you’re saying, you would be if you cancelled.

PP:  Yeah, so therefore, I’ll go.  I’ll do…

RLH:  In 2006, ten years ago, you told Neal Conan that Democrats – and you identified yourself as one – which, I’m sure to a lot of people is not a great surprise – but you said they do a great job a candidate.  And so back then, you would have been referring, I guess, to John Kerry, who lost when he ran against George W. Bush in 2004.  Do you feel the same way about that today?  Do you think that Democrats still need to work on their candidate selection?

PP:  Oh, I don’t know.  It’s such a mess, isn’t it?  I guess we do.  I guess we do.  It’s interesting because years ago, during the primary they used to call the Democratic field the Seven Dwarves.  Remember?  It’s flip-flopped from how it is now.

RLH:  The Seven Dwarves?

PP:  There were several Democratic candidates on stage during the primary.  And in the last few years, it’s the opposite.  The Republicans have several and we have one or two. 

But in this case, honestly, I think the field for who could be president is quite wide when the opposition is Donald Trump.  For example, my neighbor who is 7, she’s well-behaved.  She has nice manners.  She comes over and she jumps on my trampoline and I only have to tell her a couple of times not to hang on the net on the outside of it.

RLH:  The show, October 7th at Cape Fear Community College’s Wilson Center… what can people expect at this show?

PP:  I talk about raising a house full of kids and animals.  I talk about how I try pay attention to the news well enough to cast a halfway decent vote – which we all know is not as easy trick at all anymore.  And my favorite part of the night, as we’ve spoken of, is just plain talking to the audience – the time-honored “where you from and what do you for a living?”.   

RLH:  Well, Paula Poundstone, thank you so much for joining us today. 

PP:   Well, it was nice talking with you.  Thank you so much.  Take care!

For information and tickets to the October 7, 2016 show at CFCC's Wilson Center, follow this link: 


Rachel hosts and produces CoastLine, an award-winning hourlong conversation featuring artists, humanitarians, scholars, and innovators in North Carolina. The show airs Wednesdays at noon and Sundays at 2 pm on 91.3 FM WHQR Public Media. It's also available as a podcast; just search CoastLine WHQR. You can reach her at rachellh@whqr.org.