Sober Paula Poundstone hits the stand-up
is to Paula Poundstone's credit that she is not only treading heavily
on the stand-up comedy circuit, but talking candidly with audiences
about all her troubles of the past few years -- because those troubles
have been considerable.
A stand-up comic for almost 25 years, Poundstone established
a reputation as a smart comic with a distinctively mellow but friendly
persona. She has had most of the successes that comics can have:
HBO specials, an Emmy award, tons of late night talk show appearances
and even an American Comedy Award for Best Female Stand-up.
Along the way she started a family, adopting three
children and serving as foster mother for numerous others.
Then, in June of 2001, the comedy world was shocked
when Poundstone was arrested on charges of felony child endangerment,
inflicting injury on a child and committing a lewd act on a child
under the age of 14. Her children were taken from her.
As it happened, Poundstone had been battling a drinking
problem for some time, and her behavior under the influence led
to the charges. Her fans were relieved, however, when the third,
most damaging charge was dropped. Poundstone eventually reached
a plea deal for the first two charges, and spent 180 days in alcohol
rehab. Her three children, now aged 12, 9, and 5, were returned
to her, although she is prohibited from serving as a foster mother.
Poundstone returned to stand-up almost immediately,
and now talks about her ordeal with audiences. Bankrate spoke to
the veteran comic about how these troubles affected her financial
stability and her vague strategies for the future.
Bankrate: Did your legal troubles affect you
Paula Poundstone: Yeah. Absolutely. Win, lose,
or draw, there's no way to come out of a legal problem with your
shirt. Those lawyer jokes are there for a reason, and the system
is just corrupt beyond description.
Bankrate: How much money did you wind up losing
in that whole thing?
Paula Poundstone: I don't have any numbers.
Bankrate: A large portion of what you had?
Paula Poundstone: Yeah.
Bankrate: At this point, is doing a tour a
financial necessity for you?
Paula Poundstone: Yeah. It always was. The
thing is, everybody knows this about jobs and the money you make.
I did a show at a casino for previous winners of these huge amounts
of money. And I never played to a more unhappy group of people in
my life. I had to come offstage and work the crowd because people
were at tables, and it was like they were in some sort of support
group. They were so unhappy. And most of them were already back
in the red. They were saying that people were coming out of the
woodwork asking to borrow money, which was where part of their unhappiness
was coming from. And then there were taxes and all that. So wherever
they started, whatever financial level they started at, they won
all this money, and somehow, in a really heartfelt way, it never
made things better for them. So when all this stuff came out in
the paper, I would read these things where I was making all this
money, and I'd be like, I don't remember that check. I don't think
I drank that hard. I drank cheap, twist-off wine. You'd have to
go a long ways to forget millions of dollars. So I didn't have quite
the financial fall that got told, but at the same time, I don't
have anything to show for it.
Bankrate: Do you have any other sources of
income besides stand-up?
Paula Poundstone: Nope. That's my job. I'm
really lucky, by the way, that I have such a fun and great job to
do that pays me money. I used to work at the International House
of Pancakes. I wasn't good at it. But no one applauded even if I
Bankrate: Have you invested over the years?
Paula Poundstone: I don't even know why I can
afford an accountant, but I have one. I guess to keep track of the
losses. I think I have those things, but I don't know anything about
them. He sends me printouts, but I don't look, because I know that
the news at this point is never going to be good. So I figure, someday,
someone is just going to haul us away, and I might as well live
in ignorance until that day comes.
Bankrate: So is there a chance, for example,
that you may own real estate you don't even know about?
Paula Poundstone: I don't think I own real
estate. I might own a little patch of land like the guy did in "Love
and Death," but I'm not sure. I might have something I don't
know about. Nothing that's bringing in any enormous revenue that
I can think of. Although the other day, I did get some checks from
some lab company that I had no idea where they came from or why.
This friend of mine said, "Well they're made out to you, might
as well spend them." And I said, "It might be a good idea
to find out why they're made out to me."
Bankrate: So did you find out?
Paula Poundstone: I actually haven't gotten
that information back yet, come to think of it. Somebody, I think
it was my travel agent, found on the Internet -- which I don't even
know how to use -- that there had been a check from the early '90s
that I never cashed, or that got lost or something, that was still
in the bank for me. That's how good my accounting practices are.
Bankrate: So if I ask how you have prepared
for your financial future, the basic answer is you have no idea?
Paula Poundstone: I won't say "no idea."
I do keep my fingers crossed. I have a rabbit, so that's the same
thing as having a rabbit's foot, really. So far, I'm just using
luck. And I'll say that in a broad sense, so far, it hasn't gone
that well, but it could always turn.
Larry Getlen is a freelance writer
based in New York.