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Sober Paula Poundstone hits the stand-up trail

Paula PoundstoneIt 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.

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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 financially?

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. Not good.

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 did well.

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.


-- Posted: Aug. 4, 2003
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