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'Wait' pays off for Paula Poundstone

She has been a standup comedian for 24 years, but Paula Poundstone is finding herself recognized more now for her radio work. A regular panelist on NPR's "Wait, Wait … Don't Tell Me," Poundstone, who will perform Thursday in Davie, says the show has given her a new group of fans.

"I absolutely love that," she says. "A lot of people coming to see me have no idea what 'Wait, Wait' is. And a lot of others are fascinated that I'm a standup comic. They're looking for the panel. It helps me, particularly in my declining years."

Poundstone says people tell her they connect with what she says on the show, a comedic look at the week's news presented in the form of a quiz show.

"That's sad, because of my ignorance, my point of view is probably closer to the voice of some of the people listening," she says. "The guys I work with went to Harvard, and I am the village idiot."

Poundstone began her comedy career in 1979, when she worked open-mike nights in Boston. She learned she enjoyed responding to the audience, rather than locking in on jokes.

"When I was very young, I'd do open-mike nights, and you had only five minutes," she recalls. "The pressure to do what you planned was very, very strong. But I don't do well with pressure, and I couldn't remember [the routine]. I'd practice my five minutes, but I'd either see something that reminded me of something or I'd just plain panic and be forced to work the crowd. I thought, 'This will lead me to drinking ripple out of a bag in the alley,' but that's really where the heart of the night is."

Poundstone has since adopted three children, and their health challenges — and her need to follow the news because of the radio show — recently motivated her to write a column for CBSNews.com in which she argued that the public shouldn't give up on President Obama's health-care plan simply because the web site stinks.

"The people originally in support of it seemed to start to dry up like leaves, and go, 'Oh, because the web site doesn't work, it's a bad thing.' That was troubling to me," she says. "Well, wait a minute. The piece was strictly about people turning around because of the technology, and that's just stupid. Nobody came up with another idea. Where were the other plans?"

Her son, Thomas E., recently was ill, and Poundstone says she spent two weeks under the mistaken belief that he had a brain infection. But she found humor in it.

"I got five minutes out if it," she says. "Any brain infection jokes are mine."

Paula Poundstone will perform 8 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 5, at Bailey Concert Hall, 3501 SW Davie Road, in Davie. Tickets cost $10-$35. Call 954-201-6884.

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