Paula Poundstone has always loved the sound of laughter, which might help explain why she became a stand-up comedian.
“When I was little, my mother would send us up to bed because her friends were coming over to play canasta, and my sisters found the sounds of the ladies downstairs annoying, but I just loved it,” she said in a recent phone interview with the Islander.
“I loved hearing them laugh. Mrs. Hollis had the most pronounced laugh; you could hear her from anywhere, and it was just joyous.”
Poundstone will no doubt hear lots of joyous laughter when she performs at the Criterion Theatre in Bar Harbor on Sept. 7 at 8 p.m.
“If you like the sound of laughter, I guess you’ve got to try to elicit some,” she said.
Poundstone started in show business when she was 19, performing at open-mic nights.
“I happened to be living in Boston and busing tables for a living, so it’s not like I turned my back on a law career,” she joked.
She said she thinks her father and grandfather were funny, but she didn’t really get their jokes when she was little. Years later, she saw a documentary about W.C. Fields, perhaps the most popular comic actor of the first half of the 20th century.
“When I saw that documentary, I realized my grandfather was often doing W.C. Fields when he was kidding,” Poundstone said.
Asked what makes her laugh, she said, “I love well-played, illuminating political humor or something that points out when we’re being [jerks], but not in a heavy-handed way.
“Having said that, I don’t think I’ve ever laughed harder than seeing someone coming out of a restroom with toilet paper stuck to the bottom of their shoe. Really silly and stupid things amuse me. It’s not to my credit.”
Poundstone is perhaps best known as a frequent panelist on “Wait Wait … Don’t Tell Me!” the popular weekly news quiz program on National Public Radio. She is famous for getting hilariously worked up about things she finds ridiculous.
The show’s long-time host, Peter Sagal, has called her “the queen of the skepticism-fueled rant” and “the funniest human being I have ever known.”
Poundstone said people often tell her that everyone on “Wait Wait” sounds like they are having such a good time. “And the truth is, we are.”
Poundstone has two dogs and 13 cats. While talking with the Islander, she said she was sitting on the floor of her living room at her home in Los Angeles with a cat on her lap, one by her left hip, one by her right leg, one at her feet, one under a nearby chair and one draped over an arm of the chair.
“Who wouldn’t want that?” she said.
Her living room furniture includes three Adirondack chairs.
“I gave up on upholstered furniture,” she explained. “It just doesn’t work with so many cats.”
Poundstone is the author of two books: “There’s Nothing in this Book That I Meant to Say,” published in 2004, and “The Totally Unscientific Study of the Search for Human Happiness,” which came out in 2017. It was a semi-finalist for the Thurber Prize for American Humor.
Poundstone said she is glad she wrote the book and pleased that it got good reviews and sold well.
“But I honestly don’t know how anybody writes for a living,” she said. “There were times when the only reason I was writing was that if I bang my head on the wall, it chips the paint. Other than that, the two activities are very similar.”
As if she wasn’t already busy enough, last summer Poundstone started doing a weekly podcast called “Nobody Listens to Paula Poundstone.”
“It’s not going to pay my rent,” she said. “But it’s fun to do and I’m pretty proud of it.”
Tickets to the Sept. 7 performance range from $25-$50 and increase $5 the day of the show. Contact 288-0829 or visit criteriontheatre.org.