Standing Up for Herself

Paula Poundstone, back on the road, hopes humor can help her put alcohol and her legal troubles far behind.

March 26, 2002|By Jim Sullivan | Jim Sullivan,BOSTON GLOBE

Stand-up comedian Paula Poundstone knows that many people have different expectations of her these days.

They think she should be contrite, apologetic and self-critical after being humbled by her misbehavior last year as well as being humiliated in the national media. That her proper tone should be atonement. That the circumstances - while drunk she endangered her children and was charged with sexual abuse crimes - dictate she should not be, you know, funny.

Then again, what is humor if not a coping mechanism? Or, as the saying goes: Comedy equals tragedy plus time.

"Every now and then I'll be doing an interview," Poundstone says from her home in Santa Monica, Calif., "and someone will say, `Are you worried about people thinking you're being cavalier and not taking it seriously enough?' And I say, `Oh, please. I don't see how anyone's day or life is made a stitch better by knowing that Paula Poundstone has taken every second of her disaster and labored in pain over it.' ... The people I owe apologies to, and am laboring to make it up to, are my kids.

"The human condition," she says, "is really sad. I mean, it's kind of a drag. We could have much better a time mostly than we do."

Last June, Poundstone, a single mother, was arrested on child abuse charges. In September, she pleaded no contest to a felony charge of child endangerment - while drunk, she drove her three adopted children and another child to a Baskin-Robbins ice cream store - and a misdemeanor charge of inflicting injury upon a child. Three other charges against her, involving lewd acts upon a child, were dropped. She served a 180-day sentence in an alcohol rehabilitation facility and was released Dec. 10.

On Thursday at the Senator Theatre, Poundstone performs in Baltimore for the first time since her troubles made news. She'll headline the annual Comedy Cares benefit for Baltimore's Health Care for the Homeless, a gig she did four years ago. The next night, she's in Washington for a show at the Warner Theater.

Joan Doyle, development director for the service and advocacy group, says it is thrilled to have Poundstone as the show's star.

"She did a show for us in 1998 that sold out, so we were delighted that she was available again," Doyle said. Poundstone was booked last year before all the controversy, Doyle said, but her group had no qualms about retaining the comedian afterward. "She's done so well for us, and she's so active in homeless issues. We support her 100 percent. She's been through rehab, and come out on the other side."

Poundstone agrees. She says she's not trying to minimize the gravity of her situation, but says there were, in fact, "one or two funny things" that came out of it.

"I'd never been in jail before - this was my first foray into crime, whether or not I should have been in jail I can't speak to; this is the first time it happened - and all the people who work in jail have badges that say `Andy' or `Barney' but they also say `Jailer,' and I find that really odd. Just like, you get up in the morning and you put that on - `I'm a jailer.'

"It seems strange to me. You know, most of us, when we're children, fantasize about having these Fisher-Price type jobs - teacher or something with a simple label to it. When do you say `I want to be a jailer?' "

The 42-year-old comedian, who faced 13 years in prison, says: "People have this bizarre notion that I've been `lucky.' How was I lucky? I was not guilty of much I was accused with; I was guilty of the two things I pleaded to. The rest of it, I was not. So, that's not lucky. That's really a bad thing when that happens and you have to defend yourself on those kind of charges."

She says she received no special treatment as a celebrity. Quite the contrary: She now faces a "little punishment package" she calls "unrealistic and so not productive."

Such as? "I've been ordered to see four therapists. Now, even from a therapy standpoint, that doesn't make any sense, and I know that to the four that I've seen it doesn't make any sense to them. But [the courts] just lay it on. It's costly, invasive and not helpful. If it was helpful, I would be all for it. If there was something that helped me at this point, I would leap all over it.

"Therapist No. 3 I go to solely to discuss how angry I am paying $210 an hour to therapist No. 4. ... If I'm that [messed] up, Jesus Christ, put me away! How can somebody who actually requires four therapists a week be up and walking? ... If the goal is because of my transgression I'm such a horrible threat to the public or my children, just lock me away.

"If you felt like drinking, this would be the downer," Poundstone says. "I admit there's this drinking problem and I'm doing my best to take care of it, but let's just bedevil me every step. ... It's like I'm being punished with services."

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