Feb. 19 2016 07:31 AM

Review: Paula Poundstone works the crowd in Wharton Center performance

FRIDAY, Feb. 19 — When Paula Poundstone took the stage at the Wharton Center last night, she didn’t waste any time getting to the day’s hottest political topic.

“So the pope thinks … ,” Poundstone began, but couldn’t finish the thought. The audience was already laughing in anticipation.

Paula Poundstone
Courtesy photo
After weighing in on Donald Trump’s beef with the pope and the Republican presidential debates, Poundstone shifted to her trademark crowd work. A couple caught her eye as they squirmed their way through an aisle to their seats.

“There are people with seats in the middle arriving late!” she exclaimed.

Poundstone seems to have a knack for finding audience members with odd vocations. Tonight was no exception. One of the late arrivers worked at an Ann Arbor firm that electronically disseminates bond offerings for municipalities, or something like that. Poundstone needled the woman on the particulars of her job.

The veteran comedian’s wide ranging performance lasted nearly two hours, covering topics from motherhood to glaucoma to prescription drug side effects to her daughter (who is going to college in Portland, Ore.) taking up veganism.

“I can cook for my son and I. I can’t cook for her,” Poundstone quipped. “She mostly sucks on a wicker chair. There’s a bird feeder out back for dessert.”

Poundstone filled the lower level of Wharton Center’s Cobb Great Hall, and the crowd even spilled into the first few rows of the balcony.

“Is there anyone up in the balcony?” Poundstone asked early in the set. “They told me that if I sold enough tickets they would open the balcony. I don’t want to keep looking up there if there’s nobody up there.”

Poundstone took a serious tone while discussing laptops and tablets in school, arguing that there is “zero evidence” that the technology assists learning and may even hinder it. She lamented that schools spend so much money on these items while physical education, art, music and other subjects that are “proven to help learning” are always “first on the chopping block” when budgets are tight.

The act was a mix of tried-and-true bits from her decades worth of material, some topics that seemed to strike her at the moment and a good amount of time spent talking to the audience. She kept the audience hooked with virtually non-stop material, shifting quickly from one segment to the next. She let up only briefly at times to gather her thoughts before launching into a completely new topic. The Flint Water Crisis came up a few times, albeit briefly, in her crowd interactions. One audience member Poundstone singled out said that he worked for the EPA.

“The EPA?” Pounstone asked. “I can’t believe you would even say those letters in this room.”

Another audience member, a security guard for the state senate and a retired Lansing police officer, managed to land a joke of his own.

“How armed are you?” Paula asked the man.

“I have two,” he replied.