THE ASCENSION TO THE BALCONY of the Paramount Theatre took Paula Poundstone’s breath away. "I’m actually winded from climbing the stairs, she said, still trudging. "Is that embarrassing?" Poundstone appeared at the theater this summer on the panel for National Public Radio’s current-events quiz show Wait, Wait…Don’t Tell Me! "I actually do cram," she confided. "They don’t give us the questions. But a lot of times my kids tend to interrupt. I love my kids. They’re like my cats—they’ve written half my act. Every now and then I’m cleanin’ up cat vomit and it’s so aggravating and I think, you know, I wouldn’t have a house were it not for them." And so it goes. Poundstone’s lickety-split, matter-of-fact quips and ability to create a spontaneous routine around her rapport with a crowd have made her a cult figure among stand-up comedy buffs. She’ll have the chance to interact with Seattle fans again flying solo November 15 at the Moore Theatre.

But even a pro can have a bad night—as she apparently did during a recent gig. "You know how your bag goes around on that conveyor belt thing and you just miss grabbin’ it?" she asked. "That was my whole act that night. At one point I asked someone a question, and they answered me—and I just had nothing to say. I’m telling you, if I don’t have the early signs of Alzheimer’s, then there’s no such thing."

"I love my kids. They’re like my cats—they’ve written half my act."

Poundstone’s self-doubt rides right alongside most of her jokes. She just can’t, for instance, abide theaters’ requests for her to arrive early before a show. Because being in a dressing room makes her lonely. "I put on some lipstick, push down a piece of my hair, and then I’m just stuck in a room by myself," she said. "I usually walk down the hall and look for the security guard, just to have someone to talk to."

Although she jokes about her lack of intellect, she can talk expansively about anything. A brief discussion of politics leads to the Democratic Party debates and the pros and cons of each candidate. "And I’ll tell you something: Ron Paul I very much liked until he got into the gun stuff," she said. "I think our forefathers were wrong about the gun thing…Kids who went to school with slates—did any of them ever intend to blow up the whole building? They never did. There they were. Learning Latin. They didn’t have a minute to plan on how they were going to take out the security guys." And that, Seattle, is called grabbing the bag off the conveyor belt.

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