Paula Poundstone is back with a 2 CD set from HighBridge Audio that proves, once and for all, that Poundstone is the undisputed champion of crowd work.

The “big names” when it comes to crowd work these days include Big Jay Oakerson, Todd Barry and Dave Attell.  While Poundstone may not be as well known as those three, she should be.  Paula Poundstone is an industry veteran.  I have fond memories and watching Poundstone deliver her act back in the 1980s.  Having been in the industry for nearly four decades, there are few comics more comfortable and polished on stage.

Most crowd work is derived from selecting a member of the audience, and then either mocking them or forcing them into pre-planned material.  There is nothing wrong with that, per se, and if done well it can be amazing.  In fact, I recently reviewed the new Big Jay Oakerson album, which includes a lot of top notch crowd work of that very sort.  What makes Paula Poundstone different, however, is that she works almost entirely clean, and almost all of her crowd work is friendly – never mean or demeaning (a point made by this site’s other reviewer).

The first CD features a show recorded in Wisconsin, the other in Oregon.  Several times during the Wisconsin show Poundstone makes a comment like “let me tell you one more thing then I need to get out of here.”  She says that about half a dozen times, stating at one point that her show is like a hostage negotiation.”  Personally, I think the reason that Poundstone felt so compelled to say “one more thing” before she left is that the entire hour long show appeared to have very little pre-planned material.  She is such an expert with audience interaction, that she probably felt compelled to force at least some of her actual material into the show.  The second CD features some great audience interaction that focuses on the “hippy” nature of Portland, Oregon, including some vegan material.

When not interacting with the audience, Paula Poundstone’s bits focus mostly on family and her 15 cats, with some brief political tangents.

The one criticism I have of the 2 CD set is not actually a criticism of Paula Poundstone at all but, rather, of the seemingly over-enthusiastic use of a laugh track.  As a stand-up comedy fan, I despise laugh tracks.  If the audience is laughing, great.  If the audience is not laughing, either edit it out or leave it silent.  To me, the use of laugh tracks takes me out of the show.  Here, there are a couple of places where a laugh track is used prior to the delivery of a punch line, and it momentarily ruins the show for me.

Aside from that one minor criticism, this set features about 2 hours and 20 minutes of material, and is a solid purchase; one that you will certainly enjoy.

North by Northwest –  Paula Poundstone Live!
Paula Poundstone
Stand-up Comedy CD
HighBridge Audio 2016

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