- The Washington Times - Monday, April 1, 2002

Any question of whether comedian Paula Poundstone would discuss her legal woes evaporated Saturday night before her first joke echoed inside the Warner Theatre in downtown Washington.
Miss Poundstone, she of the ever-present pantsuit and tie, immediately addressed her high-profile case as part of her extended stand-up routine.
In September, Miss Poundstone pleaded no contest to a felony charge of child endangerment and a misdemeanor charge of inflicting injury on a child. The court sentenced Miss Poundstone to five years' probation and six months in an alcohol rehabilitation center, and the state took her two foster children away from her. Her three adopted children live with a family friend and spend time with Miss Poundstone during the day in monitored visits.
The veteran comic's penchant for wry observations still serves her well, but her tour is as much an extended therapy session and a chance to vent as it is stand-up.
It's an unsavory mix at times, almost cringe-inducing when she discusses her son's penchant for spontaneously becoming "excited" while watching Jim Lehrer's news report on PBS. The otherwise charming anecdote curdled under the weight of her back story.
Miss Poundstone didn't go so far as to read her court transcripts, as comic Lenny Bruce once did. But for considerable portions of the show, her personal horrors gave the material a sense of urgency.
The Massachusetts native drew a warm, boisterous reception from the crowd, which at best filled two-thirds of the venue.
Clad in an apple-red suit and ruby slippers, Miss Poundstone fused prepared bits with riffs on Baltimore, cherry blossoms and whatever the audience shouted out to her. References to her plight, though, kept poking through the confessional tapestry.
"Mommy doesn't have the same money she had last year," she recalled telling her children.
Rather than steer her material away from parenting, she told one maternal tale after another in her slightly nasal delivery. Some proved worth sharing, such as how her handicapped daughter kvetches about everything but her malady. Others were of the "it's only cute when it's your kid" ilk.
She told of seeing four court-appointed therapists ("Sybil didn't see four therapists") and the absurdity of her jailers being riveted to Court TV as she was processed. At times, her delivery made it clear that she felt the punishment didn't fit the extent of her crimes, which, thanks to sealed court documents, may never be known.
She also discussed her drinking. She described memories of a drunken party coming back to her the next day like Polaroid stills, and her horror as the images slowly developed in her mind.
She said she should have known that she had a drinking problem when she brought a puppy into her home to join her nine cats. "Believe me, the cats were hiding the liquor after that," she said.
Her years on the road allow Miss Poundstone to banter with audience members, spinning their comments into material that's as strong as anything she wrote before showtime.
But some bits in the two-hour show, such as how the margarine lobby sought her support in its fight against butter marketing, wilted under their length.
When actor Hugh Grant got busted for an inappropriate rendezvous with a prostitute, he visited Jay Leno's "Tonight Show" couch for penance. So it's not surprising that a stand-up comic of Miss Poundstone's stature tries to reach the masses from her own pulpit: the stage.
The Warner Theatre's crowd instantly forgave her, chortling throughout the rambling set.


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