Theater & art

history repeating

Paula Poundstone, still getting laughs

Use the scroller on the images above of Paula Poundstone to see her in 1995, left, and in 2008.

By Nick Zaino | Globe Correspondent

There is a remarkable moment on Paula Poundstone’s 1990 HBO special, “Cats, Cops, and Stuff,” when the comedian faces her doppelganger. The young woman may have caught Poundstone’s eye because her vest, white flowing shirt, and hairstyle were nearly identical to Poundstone’s. The woman wanted to be a comedian, or at least do something creative. She wasn’t sure. Poundstone asked the crowd if anyone knew what they wanted to do. No one spoke up.

Poundstone, who plays the Wilbur on Saturday, July 27, always seemed to know who she was and what she wanted to be. She started in comedy straight out of Lincoln-Sudbury Regional High School in 1979, and played clubs in the burgeoning Boston scene before moving to San Francisco. She broke into the mainstream in the late ’80s talking about Pop Tarts and her goofy cats when the biggest comedians were the rough-and-tumble Andrew “Dice” Clay and Sam Kinison.

Trends in comedy and fashion have changed ceaselessly since then, but Poundstone has remained consistent. She looks the same in any random press photo from the last 30 years. Her tie and suspenders, as these two photos, 10 years apart, reveal, are a little neater now, but she is otherwise frozen in amber.

The same could be said for her comedy. She has been through some tough times, most notably in 2001 when she drove under the influence with her adoptive and foster children in the car. Those stories, along with some increased attention to politics, add some bite to her act. But she’s always had a deceptive kick (watch her tear Daryl Hannah apart on “Cats . . .). In a “Comic Relief” appearance in the ’90s, she talked about her mother’s temper flaring when young Poundstone broke a “Flintstones” glass. “Well dammit, we can’t have nice things!” shouted her mother. Now when her own son gets mad at school and says he wants to blow it up, she tells him, “I don’t think you have enough science for that, do you, honey?”

The Paula we know – fidgety, observational, lovingly roasting a few individuals in the crowd – has always been there. These days fans are as likely to know her from NPR’s “Wait Wait . . . Don’t Tell Me!” as from television, but they are loyal, flocking to shows and talking to her in the lobby afterwards. They know whatever happens around Poundstone, she will always be herself, and she’ll always have something funny to say.

Nick Zaino can be reached at