Comedian Paula Poundstone is not religious, but she’s got her rituals: jumping jacks, squats, push-ups. She sweats through 73 of each on a good day, and often shares her progress on Twitter.
Working out at home, she says, has kept Poundstone (mostly) sane offstage throughout the pandemic, which robbed performers and audiences of live entertainment for so long.
After all, she says, comedy “is a muscle.” And when venues began lifting COVID-19 restrictions and resuming postponed shows last summer, Poundstone says she found that muscle had atrophied during that long break from the stage.
“Man, it was a heavy lift just getting energy going in the room,” she acknowledged by phone from her home in Los Angeles. “I was kind of out of shape, in terms of telling my jokes. But the good news is, as a result of that, I found myself going in new directions.”
This weekend, Poundstone — a veteran of decades of stand-up, TV specials, NPR radio guesting, writing books and animation voicing — will flex her stage muscles once again during back-to-back shows, Saturday at Martha’s Vineyard Performing Arts Center and Sunday at the Cape Cod Melody Tent. Her return to the area is a homecoming of sorts: Poundstone grew up in Sudbury, performed her first open mic in Boston in 1979, and introduced her improv-style standup to the Cape more than 30 years ago.
“I don’t think up Cape Cod jokes,” Poundstone told the Barnstable Patriot in 1994. “I walk onstage and whatever strikes my fancy will take the show.” Her approach hasn’t changed. Rather than script a set, Poundstone says, she still prefers interacting with and playing off the audience, an act she likens to blindly swinging at a piñata.
“Any ideas that I have are written up in about three words,” Poundstone says of how she prepares. “I guess it’s a little like something from IKEA: I just assemble it onstage. But I kind of need the audience to help me edit.”
Poundstone’s Oak Bluffs and Hyannis appearances are among the first stops of her longest stretch of shows in years, which are scheduled all over the country through January.
“We were lucky enough to bring her here in 2016 as the very first show of the MV Concert Series,” says that series’ creator, Adam Epstein. “Now she is back with a new, bigger venue, and ready to build on the connection she has made with audiences.”
Poundstone will be the summer’s first comic to perform at the Melody Tent, which has also scheduled Joe Gatto (Aug. 14), Nate Bargatze (Aug. 27) and Amy Schumer (Sept. 3).
“We’re super-excited to have Paula back for the first time since the pandemic,” says Melody Tent marketing coordinator Evan Frye. “She always puts on a great, funny show — it’s always smart comedy.”
When the pandemic disrupted the rhythm of those shows in 2020, Poundstone threw herself into side hustles, continuing to pop up regularly on NPR’s “Wait Wait ... Don’t Tell Me!” quiz show, and racking up more than 200 episodes of her weekly podcast, “Nobody Listens to Paula Poundstone.” She and co-host Adam Felber attempt to tackle an array of offbeat topics: How do you score one of those Supreme Court justice robes? How do you survive life in Antarctica? How do you write a holiday song good enough to dethrone Mariah Carey’s Christmas classic?
“The truth about a podcast is every human being has one now,” Poundstone says. “Somebody should make a podcast that’s just about getting up in the morning because, honestly, that’s the hardest f—ing thing I do now. I have 10 cats and two big dogs. They’ll eat me if I don’t get up.”
Laughter may be the best medicine, but Poundstone says it shouldn’t be any tougher to swallow during a summer dominated by the rollback of abortion rights.
“I firmly believe that nature gave us a sense of humor as a coping mechanism,” Poundstone says. “And it’s one that should be used.”
How to see Paula Poundstone
When: 8 p.m. Saturday, July 1
Where: Martha’s Vineyard Performing Arts Center, 100 Edgartown Road, Oak Bluffs
Reservations and information: https://www.ticketmaster.com/event/01005CA99AAF62C4
When: 8 p.m. Sunday, July 17
Where: Cape Cod Melody Tent, 41 W. Main Street, Hyannis
Reservations and information: https://melodytent.org/events/an-evening-with-paula-poundstone/
This article originally appeared on Cape Cod Times: Comedian Paula Poundstone returns to Cape Cod with laughs to help cope