With cats, as with any criminal, the question naturally arises: nature versus nurture.
Are they born bad? Or are they simply the product of a bad environment, poor role models, lack of educational opportunities?
No question, says comedian Paula Poundstone. Cats are naturally depraved. Rehabilitation is wasted on them.
"They're all badly behaved," said Poundstone, whose own cats (she has 12, at the moment) are a frequent topic of discussion at her live comedy shows, like the one she will be doing 8 p.m. March 10 at BergenPAC in Englewood (she'll also be appearing April 13 at The Jay and Linda Grunin Center for the Arts in Toms River).
"They've virtually ruled my act for years," Poundstone said. "I could do two different nights on stage, entirely about cats, and not repeat anything."
Recently NPR paid her a signal compliment. On the Feb. 27 edition of the radio talk show "All of It With Allison Stewart," Poundstone was asked to preside over "Cat Court." Listeners called in with their tales of cat crimes. Poundstone gave them a hearing and meted out justice: a zoological Judge Judy.
Artie's call was typical. His cat Max had been continually shaking his head. An ear infection? Artie took Max to the vet. Nothing. Poundstone had seen such behavior before. Feline Fraud, she declared. "A lot of times they will fake injuries or fake ailments," she said.
Then there was the case of Boogie, a five-month-old kitten. His love overtures to Badu, five years his senior, were always violently rebuffed. Lisa, the caller, was concerned about poor little Boogie. Could he survive such rejection?
Serves him right Poundstone said. After all, consider his motives. "There's really no reason why a younger cat should like an older cat," she said. "It is a gold digger thing."
Cats, Poundstone feels, are hard-wired for such anti-social behavior. Yet judicially speaking, she is a Liberal. She is one of those judges who let malefactors off with a rap on the front paw. And society pays the price.
"Everybody has badly behaved cats," she said. "I allowed almost all of them to claim executive privilege."
Perhaps you question Poundstone's legal bona fides — given that she's most famous for her HBO specials, her TV spots on "The Tonight Show" and "The Rosie O'Donnell Show," her recurring visits to radio's "Wait, wait...Don't Tell Me!" "A Prairie Home Companion," her podcast "Nobody Listens to Paula Poundstone," and her movies like "Hyperspace" and "Inside Out."
But Poundstone, as she points out, is no stranger to the judiciary. Back in 1997, she voiced Judge Stone on the ABC Kids cartoon series "Science Court." And she certainly knows cats.
"I notoriously have had a lot of cats," she said. "At my peak, I had 16. My census is currently down." She has, in consequence, been witness to all sorts of criminal feline behavior.
She has seen cats disturb the peace. Tonks, a Siamese, was a prime offender.
"Siamese are all country-western singers," she said. "There's nothing a Siamese cat enjoys more than going into a hallway and crying, so the volume of the cries bounces off the walls. They love hearing themselves emote. This cat does a version of 'Jolene' you wouldn't believe. That's a bad cat right there."
She has known cats who were vandals, destroyers of property. King Tut, another Siamese, was a serial offender.
"He used to eat any kind of round electrical cords," she said. "Not the flat ones, but the round ones. He chewed down to the point where we all marveled he didn't get electrocuted. He ate shoelaces. You'd go to tie your shoes, it was just like these little spitty ends there."
Another of her cats had it in for clothing and bedspreads.
"He used to eat sweatshirt material and flannel," she said. "I had a flannel sheet, and I would wake up in the night hearing him chew on that flannel sheet. He ate almost the entire thing. Just a little bit at a time, not all at once. Night after night he would come in and eat my flannel sheet. He also ate holes in all my sweat pants."
Traffic violations are another criminal enterprise to which cats are naturally drawn.
"They do this thing, where they walk in front of me, the way cops slow traffic on the freeway," she said. "That windy, serpentine thing. They keep crossing in front of me. They should at least get a ticket for that."
Still, she can't bring herself to be hard on them. None of us can. Which is why, very likely, they will continue to be a menace. They know there will be no consequences.
"What we've learned is, when there is no accountability, they'll just do it again," Poundstone said.
If you go...
Paula Poundstone, 8 p.m. March 10, bergenPAC, 30 North Van Brunt Street, Englewood. $29 to $49. 201 227-1030 or bergenpac.org
Also: 7 p.m. April 13, Jay and Linda Grunin Center for the Arts, Ocean County College, 1 College Dr., Toms River. $35 to $45. 732-255-0500 or grunincenter.org
This article originally appeared on NorthJersey.com: Comedian Paula Poundstone at BergenPAC in Englewood: Expect cat jokes