"Dying is easy. Comedy is hard." So goes the old show business adage. An argument can be made that this is particularly true for stand-up comedy. After all, authors write and rewrite in privacy, painters create in a studio, actors and dancers rehearse away from public scrutiny. Not the stand-up. The only way for a comic to know if a routine works is to perform it before an audience. And the feedback is immediate (a laugh, a chuckle of recognition, a groan, or dead silence). Stand-up comics dance on the edge of a knife with every performance. Their creating, editing and fine tuning takes place on a stage for the world to see.
Paula Poundstone has been doing stand-up for thirty years. A long-time regular on NPR's most popular show, Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me, Paula performs some 75 one-woman shows a year throughout the country. In fact, she's currently on tour. Since she is known for her spontaneity and her extensive interplay with the audience, she's pretty much flying without a net every time she stands on a stage. She's thought a lot about failure and success, and she shares those reflections here. Her thoughts on her work are interspersed with riffs from her live shows in Maine, Massachusetts, and on HBO.