When you go to a Paula Poundstone show, you never know if you'll wind up being part of it, particularly if you don't seem to be having a good time.
"I seem to be attracted to the bad-relationship types," says the 52-year-old comic speaking from her California home. "The people who look pissed off always seem the most interesting to me."
That's what happened during her last show.
Poundstone zeroed in on a couple where the woman was having a great time, but the boyfriend, not so much.
"I guess that in order for you two to be here tonight, you had to agree to watch football on Sunday, right?" Poundstone asked the woman. "She said I was right. (The show) was her idea, not his. He was feeling like it was some sort of an ordeal. But once the show started being about him, he started enjoying himself. Imagine that?"
Poundstone says picking random people from the audience to chat up requires patience.
"I tend to leave my fishing line out there for quite a while," she adds. "If I'm not getting anywhere, I move on. I think some people are leery that I'm going to get their Social Security number and hack into their computer, but it's generally very warm exchanges."
The Emmy Award-winning comic will bring her one-woman comedy routine Saturday to the Straz Center's Ferguson Hall.
While standing in her empty Santa Monica bedroom, where she admits to sleeping on the floor with a blanket because "I just don't have a bed; it's too crowded," Poundstone says she interjects humor in everything from politics and raising kids, to animals and the school system.
"I try to find the real news," she says. "And, honestly, you have to dig through so much. It's like a flea market. There might be something worth having, but you have to go through a lot of Barbie's without legs to find it."
Besides her stand-up, Poundstone is known for her participation on NPR's weekly news quiz program "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me," a show where celebrities and experts answer questions about the news for points.
"I hold the record for losses," says Poundstone, who in her spare time works as a spokeswoman and advocate for the Association for Library Trustee Advocates, Friends, and Foundations. "I had six wins in a row, but then Tom Bodett brought me down. (The show) is very fun to do. There are a lot of smart people on the show. I deserve college credit just for breaking bread with them."
But stand-up remains at the heart of what she does.
"I think that's really when the real magic happens," says Poundstone, who was recently inducted into the Comedy Hall Fame. "It's the unexpected experiences you have with real people that will never happen again. That's really the mark of a good night — and hopefully that they are having a good time."
When: 8:30 p.m. Saturday
Where: Straz Center, Ferguson Hall, 1010 MacInnes Place, Tampa
Tickets: $24.50 to $34.50; (813) 229-7827 and strazcenter.org