John Cantu doing the door at the Zoo John doing the door at the Holy City Zoo

My Love Affair with Paula Poundstone

by John Cantu ©

I was interviewed for E! the Entertainment Channel's Paula Poundstone - The Real Hollywood Story, which aired on December 16, 2001.

I met her in the late 70s at a party. In the kitchen I saw a woman hunched over the kitchen sink washing dishes. She turned around and I was instantly smitten the first time I saw her face.

Back then I was one of the "bad boys" of comedy and I didn't know who she was. I didn't want to embarrass myself by making a play for some comic's new girlfriend so I didn't try to chat her up.

I soon noticed all the other male comics responded to her in a "big brother is gonna be protect little sister" manner. I realized if I made a play for her, I would catch major big time grief from the comedy community. So while I had an outrageously big crush on Poundstone, I never let it show.

After a couple of years she approached me and said, "Cantu we have to talk." We went to a nearby restaurant for coffee. "Cantu, why do you ignore me all the time? At the club, you always walk past me like I'm not even there."

I had discovered a lot of comedians had no perception of the reality that I was running a fast-paced business. I wasn't watching the comedians. I was watching the audience to make sure that they were happy, that they were buying drinks, they were gonna stay for a while.

I told her all this and for some unknown reason I looked her in the eye and said, "And sometimes I am distant because I have a tremendous crush on you and I simply don't know how to deal with those feelings." She didn't reply to that and to this day I don't know if she had an inkling of my feelings before that moment.

My basic memories of her are that she showed up, was always polite, and by and large had good sets. I never remembered her getting drunk (which is why the recent revelations of her drinking problems were such a shock to me) or getting stoned or doing coke. (And it infuriates me to know that the prosecutor tossed in the sexual innuendoes for publicity purposes - folks, you don't just totally drop charges like that a few weeks later if there is a basis in reality for them.)

I used to do theme shows and she used to talk about having difficulty with her hair. "I can't get my hair to do what I want it to do - what I want it to do is type." The first theme show I booked her in was "Weird hair night" - with Billy Jaye and Perry Kurtz.

In preparation for the interview for E! I called up Don Stevens, former house MC for the Holy City Zoo and asked him about any stories I might have forgotten. He said, "Well Cantu, the main thing I remember is that you gave Paula her first headline gig." I had totally forgotten I was the first producer to headline her.

But I think the most memorable encounter with Poundstone was when I was drunk and trying to give her some professional career advice. I had consumed a pint or two of vodka. The next day my partner Susan Cerce said, "You were yelling at poor Paula."

I didn't remember any of it. Years later the San Francisco Chronicle did a story with a picture of me helping some comic with her microphone.

Two days later the Chronicle published a letter signed by Paula Poundstone. I am paraphrasing from memory, but the gist was:

I saw the picture of Cantu "teaching" someone how to use a microphone. Any sixteen year old who works a McDonald's drive-up window knows how to talk into a microphone.

If you want to be a comedian, go to a comedy club open mike and do a set. Then take the money you would have paid Cantu and buy a coke. Sip on the coke and reflect on what you have learned.

Let me tell you the advice Cantu once gave me - " Wear a bra!"

Thanks Sage.

Ouch! I really was stung. I still liked Paula (although I no longer had the overflowing, flaming passion I had once had). And I was embarrassed to realize how much pain I must have caused her back then.

It's one of the few times in my life where I felt, "I wish I could go back and change that moment in time."

That night at the Zoo Renee Hicks, one of my successful "graduates" of a few years earlier, dropped in to do a guest set. I said, "did you read the letter to the editor from Poundstone?" Renee said, "Yes."

I said, "What's your take on it?" She said, "I want to ask Paula, 'on stage, do you wear a bra now?' "

Cantu notes: So my love for Paula Poundstone was an unrequited love.

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