“You don’t stand up for a felon, you idiots.”

Bay Area audiences may not have the fine manners to show up on time for an 8 p.m. show, but they do have the heart to forgive.

Stepping on-stage to a sold-out, standing-ovation audience at the Palace of Fine Arts on Thursday, Paula Poundstone immediately rewarded her supporters with a wry, forthright acknowledgment of the private anguishes that have become unexpected public consumption.

The stop at the Palace was Poundstone’s third in her rehabilitation tour: not for her drinking — Poundstone has completed her 180 days in a Malibu treatment center — but for her normally upright public image. That took a severe beating, not just with her arrest for child-endangerment (she drove drunk with her three adopted children), but with a charge of lewd misconduct with a minor, one of her foster children. Poundstone pleaded guilty to the first charge – she had, in fact, already checked into a treatment center — and the second was dropped after further investigation by the Los Angeles district attorney’s office.

While scandals involving children resonate far more than, say, the too-numerous celebrity tales of adultery, Poundstone’s immediate penitent behavior and subsequent praise by the judge overseeing her case have helped. So has the longtime comic celebrity’s own persona as an advocate for adoption and foster-parenting (she is barred from adopting or fostering again), a political commentator, and a person willing to turn her incisively funny and macabre intellectualism upon her own personal failings.

In fact, Poundstone spent about a third of her two-hour show talking about being a “criminal” and her “twist-top, white wine” addiction. She called a correction officer’s badge that read “Jailer” “just so Fisher-Price.”

She fretted about being directed to a DoubleTree hotel parking lot since the San Francisco courthouse had no nearby public parking. “I am the criminal,” she announced. “If we criminals don’t show up, the whole system blows up – All these other criminals were parking at the DoubleTree. This guy was up for credit-card fraud. He got us a suite.”

Pacing back and forth in an oversized red striped zoot suit, a wide piano-keyboard tie and shiny ruby slip-ons, Poundstone didn’t take long to talk about her three adopted children, “11, 7, 3 (years old) that are Poundstones. Not genetically. Thank God. Believe me, they’re feeling good about this right now.” After confessing to her children that she did have to spend four hours in jail, two older girls begun indulging in “macabre weirdness,” asking, “‘Did they starve you?’ ‘I told you, I was in for four hours.’ ‘Did they starve you.’ ‘I missed a snack.'”

Even when the pace seemed disconnected, Poundstone’s professionalism and honesty made it seem like a normal chat with its ebb and flow. She took frequent tangents, such as narrowing down on which of her nine cats had a bowel problem, or a visit to her gynecologist for a burst ovarian cyst. “I’ve gone twice in my life. I don’t use those organs very much. I don’t care if they fall out.”

The comic took her usual forays into political humor, too. One highlight was how she illustrated her obsessive-compulsive behavior (diagnosed several years ago) with an anecdote about how she terrorized Sen. Barbara Boxer during an early-morning flight with her incessant one-way conversation. “I am listening to other people,” she says, “only I can’t hear people over the sound of my own voice. Martin Luther King could come to my hotel room and he could say, ‘I had a dream …’ and I’d say, ‘Yeah? I had a dream, too! And in my dream …'”

The only thing veiled in suspense, once Poundstone took on her recent travails, was when she would finally do her trademark slouch on a stool, arm draped over her microphone stand. She did so at the last 10 minutes and then, after consulting both watches on each wrist, lay down on the stage: not from exhaustion, but rather like a friend who lies down on your bed as the conversation winds down just before she has to go.

“This is my big comeback. Don’t screw with my big comeback,” she said, glancing at the audience. “If you all leave before I do, it’s not going to look good.”

The seats did empty, but only for another standing ovation. Not bad for a felon.

Vera H-C Chan is the Times event editor. She can be reached at 925-977-8428 or at vchan@cctimes.com.