‘Portland’s funniest’ returns to Ridgefield

Susan Rice has Longview roots, knack for comedy

By Scott Hewitt, Columbian Arts & Features Reporter

Published:

 

If You Go

What: Comedian Susan Rice.

When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday. Doors open at 6:45 p.m.

Where: Old Liberty Theater, 113 N. Main Avenue, Ridgefield.

Tickets: $20.

She may have been crowned “Portland’s funniest person,” but can she crack up Clark County?

Comedian Susan Rice doesn’t usually edit her show depending on the location and the audience. “I’ve got a lot of years under my belt. My show is my show. It’s geared toward everyone,” she said. It’s even clean. Not necessarily squeaky, she said, but clean.

On the other hand, the last time she stopped at the Old Liberty Theater in Ridgefield she noted a few Trump campaign signs around town and “got the pulse of the place,” she said. “I might have curtailed a few opinions. But that’s about all.”

Rice, who returns to the Old Liberty at 7:30 p.m. Saturday as part of Stage Left Entertainment’s “Laughing on Last Saturday” series, grew up not far from there. She’s a Longview native who remembers sneaking down the hall as a kid to catch Jonathan Winters and other comedians cracking up audiences on “The Tonight Show.” But she still didn’t connect that to her own life, she said; when she got older, she went to drama school, moved to Portland and worked as an actress for nine years. But the writing was on the wall that whole time, she realized later.

“I was always funny. I was always cast as the funny one, in every show, ever,” she said. She noted the popularity of a live, one-woman show onstage in Portland back then and started writing one of her own, she said; then she noticed a humble advertisement for a comedy open mic and went for it.

“I didn’t even know what a comedy open mic meant,” she said. “I just stepped onstage and did some of my material.” That was March 1983 at the Leaky Roof Tavern. Thirty-four years later — after moving to Los Angeles and appearing on tours and television shows — she’s back in the region where she grew up, and considered a queen of comedy in the Pacific Northwest.

In the news

The morning The Columbian spoke with Rice, a couple of weeks ago, just happened to be the morning after comedian Louis C.K.’s lewd behavior added to the pile of similar sexual-harassment outrages in show business and politics that started growing in October.

Rice said she’s plenty familiar with the problem. “You aren’t on the road for as long as I was on the road without running into it,” she said. “Every single one of my dear friends who were wonderfully funny women had issues. Some had lots of issues. Lots worse than me.”

“I will say this,” the comedian said, seriously: “It was never a comedian that harassed me. The men I worked with on the road, I was very lucky. Every single one of them was a champion. I always felt very safe and protected.” In her experience, the real sleazes were the club owners and bookers, she said. “It was the people in power who had my money in their hands,” she said.

If women with great looks are subject to certain kinds of abuse and harassment, she said, she’s been subject to something else. “I know I’ve lost gigs to women with less experience because of how they looked,” said Rice, who volunteered that she’s never fit the definition of “pretty.”

One time, she said, she nearly sparked an international incident when club owners in Canada stiffed her — sending her home with a check that wasn’t properly signed. She called the border police complaining about corporate fraud and effectively blocking any more U.S. comedians from working up there, she said — and got what she was owed.

“Every one of us has been in that situation where … we have no idea what’s about to happen until it happens. It is so incredibly devastating. I think it’s great that all this is coming out,” Rice said. “Men’s bad behavior might not have any consequences … unless women stop giving license.”