Susan Rice, Portland’s Funniest Person

By Lizzy Acker
Willamette Week (Nov 25, 2015)

“You want it to be funny. You want people to be pounding on the table gasping for air. That’s what you should want. In my opinion.”

Susan Rice’s backstory sounds like a lot of other Portland comics’. The Longview native moved to Portland after she finished college, and started doing standup at a small open mic when she was 31. Soon, she was getting paying gigs and name recognition in town and on the road.

The big difference is her timeline: Rice is 64. She started doing comedy in 1983 as a wave of standup rolled across the country, spurring regional scenes.

“I never wanted to be a comic,” she tells me from across the table at Grand Central Baking on North Fremont Street. “That was never my idea. It started in New York in the underground—Lenny Bruce. Then it came west and it hit San Francisco—Holy City Zoo, Purple Onion—and it made it to Seattle about 1981 or ’82, and Portland started in 1982, and I got in in 1983.”

Rice’s curly gray hair sits like well-behaved cotton candy on her head, and she wears red cat-eye glasses and an open smile. Her stage presence reflects how she comes off in person. She’s motherly and a bit shy, unassuming, so when she hits you with a joke about having sex with a 17-year-old trick-or-treater in a Halloween costume, part of the hilarity comes from the surprise. In the midst of the current Portland comedy boom, she’s one of a handful of working comics who remembers the first one.

“The audiences didn’t know what to expect,” Rice says.” We didn’t know what we were doing. So this whole thing was created on the fly, between the audiences and the participants.

“It was truly an American art form. We created it.”

Rice’s first gigs were at the Leaky Roof in Goose Hollow, where a promoter named Patricia Campuzano started an open-mic night after visiting standup clubs in San Francisco.

“Everybody paid at the door,” Rice says
She repeats this into my recorder: “EVERYONE PAID AT THE DOOR TO GET IN. Jesus Christ. It was like $2 or $3, but in 1983 that was three beers.”

Rice was a professionally trained actress working at a bank, and when she started doing standup she tripled her salary.

Read more: