When Harry J. Riley first saw Spokane in 2000, he had an unusual reaction.
“I was blown away by this city,” Riley said from his Hillyard home. “My first impression was, ‘Man, this city is huge.’ I was surprised how many malls there are here. The other thing is that so many people have trucks, but they don’t use the vehicle as a truck like we have where I’m from. People just drive around in trucks in Spokane.”
Riley, 42, who will perform at the Spokane Comedy Club on Friday, is from St. Matthews, a one-horse town in South Carolina that was the birthplace of actress and singer Eartha Kitt.
“It’s a very small town with two factories,” Riley said. “I remember my aunt working in a chicken factory all day and smelling like chickens made her stink home. I didn’t want that to be my life for 40 years.”
The military was a passport to a new life, and Riley ended up at Fairchild Air Force Base. “I figured I’d do my 20 years in the military and retire,” Riley said. “But after five years of service I was diagnosed with lupus. I hid it for a while but when I went to Iraq (2005) I got sick and on the way back to America I knew my military career was over. I had no idea what I was going to do.”
The single father of a teenage daughter gave the comedy a shot.
“I’ve always had a good sense of humor,” Riley said. “I’ve tried it and I love it.”
Riley enjoys the libertine lifestyle, which is very different from his military days. “You were a cog in the military machine,” Riley said. “I was fine with that, but the life I’m currently leading is preferable.”
Riley will be delivering two different sets at the Spokane Comedy Club. The first batch of material focuses on his time from 2014 to 2020 and his life as a parent.
“A lot of it revolves around raising a child,” Riley said. “It’s a part of my life that a lot of people can identify with. There was a lot of humor growing up with my daughter. It’s fascinating to see how a person develops. Children change every day and I have chronicled their experiences as they grow up.”
Riley’s daughter is 19 and studying fashion at a university in San Francisco. “So the next set from 2020 is about me,” Riley said. “It’s about how it affected me. It was so hard saying goodbye to my daughter who lives so far away.”
Some parents of an only child follow their kids into college, but Riley’s love for Spokane keeps him in town. “Why would anyone ever leave this town,” Riley said. “I miss my daughter, but I love Spokane more than anything. There is so much to do here and the weather here is at its best in spring. I can handle winter as spring and summer are just the best. I can’t help but laugh at the culture shock I had coming here, but I’m down here with everything.”
Riley gushes about growing up in a rural town that had so little. “But it was my experience since we were so poor,” Riley recalled. “We’ve never gone to sit-down restaurants. I remember going to Denny’s here for the first time and it was a big deal for me.”
Much has changed for Riley, who has developed a sophisticated palette. “Now I’m going to Churchill’s and Masselow’s for a steak,” Riley said. “Life has changed for me and I have evolved. I love a great steak and we have some of the best steakhouses in Spokane.”
Riley likes to take his comedy on tour, but he’ll always return to Spokane.
“I think this town is the best kept secret in the country,” Riley said. “There’s no place I’d rather be.”
https://www.spokesman.com/stories/2022/dec/22/spokane-is-no-joke-to-hillyard-comic-harry-j-riley/ Spokane is no joke for Hillyard comic Harry J. Riley