16,000 miles. 73 shows (21 in L.A. in 15 days). Eight states. 18 cities. 12 national parks. It’s really a numbers game for comedian Cliff Cash, who has returned to Wilmington from his recent comic tour. Upon his arrival home, he will be hitting the stage at Bourgie Nights this Saturday, Apr. 22, along with local comics Mike Santo, Bridget Callahan, John Gray, Wills Maxwell Jr., Steve Marcinowski, Brian Piccolo, and John Felts. “This Isn’t Funny” will feature multiple sets beginning at 8 p.m., but the night’s greater cause, aside from laughter, will be to benefit IRM Interfaith Refugee Ministry, which helps displaced people thrive in new communities.
“I was made aware of them by a friend, and he and I went to a volunteer meeting,” Cash tells. “I was really saddened and touched by what I learned. I wanted to volunteer but 13 days later, I left town for a four-month nationwide tour. I still wanted to do what I could to help, so I had the idea to produce these shows wherever I could. I did one in Austin, Texas, in March and raised about $700 for RST Refugee Services of Texas. I walked in and handed them an envelope with $700 in cash in it. They were really excited. We’ve kept in touch and plan to do another show in Texas this year. I’m planning a NY show in May during my NYC tour dates.”
Cash will take “This Isn’t Funny” across the country in coming months and will have his own two-day headlining gig at Dead Crow Comedy Room in June. First, though, he is focused on reflecting the world-at-large in a standup routine that doesn’t shy away from what he considers social and political insanity. We interviewed the comedian about the “This Isn’t Funny,” as well as his own process of being a comedian.
encore (e): Tell me why you wanted to do a comedy show to benefit refugees. Why does this matter to you?
Ciff Cash (CC): This is the second one I’ve done and I plan to do more all over the country as I travel. I don’t make much money as it is, so I can’t just do free shows everywhere, but I can do a show like this here and there and try to do something to help. The reason is simple, I guess: I just want to help. So many of us just talk about what we’re upset about or log onto social media and insult each other. Believe me, I’ve done plenty of both, but I think actually doing something to effect change is often what we miss. It doesn’t have to be a fundraiser or even volunteering or donating, but any of us who are saddened by racism and xenophobia need to try to do something to make some kind of difference. The people who are pushing these policies that are anti-science and anti-immigrant and pro-greed and pro-pollution do not listen to reason. That is how we got here in the first place. Those people aren’t going to take you up on a book you suggested on Facebook. They don’t care that you pointed out their consistent misuse of “to” and “too.” They aren’t [fazed] by logic, critical thinking, rational arguments or facts, and they certainly aren’t [fazed] by insults. So let’s log off and connect in a different way. Nothing will piss off your racist uncle more than you helping refugees, and I can’t think of anything that could make a bigger difference in the energy of our society than to step up our kindness.
e: What nonprofit is it benefiting exactly? How did you hear about them, and have you worked with them before?
CC: Every city of any remotely significant size has an agency that works closely with the US refugee programs. In our town it is called IRM Interfaith Refugee Ministry. These agencies resettle families and help them to adapt once they arrive. They settle about 150 refugees per year in our area. These are people fleeing past conflicts who have lost everything and sometimes everyone. Refugees coming through the US program are generally “in the pipeline” for a very long time. As long as 20 years. Most of the folks that have come to Wilmington recently are from Burma and the Congo. Most have lived the better part of 20 years in refugee camps with dirt as their floor and tarps as their roofs. Some were born in refugee camps and have never had running water or power or appliances. IRM provides these families a place to live, groceries, furniture, appliances, help with bus routes, English classes, and tutoring, help find employment…
IRM offers a fresh start to people who have lost everything and been forced to flee the only place they’ve ever known. Not one of us can even fathom what these people have gone through.
e: Clearly, this show as a fundraiser for displaced people is very timely. What are your thoughts on the current state of affairs and the POTUS decision to not help Syrian refugees, even though he bombed an airforce base there a week and a half ago?
CC: I honestly think that for anyone to speculate about the real intentions of our president or our military and especially our covert intelligence community is futile. Unless you are in that system, you do not know the truth—and you certainly don’t know all of it.
I genuinely feel like money is a big motivator in almost everything we do in geopolitics. I do not doubt [Syrian President Bashar Hafez al-]Assad is a scumbag. I also do not believe the media. Every country is being told by their government and media they are great and the other guys are bad. No one thinks they’re wrong. Assad is probably awful but he’s an optometrist who wears suits and supposedly has a lot of support from a big part of his citizenry.
Syria has free college and free healthcare, and is a secular country and governement. We say we have to go there and straighten him out for killing 80 people a couple weeks ago, but a couple weeks before that we killed 200 innocents in Iraq. No one is right in war. War is a symptom of human insanity. Some call it sin or evil or the devil. I call it human insanity because that is what evil is. There is no evil in the forest. There are no greedy deer or angry frogs. Humans are insane and war is proof of that. Anyone who thinks they’ll stop violence with more violence is insane quite literally.
There is a lot of money to be made in the proliferation of global war. We create monsters and then we go fight them. We armed and trained Saddam Hussein, Osama bin Laden, Ghadafi, Noriega. The Shah in Iran… We create monsters to fight. It’s insanity and it’s big business. I support the troops. That is why I don’t stay quiet when rich, evil men send the children of the poor to go die for nothing and kill poor people in other countries. I am a patriot. I believe it is explicitly patriotic to hold your government accountable.
I disliked Donald Trump ever since I was old enough to be aware that he existed. I think he is a genuinely bad person, but I also think the real endemic challenges our country face geopolitically are bipartisan—and the entire oligarchy must be changed. The only thing I believe can change that is mass consciousness. People awakening from a collective insanity that allows these things to happen, and for people who are so into themselves and their own lives that they approach global suffering with apathy because it “makes them sad” to think about it. Selfishness is also insanity and cannot continue if we are to change what needs changing.
I just imagined for a moment how mad some Trump supporter is when reading this, and then I reminded myself they don’t read and that is how we got here.
e: How did you choose the comedians you would feature at the Bourgie Nights show? Tell me a little about what you know of their style of comedy and what will be performed.
CC: I just wanted to have an inclusive lineup. I try to do that as much as I can on every show I produce. I also just really like these people and their styles. They’re all very different. They’re all very smart, and they’re all funny. I also know each of them believes in the idea of this show; we all know we’re doing this for a good reason. They’re the kind of people that will volunteer their time and talent to help people who need it. That is the kind of people I like to be around: kind, smart, funny people. What’s not to like?
e: Will content of this show be political, too? Is that a mandate to be a part of it?
CC: My content is almost always political, so I probably will be. I know at least a few of these comics are going to cover heavy topics and social ideals at least. “Political” may not be the word, but they’re all smart people doing smart comedy, so there will be some existential concepts thrown around.
e: Why do you think it’s important for comedians to approach the current world climate in their routines? Does this output of creative performance make the message more bearable? Or even hit deeper in changing or transforming opinions?
CC: Some comics get onstage for an hour and talk about farts and their wives being mad at them and the lady at the grocery store. Comedy doesn’t have to be heavy or issue-driven. The kind I like to do happens to be, but some of the comics I love have never done a political joke.
I do believe in comedy as a way to broach subjects that people may avoid otherwise. I believe in comedy’s ability to make people think, to change minds, to raise awareness. A lot of people don’t realize it, but Hannibal Burress brought the Bill Cosby thing back to the limelight by writing some funny material about it. Comedy can be powerful. Even when it’s just silly and making you feel better after an awful day, that is still powerful.
I’ve had a tough year between some huge financial setbacks, the loss of my dog of 15 years, my father passing away, and most recently my marriage ending. It’s not always easy to step on the stage for an hour and make strangers laugh, but what I tell myself before I go up there is, “Someone in that crowd is going through something you can’t even imagine—and they need this. Do your job.” It makes me feel better to know I could make someone else feel better. I feel like I am literally shifting energy in a positive direction. I am bringing laughter and joy to someone who badly needs it. That matters and I won’t ever stop believing it. That’s what it is about for me. If it was about money, I’d have quit a long time ago. I can’t imagine working just for money. That isn’t who I am anymore and I am so glad.
e: What will your routine consist of? Tell me how you devised it or if you have.
CC: I don’t always know what I’m going to say until right before I step onstage. I am a notoriously spontaneous person. I can’t help it. Even when I try to plan and write out a set, I often scrap it the moment I grab the mic. I kind of gave up trying. It is second nature to me now, so I just do what I feel.
My goal when doing issue-driven comedy, though, is to deliver something poignant that makes people think and laugh at the same time. Even if someone disagrees with me, I have taken the sharp edges off it just enough to make it digestable. I hope some people think, I don’t really agree with this guy, but that’s pretty funny. Then there are the ones who hate your guts for saying anything they don’t agree with. Those types of people are the reasons we have war. I never base anything I do on those people.
9) Why did you choose this path in life? How did you know it would be the right one? Or do you?
CC: Once I started doing standup, I got addicted to it pretty quickly. I think it really took other people telling me I was good enough to “go pro” before I believed it myself. Had great comics and other people in the business not encouraged me, I’m not sure if it would have ever been more than a hobby. Honestly, once I really poured myself into it, I remember thinking, Of course you have to do this. This is what you were always supposed to do, stupid. What the hell did you think you were going to do for the next 40 years. You’d have been miserable. This is a breakdown of my sane and insane selves. We all have them.
e: Most difficult part of it?
CC: I guess right this minute I’d say the hardest part is the sacrifice. It has cost me a lot. Most recently my marriage, but I also believe when you’re being your truest self and pursuing your talents and abilities, real and loyal friends will have your back no matter what. The relationships I’ve formed with new friends all over the country make me feel I have a support system of people who truly believe in me, not just as a funny guy but as a guy with a message and a goal. I know some of those new friends started out as the person in the audience who was going through more than I could imagine and badly needed to laugh and smile. I brought that to the table and they repaid me with their support. I don’t have a single fan. I have a lot of friends and I am so very grateful for everyone of them.