Clifton Cash calls comedy a form of alchemy—a moment of transformation or creation, or the combination of both, even.
“Good comedy is about taking something dark and heavy and inherently unfunny and adding levity to it, finding the angle that can bring you out of the dark place and into the light,” he explains.
Cash has had quite a year to turn heavy topics of his life into a platform of release. In the spring of 2016, his father passed away unexpectedly and then his dog died. In the spring of 2017, he endured a divorce and essentially lost his home. In between, Cash has traveled 24,000 miles in his car across the US, touring comedy clubs and doing standup shows. He says laughing at tragedy strips its power.
“I’m realizing, as I get older and hopefully wiser, I don’t really know what is good and what is bad,” he notes. “Maybe there is no good or bad. I miss my father, for example, but everyone passes away. . . . One short joke I say is, ‘I lost my dad recently, and it’s been really hard. Christmas was especially hard. It was my first Christmas without him but I knew he was looking down on me (long pause)—because that’s what he did every Christmas.”
In reality, Cash looked up to his father. It’s the wordplay that turned Cash onto the joke. Still, it wasn’t easy to do. “It was honestly hard to pull the humor out of that loss, and I’m still working on it,” he tells. “I think those things present themselves to you over time.”
The support and unconditional love Cash received from family and friends during that time proved the existence of something greater: profound love. Cash learned about his father’s humility and kindness in ways he hadn’t before.
“I got to hear stories about great things my father had done that he would never have told anyone himself,” Cash says. “I realized by the end of it, maybe my father was enlightened. I think suffering can lead to awakening. I also think, until we are ready to awaken, we will continue to suffer.”
In regard to such eye-opening experiences, Cash will be filming four shows this weekend at Dead Crow Comedy Room with Corey Chandler Productions. It will be titled “Tough Year.” Despite the fact he misses everything he’s lost, Cash holds gratitude toward the lessons he’s endured. Somehow, he has churned out bits from such instances that have helped grow a fan base in a hard-wrought career path.
“Comedy is my passion,” he states. “That is my job—it is what I show up to do. All of those people in the crowd might be going through something 10 times more difficult than what I’m going through. It is my responsibility to make them forget that for an hour—to make them laugh, to allow them to be present, to allow them to feel joy. If I can make them feel better, that makes me feel better.”
Cash holds true to transparency in his stints. He tweaks his shows day to day, sometimes trying out new material and blending it with what he knows sticks and is a tried and true crowd-pleaser.
“I think one thing an audience appreciates almost as much is the actual humor is vulnerability,” he tells. “I think there’s a pretty fine line between being a private person and a dishonest person. You can be one without the other but it’s tricky . . . I feel like, if I can live my life in a way that is open and transparent and inherently honest, it helps me align a form of integrity that makes me feel like I’m on the right path.”
At Dead Crow, Cash will present almost an hour of stand up for two shows a night at 7 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. Not one to shy away from modern-day topics, folks can expect verbiage on Trump, HB2, religion, homophobia, racism, bad television, relationships/divorce, loss, death.
“You know, hilarious stuff,” he quips. “Writing comedy about death, divorce, racism, homophobia, and heavy subjects helps me to figure out how to feel, and I hope it helps the audience to navigate some of their emotions as well. . . . if someone doesn’t agree with my stance on an issue, they can still like the joke. That is my ultimate goal for writing. I think it’s the hardest kind of comedy to perform, but it’s definitely the kind that I’d like to be known for.”
So far Cash has traversed 21 of 59 national parks—12 of which he has visited this year while driving from Florida to Georgia, to Texas and Louisiana, New Mexico and Arizona, California to Missouri, Arkansas to West Virginia, Pennsylvania to New York and more. He stopped counting the amount of shows he’s done since the New Year at about 170.
“I was fortunate enough to do some of the best shows in cities where I shared the stage with people like Ron Funches, Ari Shaffir, Greg Fitzsimmons, Sam Morril, and others,” he notes.
Fans have followed Cash on social media by clicking on his hashtags “#MillionMileMercedes,” “#NeverEndingTour2017” and “#EveryNationalPark.” He wants to put 1,000,000 miles on his car, and takes the opportunity in his travels to bike, backpack, camp, and hike. He also has taken up photography, which he sells at his shows. He hashtags short-nature videos which inspire his pics under “#Your15SecondsofZen.”
“I think I’m the only comedian in the country who has photography as their merch,” he tells. “Comedy, until you become really famous, is about as lucrative as being a babysitter, so having something else to sell really helps keep gas in the tank and rice in the pot.”
Plus, he gets to meet a host of interesting folks nationwide: a 70-year-old hippie from a campground in Alabama; a 22-year-old adventurer from Humboldt County, California, and a map maker, each in hostels; French girl and German guy traveling together; a Canadian girl riding her bike across the country; even a hummingbird on top of a mountain. “It was a spiritual experience in Northern California,” he tells. “I’ve heard people say completely insane and hilarious things, and I’ve seen the good and the bad. I lost count of how many waterfalls I’ve seen now, sunsets and sunrises, seeing two of the world’s most significant caves and some of the most famous parks on earth—snorkeling in the crystal clear springs in Florida.”
Cash notes much of it will make it into his shtick at one point or another. He never struggles to talk about his adventures, whether onstage or off.
“When you’re living this way, it takes time to get things just right,” he clarifies. “I feel super fortunate to be able to see all these beautiful places and things and bring laughter to strangers. There is definitely a price to pay, most recently my marriage, but I feel like this is what I’m meant to do. If you told me at 10 years old or 36 years old that part of true love is picking between your soulmate and your dream, I would tell you that you’re wrong. I hope one day I’ll have both. For now, a dream seems like a hell of a consolation prize. I’ll take it.”
He has his sights set on greater aspects, too. He hopes “Tough Year” becomes a network show at some point—picked up by Netflix, HBO or Amazon Prime. He does have options in the bag, but remains mum on revealing any new details. This weekend he is happy just to be home, visiting his family in Oak Island and playing to people who have supported him since his start six-and-a-half years ago at Dead Crow.
“I love this city; I love this club,” he notes. “Dead Crow is incredible—a perfect setting for standup with low ceilings, brick walls, dark basement-type vibe. It’s the kind of space where comedy just really works well. The owners, Timmy and Cole, and the staff really understand the building blocks of how a show is supposed to be, and do a great job of making things come together. They’ve trained the crowds to understand that, too, so their are also incredible.”
Cash, ever present to social-justice and political issues, has decided along with Dead Crow to donate some of the proceeds from this weekend toward the fight for clean water in the Wilmington area, in light of Tap Watergate. Details were not hashed out at press time.
Readers can follow Cash at @Cliffcashcomedy and or visit his website at www.cliffcashcomedy.com.