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BLUE JOKES: Comedy and politics go hand-in-hand for Turn NC Blue fundraiser

Turn NC Blue co-founder Wiley Cash (left) will host a night of stand-up comedy, including comedians Cliff Cash, Petey Smith McDowell and Cassidy Santaguida. Courtesy photos


Tired of crying at the current state of U.S. politics? Try laughing instead. On Sunday, March 1 at the Brooklyn Arts Center, political activism group Turn NC Blue will present “Politics and Punchlines,” a night of comedy and politics with proceeds going toward supporting progressive candidates in local, statewide and federal elections. Headlining the event is comedian Cliff Cash, with support from local comics Petey Smith McDowell and Cassidy Santaguida. In addition to regular admission tickets, Turn NC Blue also offers a special meet-and-greet, so patrons can mingle with the comedians before the show.

Turn NC Blue has a mission adherent to its name—to deliver the southern state of North Carolina to the Democratic Party and keep it that way. The organization, which calls itself “aggressively progressive,” seeks to educate voters during election season and provides advertisements in support of Democratic candidates. Apart from its mission to turn our historically red state blue, the group focuses on  listening to the collective voice of the people and supporting candidates who hold that interest at the forefront of their campaigns.

Turn NC Blue co-founder Wiley Cash will host the event. Wiley is a New York Times Bestselling author and regular Salt Magazine contributor. He is also the founder of Open Canon Book Club, aimed at introduting readers to more diverse voices, and co-founder of the Land More Kind Appalachian Artists Residency, a program that implements a weeklong residency for artists native to Appalachia or devoted to creating work representative of the area. Wiley founded Turn NC Blue with Nick Basta and Steve Chisholm in 2018 in order to give voice to the state’s progressives. While none of the group’s founders had significant funds to contribute, they all had a collective goal. “We all have similar social, cultural and political concerns about equality, free and fair elections, [and] economic opportunity,” Wiley says. 

While Turn NC Blue was founded only a few years ago, Wiley’s fight for a Democratic state has been ongoing for many years. As a writer with a keen awareness of our nation’s history of oppression, Wiley has long grappled with the systemic injustices within our society. In fact, his novels “A Land More Kind Than Home” (2012), “This Dark Road to Mercy” (2014), and “The Last Ballad” (2017) all speak to North Carolina families with indirectly or overtly hidden political associations.

“What you risk reveals what you value,” he says. “I’m willing to risk a few Trump supporters not buying my books if I get to take whatever small microphone I have and yell into it about fairness and equality.”

While this has led to blowback from the occasional online troll, Wiley remains resilient. As a father of two, he applies the same mentality and moral compass in setting an example for his daughters. “I tell my daughters constantly, doing the right thing is usually the hard thing.”

In response to those who would say there is nothing funny about the current political situation, he claims all comedy is inherently based on tragedy. Making light of one’s pain—or someone else’s—is par for the course in comedic storytelling. “We’re all feeling pain or hurt in one way or another,” Wiley says. “If we can come together and laugh at those things, it helps us gain power over them.” Perhaps now, more than ever, we need that laughter to reclaim our voice.

The event’s headliner, Wiley’s brother Cliff Cash, has also been politically active the majority of his life: His very first open mic performance, in 2011, included jokes about Sarah Palin, abortion, religion and fanaticism. While his sets typically contain occasional jabs at the current administration, Cliff says this performance will be almost entirely related to politics.


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“I’m planning for the entire hour set to be almost all politics, and I want to achieve that without sacrificing the humor in any way,” he says. “I don’t often get to perform in a room where every single person is of my political persuasion.”

A traveling comedian, Cliff says touring has opened his eyes to racism and ignorance across the nation, not just in the South. “Unfortunately, it’s everywhere,” he says. “This president is from New York City, for example. But my formidable experience is with the South, Southern pastors and older generations stuck in the quick sands of time unable to see that the world is changing and we need to change with it.”

While Cliff sees his primary responsibility as entertaining the audience, he also wants to take advantage of the platform he’s given. Like his brother, he is willing to risk a few disgruntled fans on social media in order to focus on the bigger picture. “Anyone can laugh at a good ol’ fashioned fart joke and there isn’t a thing wrong with that,” Cliff says, “but I feel an obligation to ‘say something’ when I look out and see 100 people or 1,000 people.”

Asheville native Petey Smith McDowell and local activist and comedian Cassidy Santaguida will also perform stand-up sets on the night. To purchase tickets for the event, visit

Turn NC Blue presents Politics and Punchlines
Sunday, March 1, 7-9 p.m.
The Annex at Brooklyn Arts Center, 516 N. 4th St.
$35-$150 •

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