WILMINGTON — Though the last time comedian Cliff Cash performed live was March 15, 2020, at Let’s Comedy in Indianapolis, he’s still managing to get a rise out of audiences — and the iTunes comedy charts. On Jan. 8 Cash debuted his comedy LP, “Half Way There,” which reached number-one on iTunes comedy charts for three days.
“This is my first official album put out in a big way through a legit record label,” Cash said in an interview earlier in the week.
The Wilmington comedian — originally from Gastonia, NC — teamed up with the label Stand Up! Records, which has worked with prominent comedians like Marc Maron, Patton Oswalt, Maria Bamford, Hannibal Burress, Doug Stanhope and David Cross, among others.
Cash had four hours of material from a show he recorded at downtown’s Dead Crow Comedy Room, which closed its Front Street location in 2020, with plans to open a new location possibly this year.
“This recording is several years old and that’s why I named the album ‘Half Way There’ because it’s about halfway to where I am now in my standup journey,” Cash said.
Cash crisscrosses the country annually for 10 months or so, playing hundreds of shows. He finished renovations on a Mercedes Sprinter van at the beginning of 2020, outfitted with a queen size bed, running water, storage and a cooler. In between shows, he’s hiking and taking in some of the nation’s most breathtaking views, visiting 47 states and 45 national parks to date.
“I used to quantify my life like most Americans: house, car, savings, investments, stuff, status,” he said. “Now I quantify it by how many nights I get to camp under the stars and how many waterfalls I get to hike to. No other job or endeavor ever gave me the fulfillment of looking out at a sold-out crowd and seeing every face smiling and laughing.”
Two months after finishing the van, he lost all gigs and income from Covid-19.
Refocusing to put out “Half Way There” was a no-brainer for Cash. He has been crafting his bits on the album since starting his career in 2011, though he recorded them in 2016. Cash spent the last year honing the final product.
“It takes a long time to take each joke from its inception to some finished product that you want to share with the world,” he explained.
Part of his process is to practice new material on friends and family first — most of the time without them even realizing it. Cash often casually drops a line or two in conversations to see what lands.
“If I can make someone laugh over the phone, it will definitely work on stage,” he said.
He also runs ideas past his older brother, New York Times best-selling author Wiley Cash, who also lives in Wilmington. “Obviously he’s a great writer but he’s also pretty damn funny,” Cash said.
By jotting down notes, working and reworking lines, trying them out on stage and revising them again, Cash tightened his material.
“Half Way There” runs about an hour. The comedian delivers his liberal-leaning thoughts and ideas often with a thick Southern drawl.
“All Dat Gay Stuff” centers on the rights for gay people to marry — and pokes fun at those who say it’s ruining the sanctity of marriage.
“I’m a little worried it’s gonna ruin Charles Manson’s marriage,” Cash quipped. “I saw that damn 80-year-old schizophrenic, psychopathic serial killer marrying that girl from inside jail. I was like, ‘Man, I hope gays don’t ruin their marriage. That’d be some bullshit.’”
He also doesn’t shy away from politics, as heard on “NoBama” — or the oddities of Southern culture when it intertwines religion with things like NASCAR, Andy Griffith and everyday mundane happenings on “God’s from North Carolina.”
He addresses his current home on “Wilmington NC,” talking about the city’s obsession with unnecessarily cutting down trees and the depths of people-watching at Carolina Beach.
He decided to end “Half Way There” with one of his favorite pastimes: dissecting ridiculous song lyrics.
“There’s a lot of awful music out there from country to pop-rock to hip-hop,” Cash said “My whole life I’d hear awful lyrics and I’d end up memorizing them because I’d make fun of them so much. The unintended result is, now I know all the words to every song I hate. It proves the premise behind books like ‘The Secret’: Whatever we give our energy to is what will grow.”
Though Cash doesn’t see himself returning to the stage any time soon, he’s not settling for a return with alternative methods like livestreaming — well, at least not past marking the latest milestone in his career. He and his brother have tossed around the idea of doing an online watch party of them breaking down “Half Way There” live.
“We like the idea of [Wiley] and I annotating the hour and discussing writing in general and our lives and upbringing, and just cutting up and chatting back and forth,” Cash said.
Though no plans have been hashed out completely, Cash said fans can follow his social media sites to find out more, including announcements on when he’ll be back in front of audiences in person. He misses providing that hour or so of escapism, something needed now more than ever. It’s part of the appeal for Cash: to help alleviate the struggles and challenges many face through laughter.
“I’ve been the person in the crowd who felt like everything was coming apart,” he reflected. “I saw Seinfeld live with my two oldest friends the day after my dad’s funeral. I’ve been on the other end of standup comedy. I know how healing it can be. That part means more to me than any other aspect of this hustle.”
Until he can be back onstage, he’s packing up his van and heading south of the border to surf Baja, and hit up Sayulita, Mexico City, Tulum and Isla Mujeres. He plans to be in Mexico through March 2021 at least.
“That’s as far as I have life planned,” Cash said. “I’ll camp in my van for free and surf and eat cheap tacos. I can live down there cheaper than I can live here. That seems like a good strategy for an out-of-work comedian.”
“Half Way There” is now available for purchase and/or can be streamed on platforms like Amazon and Spotify.
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