WILMINGTON — For some people, a profession is a means to live and nothing more. For a lucky few, a profession can provide enlightenment and a sense of fulfillment and place in the world. Wilmington based comedian Cliff Cash says he is in the second group. His career in comedy has allowed him to delve into other aspects of life, namely travel, photography and an expedition into personal growth.
Cash’s journey to comedy has been a long one.
“I’ve lived multiple lives in a way,” Cash said. “I was really entrepreneurial early on in life and I really wanted to make a bunch of money, and I did. I had a bunch of rental properties and real estate investments. Then, I lost it all at 27, 28 (years old), when the market crashed.”
From that point, Cash decided to start a recycling business, thinking it would give him a sense of purpose he hadn’t achieved in the real estate business.
“The last little bit of money I had, I started a recycling company with because having gone through that financial loss awakened me at least to the idea that money didn’t fulfill me,” Cash said. “And now that it’s gone, I’m still happy. It’s not about money,” Cash said. “I needed to do something that’s going to matter, that I can feel like my life — you know, when I take my last breath — I want to feel like I did something that mattered.”
After becoming discouraged with the recycling industry, Cash began to consider pursuing his passion, stand-up comedy.
“Once I started doing comedy; and especially after the first few times I got paid for it, I thought, ‘Man, doing work for money or doing work for meaning doesn’t even come close to doing this thing that I love, and somebody paying me to do something I love,’” Cash said.
Becoming a full time comedian
According to Cash, the decision to jump ship and switch to full time comedy was a difficult one.
“There was a big part of me that felt really guilty for closing the recycling business to go do what I loved,” he said. “It felt like that was selfish in a way. But … by shifting my energy and my path to something that brings me joy and allows me to be joyful most all the time, now what I’m putting out into the world is joy. I’m more positive with literally everyone I interact with and I’m going out and I’m making crowds laugh.”
As Cash began to make himself known in the comedy arena, expenses for things like hotels and food became a nagging concern. After suffering so much financial loss, he needed to work out an alternative way to get in front of the industry.
“Comedy doesn’t make a whole lot of sense until your pretty successful or pretty famous,” he said. “So your options are to find a way to make more money so this is doable, or find a way to live more simply and require less money until it’s doable.”
Cliff chose the latter. Working to get his costs down as low as possible, he purchased a used Mercedes Wagon, his “#MillionMileMercedes,” and began camping out in between shows.
“I decided I was going to go (to shows) as many times as I can a day early, or stay a day late and camp and hike,” Cash said. “I’d end up having a Sunday, Monday, Tuesday off, and I’m not going to drive all the way back to coastal North Carolina.
“I spend a lot of time in nature, and as someone who has always struggled with depression and anxiety from a pretty early age, being in nature helps me,” Cash said. “It’s like I’m a different person when I’m able to do that on a regular basis, it really grounds me.”
This led Cash to perhaps his biggest idea so far, his “Eat, Drive, Laugh” video blog. The idea carried forward with him on his latest National tour, and enabled him to acquire some financial backing to keep himself operating.
According to Cash, a recent trip to LA and back allowed him to get tons of footage.
“I hit 18 cities, 12 national parks, a handful of state parks, and drove about 16,000 miles, recordi ng a lot,” Cash said. “I have drive’s through Yosemite, the Painted Desert, the Petrified Forest, Carlsbad Cavern, and Saguaro National Park. So now I have all these drives for the next year of episodes, and now it’s up to me to catch up and get these produced.”
One of Cash’s goals is to see all 59 National Parks.
“I think I’ll probably see another 10 before this year is over,” Cash said. “I want to see Acadia, Isle Royale, Glacier, Olympia, and I’m going to try to see everything I can in the Pacific Northwest. I haven’t really routed it yet, but, before the years over I’d say I’ll see another 10. The main thing is it’s something I can share with people, and will be happy to share. It’s always something I’ll be able to look back on too.”
Cash says the idea for ‘Eat, Drive, Laugh’ came out of a desire to share what he’s doing with people, “I think it’s selfish to not share all this cool stuff that I’m seeing.”
The Million Mile Mercedes
But this amount of travel can take a toll on a vehicle. According to Cash, while doing shows last year, he drove over 50,000 miles. This year he’s already surpassed 16,000. Luckily, Cash is a self-proclaimed car guy.
“Your car starts to feel like a very personal asset when you’re spending all your time in it,” he said. “You really want it to be what you want it to be.”
The Mercedes is now heavily modified to suit Cash’s needs.
“I have half of it set up with a memory foam bed, smaller than a single,” he said. “It’s just six inches of stacked memory foam with sheets, blankets and pillows. I’ve laid all the seats down, and removed the third row. I built a cover so it’s really well insulated so you can stay warm, or cool, depending on the season. And the cover covers all my tools, so I have an actual 3-ton floor jack and other equipment so I can keep her running myself.”
Before setting out on his last cross-country tour, he spent about 20 hours making repairs to prep for the rigors of travel.
“I work on it myself, everything I possibly can,” he said. “It saves me thousands of dollars, and it’s out of pure necessity. I literally couldn’t afford (being a comedian) it, if I was doing what I’m doing and staying in hotels every night and having to pay someone to work on my car, that alone would keep it from being realistic, I wouldn’t be able to make ends meet.”
According to Cash, he’s now changed spark plugs in Albuquerque, serviced his transmission in Texas, and changed his oil in California.
“It’s fun,” he said. “I’m becoming more knowledgeable of the car mechanically, and learning to view loss as letting go and overcoming that material attachment out of necessity.
“It’s all things the universe is throwing at me. It’s not that I’m some enlightened truth seeker necessarily I’m just sort of rolling with the punches,” he said.
One day, Cash hopes to culminate this project into a successful enterprise.
“I also take a lot of nature photography, and I hope to one day couple that with some of my short stories and jokes to make a coffee table book about my travels around the country,” he said. “Hopefully I can sell that at shows and on my website, and maybe someone will want to publish it, who knows?”
Recently, Cash began hosting a personal project through his comedy called, “THIS ISN’T FUNNY.” The shows are being held all over the country and are designed to help combat racism and benefit displaced people. The project raised $1,740 in Wilmington for the Interfaith Refugee Ministry, and $700 in Austin, Texas to benefit Refugee Services of Texas.
Cash will be headlining at his home stage of Dead Crow Comedy Club in downtown Wilmington June 23 and 24, where he will also be taping a comedy special. For information about Cash, visit his website at cliffcashcomedy.com, or email him at email@example.com. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter for updates about what he’s up to, and check out his “#15SecondsOfZen” on Instagram.