By Jon Evans | January 29, 2021 at 5:30 AM EST – Updated January 29 at 5:30 AM
WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) – Since he hasn’t had many chances to entertain audiences in-person since the pandemic began, Cliff Cash decided to provide an easy way for people to hear his stand-up comedy. He released an album in early January called Half Way There, through the Stand Up! Records label. It’s an hour’s worth of live material Cliff recorded several years ago at his home club, Dead Crow Comedy in Wilmington. Fans were hungry for a laugh, buying enough copies to keep Cliff’s record at #1 for three days on the iTunes Comedy Chart. (Advisory: the album does contain explicit material.)
“I think it’s definitely some validation, and it feels good to achieve that number one spot,” Cliff said. “But it was really great validation just to get an album released with that record label. They’ve done albums for Patton Oswalt, Hannibal Buress, David Cross, Marc Maron, a lot of really great comics, Maria Bamford. You know, things happen in comedy from time to time that just sort of let you know you’re not crazy for going for it.”
Cliff grew up in Gastonia, NC, and after attending UNC Asheville, he moved to Wilmington where in 2011 he took his first steps onto the stage of stand-up comedy. Cliff owned a recycling business at the time but felt the itch to give entertainment a try.
“I had gone to Nutt Street Comedy Room the week before and watched the ‘open mic’,” he remembers. “I met the owner Timmy Sherrill when I got there. He and I are still good buddies. He told me how it all worked and I said, ‘Maybe I’ll try it next week’. Halfway through the night, I’d had a couple cocktails and was feeling funny, and I went back to him and I was just begging him ‘Please let me get up there!’. He said ‘No, no. that’s now how it works. You’ve got to show up at this time and get on the list and wait for your name to be called’. I’m so glad that he didn’t let me, because I think I would have been the ‘Guy with the buzz who really didn’t have anything to say yet’. It probably would have failed, and I probably would not have tried again.”
Cliff’s skills at stand-up progressed well enough that in 2015, at the age of 31, he decided to go full time with his comedy career. He booked appearances at comedy clubs across the southeast, even launching a Sick of Stupid Comedy Tour in 2016 with fellow comedians Tom Simmons and Stewart Huff. That’s the same year when the material for Half Way There was recorded at Dead Crow Comedy. It sat on the shelf for a while until Cliff released it on his own. But without the resources of a major label, it did not gain much traction on the charts. An appearance in Austin, Texas in 2018 changed his future.
“I was actually at a comedy festival called Altercation Comedy Festival, and I was closing out one of the showcases, and Dan Schlissel who owns Stand Up! Records was in the crowd. After the show he said to me ‘Funny stuff. Smart stuff. I’m a fan.’ That was it. Everybody that he signs on the label are sort of higher brow comedians. You know, sort of doing that little more cerebral material. I felt really great about that. He and I were already friends on Facebook. So, I just sent him a message and I said ‘I’ve got this old hour. It’s a little bit older, a little bit dated, but I’m proud of it. Would you be interested in releasing it for me?’ He watched it, and he liked it and so, here we are.”
The album has several tracks of Wilmington-related topics, like the condition of Market Street, parking at Carolina Beach, and the people Cliff has seen walking the loop at Wrightsville Beach. He explained the title in an interview with my WECT co-anchor Ashlea Kosikowski.
“I named this ‘Half Way There’ because I recorded this sort of halfway to where I am now, halfway along my comedy journey. So, I recorded this way before I was super famous,” he joked.
One person who has had a front-row seat to Cliff’s comedy career is his older brother Wiley, the New York Times best-selling author.
“I feel like all my life, at one point or another, I’ve been watching Cliff on stage, whether it’s telling stories around the table at Thanksgiving, or entertaining a broken-down bus load of senior citizens during a Mardi Gras parade,” Wiley says. “I’ve witnessed that. So, it’s something I’ve always been aware of and witness to.”
“I kind of started trying stand-up just after he (Wiley) got his first two-book deal,” Cliff says about his brother. “I think it really inspired me. He’ll tell you leading up to getting the two-book deal, a lot of people said ‘No!’. He was constantly submitting to literary journals and wasn’t having the kind of luck he was hoping for, but he didn’t give up. He kept going for it. That’s when he got the agent he has now and in very short order, got him the two-book deal. It was huge. That first book was a New York Times best-seller, in all kinds of publications, and won awards all over the world. I think just seeing somebody that I know that closely and intimately really go for it and not give up, it made me think like ‘You know, maybe I can do this thing that I really love. Maybe I can really do it’.”
Cliff speaks highly of his brother’s comedy talents as well, and Wiley has hosted some of Cliff’s shows in Wilmington in recent years. The two are working together for an upcoming special event at 8:00 p.m. on Sunday, January 31, where fans can get a behind-the-scenes look at the material and making of Half Way There. You can click here to purchase a ticket for the online special event.
“What we’re going to do is basically play parts of my album, play certain jokes, and we’re going to dissect the writing process,” Cliff said about the special. “We’re going to talk about little heckles during the show, where the material came from, and then some banter with us. Some story-telling and funny stuff that we’ve done.”
“Beyond the financials of supporting live comedy at a time when comedians like Cliff are not being supported, what I really hope they get is an idea of the effort of what goes into making a joke look effortless,” Wiley says about the program the two have planned. “That’s what I think people will really get from it is a real insight into how intricate and how difficult this process is, but also how beneficial it is to the comedian and to the audience.”
Cliff recorded a special last Fall for Dry Bar Comedy, one of the largest content creators in the country. But, with live performances now a rarity under the current pandemic conditions, he is relying on other skills to help pay the bills. He’s currently renovating homes in Colorado, and selling scenic photographs taken during his cross-country trips, while promoting Half Way There to keep momentum going in his stand-up career. The event on January 31st will put Cliff back in his comedy element.
“That’s about as close as anybody is going to see me doing stand-up any time soon,” he said. “I did a couple club weekends in October, and to be honest it felt a little reckless to do. The crowds were only allowed to be a quarter of what they normally are, so it’s a three-quarters empty room, people are spaced apart, they’ve got masks on. You leave the comedy club at night and it’s just not the same. To me, I love stand-up so much that I just don’t want to do some watered-down version of it. I want to wait until it comes back and go full speed.”
You can buy/download Cliff Cash’s album or video of Half Way There by clicking here. I hope you enjoy the conversation with Cliff and Wiley as much as I did.
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