Tuning in to satellite radio on a long road trip last year, I spent the late hours listening to short clips of comedians. Almost all of the jokes on the Comedy Central channel were good, but only a few penetrated my highway hypnosis enough to make me laugh out loud. One that I remember started like this: “Let me ask you all a question. Do you feel safe?” It was a man’s voice (possibly) imitating a redneck. “Well, you shouldn’t,” he continued, “You know why? Because that Obama’s gonna take all the guns in the whole world and melt them down to make rings for gay people to get married with.”
As others in the car laughed with me and the comic’s name, Cliff Cash, was announced, my mirth paused. “Wait a second,” I thought, “I know him.” Cliff Cash, owner of Green Coast Recycling, is also a founding member of Friends of the Lower Cape Fear that started the Stop Titan website and ongoing petition to halt the opening of the Carolinas Cement (Titan America) facility here along the Cape Fear River. As a strong community and environmental advocate–winning last year’s North Carolina Coastal Federation’s Pelican Award for his efforts–this local comedian keeps Wilmington engaged, and laughing.
Excited to tell him about hearing his joke on the radio, I met up with Cliff a few months later to talk about the evolution of his career—from losing nearly everything he had when the real estate market collapsed to becoming Port City’s Top Comic.
HOW HAS COMEDY CHANGED YOUR LIFE?
I was at a low point when I started writing jokes about three years ago. I was down and discouraged and needed a laugh, so I went to a Nutt St.’s open mic night and after that, everything changed. People had said, “You should be a comedian” to me before, but it took seeing other regular people up there doing it to convince me to try. I went back the next week and rattled off an over-written set about chickens having abortions, and it went so well that I was hooked. Timmy Sherrill, co-owner of Nutt St., was a huge part of my growth. He encouraged and helped me make connections. The first two years were mostly me figuring it out, building confidence, and traveling a little. Then in 2013, I started to go for it. I won Port City’s Top Comic, then Comedy Zone’s Almost Famous competition. I made it into the finals of Comedy Central’s Up Next nationwide comic search and was pretty ecstatic about that.
SOUNDS LIKE YOU’VE FOUND A WAY TO FOLLOW YOUR BLISS.
You always hear people say, “Do what you love.” You hear it so much that it feels meaningless. I never tried to do something that I really loved before as a job. I sold cars, then renovated and flipped properties. I started Green Coast Recycling thinking that doing something with meaning and purpose could be as good as doing what I loved, but there really are no substitutes for doing something you truly love. I never knew what that was until I started doing standup. It really made my life better. I’m a much happier person. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that I met my fiancé around the same time and she’s really changed my life, too.
THINK YOU MIGHT EVER DECIDE TO SELL GREEN COAST AND GO INTO COMEDY FULL TIME?
I would if the right person was interested and I thought they would do things the right way. The right person could take it to a whole other level. I’d love to do comedy full time. Nothing would make me happier. I’ve done the math on how much I can make on the road and I think I could make it work. The most encouraging things have been other comedians telling me I’d be “crazy not to chase this.” Another thing I realized is that I can get a message to people through comedy in a way that I never could have before. I can speak about things that I believe in and maybe change the way people see it all while making them laugh. If I can reach 100 or 1000 people a night, maybe I could achieve more through comedy than with a recycling company or an environmental initiative. It’s a much bigger and captive audience. They want to laugh, but they also want to be made to think. A good comic can deliver both.
FIRST DATE DRINKS: WHAT YOUR BARTENDENER ISN’T TELLING YOU.
It shouldn’t be a surprise when a guy in a business suit orders an Old-Fashioned. Or when the Marlboro man orders a bourbon, neat, and a beer. Similarly, a man drinking a Cosmopolitan should not be surprised if his masculinity is challenged.
Fraternity brothers sip Scotch at their formals while underage sons of rosycheeked second-marriage grooms, Captain & Coke. Stoners usually go for some non-mainstream beer or an occasional retro cocktail like Vieux Carre, depending on the potency of the evening. Young fashionistas often sip Vespers, Mezcal Mules, or Aviations. Then again, there are times when the stereotypes fail. What can I say to the young woman dressed like the mannequin from a vintage boutique who requests Drambuie, neat? Maybe, when she was a little girl, her grandfather slipped a thimble in her eggnog once before singing carols around the neighborhood? Or maybe she reads Hemingway? With that said, know that what I’m about to write should only be taken as a guidepost. Nothing definitive. To continue is to enter the rainy fog of generality in which everything I’m about to say is false even though, after fifteen years experience mixing drinks, I know that’s exactly the way things are. Confused? Good. Nonetheless, I’ve chosen three commonly ordered cocktails available anywhere spirits are served–the Martini; Gin & Tonic; and the Manhattan–and attempted a mini-psychoanalysis of the person ordering each. If you have a first date on the horizon, take heed, for if the person you are meeting orders one of the following, this is what your bartender is not telling you about the company you keep.
Martini – The person who orders the clean, shaken-to-ice-shard consistency vodka martini is intense. He may not seem so at first, but there’s a lot of heat under that engine, and this is how he lets off steam, drinking a hard shaken, chilled glass of liquid courage, including: CEOs of major corporations (without a garnish) and actresses (with olives). Retired judges (and servers aft er their shift s) drink gin, stirred with a long slender spoon, garnished with a lemon twist.
Gin & Tonic – This person cares about his health, as “tonic water” was originally introduced as a medicine; its principle ingredient (quinine) is antimalarial, a superb reason for the colonial British in tropical climes to mix in a jigger of gin. Think Doctors Without Borders or just somebody who probably doesn’t spend too much of his life in bars, playing it safe. Next time, tell them if they want to stand out, try adding a bit of Fernet Branca, another medicinal spirit rumored to have remained legal during prohibition.
Manhattan – I find most Manhattan drinkers deliriously complex, especially the ones who are not afraid to return three or four in a row made wrong. For one, they’ll tell you, “Never shake a Manhattan, no, no, no, only stir. Use two ounces of rye whiskey and a full ounce of the best vermouth you have, preferably Carpano Antica,” (hopefully you’ve kept yours in the refrigerator if you don’t go through a bottle every couple of weeks). “And the cherry, don’t even think of putting one of those red #5 Franken-kirshes in my drink. Don’t you have a bottle of nice cherries, like Luxardo, somewhere? What kind of place is this?” Not sure what to order? I often revisit a few core recipes when a woman like my wife simply asks me to “Make something good.” They’re not too sweet, nor too strong. They don’t have a layer of foam, a smoking shard of dry ice, flaming twist, or other theatrical element to throw a delicate social situation out of balance. They’re relatively simple, well-balanced, and most bars should be equipped to make them without a lot of fuss.
Elderflower Fizz – My personal take on the St. Germain cocktail (see below), this bright fruit and citrus elixir has universal appeal and is as close to a silver bullet as I’ve found for helping to turn somebody new onto cocktails. 1 oz. your favorite gin ¾ oz. St. Germain ½ oz. fresh lemon 1 oz. fresh grapefruit blueberries splash of champagne Combine all but the champagne over ice in a mixing glass. Shake for thirty seconds and strain into a prechilled glass. Top with champagne fl oat. Garnish with a twist of grapefruit and fresh blueberries.
St. Germain Cocktail – The easy flavor of the elderflower liqueur adds just the right amount of sweet. And at forty proof (20% alcohol), it’s only half as strong as a typical vodka, rum, etc., so you can stay sharper longer. Prefer a little more liquid courage? Ask the bartender to add a jigger of vodka or gin. 1 oz. St. Germain (shaken over ice and strained) Fill rest of flute with a 1:1 champagne:club soda mix lemon peel twist
Lime Rickey (Mocktail) – Prefer not to drink alcohol but also don’t like to feel singled out? The “Rickey” is one of my favorite cocktail templates, yet it may work best without any booze at all. 1 oz. fresh lime juice 1 oz. simple syrup 3-5 dashes Angostura bitters Fill the rest with club soda Garnish with a cherry and twist of lime Mix the lime juice, simple syrup and bitters over ice. Shake for thirty seconds and strain into a pre-chilled cocktail glass. Add soda. Garnish with a twist of lime.