At a certain point in his five years as a professional standup comic, Cliff Cash realized that he wasn't just a comedian from the South. He was a Southern comedian. And there's a definite perspective that comes with that moniker, at least in Cash's mind.
"It wasn't what I was aiming for when I began comedy," the North Carolinian says. "But the South is a big part of my life and childhood, and it really shaped me and shaped my comedy. I sort of analyze and critique Southern culture and mindsets and religion. So I think once I realized that I was a Southern comic whether I liked it or not, if I was going to be a Southern comic I was going to be an intelligent Southern comic."
As a part of that mindset, Cash created the Sick of Stupid comedy tour and recruited fellow progressive comics Tom Simmons and Stewart Huff. "I want to be different and not follow the stereotypes of what Southern comedy has been in the past," Cash says. "So I just started thinking, 'Who else does this kind of comedy, and is there a way we can sort of join forces, and start to battle the negative stereotypes of Southern culture?' Tom and Stewart are two guys that I think a lot of and have always loved their comedy. They're both kind of no-brainer answers when someone says, 'Who do you think the best progressive Southern comedians are?'"
In a typical set on the Sick of Stupid tour, you'll probably hear Huff talk about the person who told him science has never done anything for anyone . . . while the two of them were sitting on an airplane. Or you might hear Cash's in-character monologue that "No-bama" is planning to take all the guns in the world, melt them down, and use the metal to make wedding rings for gay people. And you'll very probably hear Simmons expressing his confusion at being told he couldn't mention Muslims while performing for U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
Cash says the point of this tour is to serve as an antithesis to shows like Blue Collar Comedy tour. "It was wildly successful, and I respect that, but I think it serves to perpetuate negative Southern stereotypes," he says. "It's just kind of that burpy, farty, cut-off sleeve silly approach to Southern humor. My perspective is that it's a small fraction of the south. It gets a lot of press and a lot of attention, kind of like when you watch the news, murders get more attention than kitten adoption programs. I guess it sells to see Southern people chewing tobacco and spewing racist shit."
"I think it's a disservice to what I think of as the real South," Cash continues. "I think of Charleston, and Greenville and Columbia and Miami and New Orleans and Austin. These are great cities. Huntsville is a huge city for NASA. Raleigh has the highest concentration of PhD's in the country. Western North Carolina has the highest concentration of wealth in the country. There's so much more to the South than that Honey Boo Boo/Duck Dynasty stereotype, and I think it's really unfair and inaccurate. That's what our whole show is about. I don't know if we can get onstage and fix that in an hour and a half, but we just want to be out there as the antithesis of that."
And all three comedians are quick to point out that their neck of the woods isn't the only one with issues. "We're all very much Southern," Cash says. "We all still live here. Ignorance, racism, bigotry, small-mindedness, wanting to use the Bible to legislate, wanting to use your feelings to legislate, none of that is specific to the South."
Doing material that's political or social can be risky, but Cash says that there's only been one incident on the Sick of Stupid tour so far. And much like the viewpoints of the three men onstage, that incident came from an unexpected perspective. "People have been really receptive to it, but we had one person in Bloomington, Ind. go the other way," Cash says. "I think he had a humor deficiency and didn't understand sarcasm. I do a bit in the most redneck accent imaginable about how gay people will make you gay, you have to look out for them, and I talk about how a gay person made ME gay, then I come out of the voice and make fun of the character. This guy watched my show and Facebooked the venue and said, 'I don't appreciate the gay-bashing. One comic insinuated that gay people can make other people gay, I think that's a really awful thing to say, I won't be back.' And I'm like what? No! Are you kidding me? It broke my heart."
And it couldn't have come at a worse time. "Stewart and I had just had this debate a couple nights before where I said if you're supporting the GOP in its current state, I don't think you can be that bright," Cash says. "And Stewart was like, 'There are really stupid liberals too,' and I said, 'Yeah, but not like that.' And then that happened and he was like 'I told you!'"