At first, Cliff Cash didn’t want to be thought of as a Southern comedian.
True, he does standup comedy and he’s from the South – he grew up in Gastonia, N.C., and now lives in Wilmington – but plenty of comedians hail from the South without letting it define them. Aziz Ansari, who played Tom Haverford on “Parks and Recreation” and more recently created the Netflix original program “Master of None,” is from South Carolina; comedian Rory Scovel is too, while Sean Patton is from New Orleans and Paul Hooper grew up in Charlotte. Cash doesn’t think of them as Southern comedians, though – just comedians.
“I wasn’t excited about being grouped as a Southern comic, even a smart Southern comic, in the beginning,” Cash says.
Still, he found himself compelled to mock right-wing Southerners in his routines, often adopting a heavy accent in the process. If you have an audience and a microphone, Cash says, you should talk about something that matters; to him it’s a moral imperative. So he accepted the Southern comic mantle, but with his own twist. In his comedy, Cash skewers homophobes, gun nuts and conservative conspiracy theorists – all mindsets he finds absurd and a bit dumb.
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Sunday in Durham, he and like-minded comedians Tom Simmons and Stewart Huff bring their “Sick of Stupid” tour to Motorco Music Hall. The message is clear: there’s more to the South than the stereotypes.
“That’s who I am,” Cash says. “I’m a Southerner and I’m a liberal and if those are the two things that define my comedy, I’m okay with that.”
I think it could be kind of like Blue Collar Comedy, but smart and tackling something maybe a little more socially important than farts.
Within a week of Sick of Stupid’s Durham tour stop, and out of pure coincidence, two of the biggest names in the other kind of Southern comedy will play a much bigger room a few blocks away: Jeff Foxworthy and Larry the Cable Guy could easily sell out the 2700-seat DPAC for their Jan. 30 show. Cash picks his words carefully when he discusses these giants of “git-r-done” and “you might be a redneck if...” jokes: they’re probably smarter and more progressive than they let on, he says, and he respects the massive success of their Blue Collar Comedy Tour.
“Those guys really pulled something off that was pretty awesome: they totally branded what they were doing and their concept. My only real sort of beef is that they’re perpetuating negative Southern stereotypes,” Cash says. As a Southerner, it frustrates him. “I want to be the antithesis to that without coming out and saying it. I don’t want to make enemies with Jeff Foxworthy. I don’t want Larry the Cable Guy farting on me or anything like that.”
TV shows like “Duck Dynasty” or “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo” frustrate him for the same reason. Sure, the people on those shows are real and are Southern, he says, but the South isn’t just backwoods – it also includes Miami, New Orleans, Austin and Atlanta. The Triangle in particular, he notes, boasts a remarkable concentration of Ph.D. holders. While many of the stereotypes are earned, Cash admits, it’s unfair to paint the whole region with them.
“There’s plenty of racist, homophobic people right now, holed up in a singlewide trailer, wrapped up in a rebel flag Snuggie with their AR-15, watching ‘Honey Boo Boo,’” he says. “As we speak, that’s happening. Our message is that that’s not the whole South.” Beyond that, he doesn’t feel the South has a monopoly on this stereotype: go to rural New York state, Cash says, and you’re just as likely to find racism, homophobia, and over-the-top gun collections.
“We’re all going to point out the absurdities to some of these mindsets. We’re all going to be talking about hot button issues that are really in the front of people’s minds,” he says. “I think people are hungry for that kind of comedy, whether they know about it or not.”
So Cash, Simmons and Huff have taken a page from the other team’s playbook. They’re traveling with a filmmaker and plan to make a documentary of the trip, mixing travel scenes and interviews with locals in each town with comedy clips. And the Motorco show, he hopes, can be taped and turned into a 90-minute comedy special.
“I think it could be kind of like Blue Collar Comedy, but smart and tackling something maybe a little more socially important than farts,” Cash says.
What: Sick of Stupid Comedy Tour
When: 8 p.m. Sunday
Where: Motorco Music Hall, 723 Rigsbee Ave., Durham