By day, Jimmy Cash can be found collecting trash from classrooms, picking up in the cafeteria, and pushing a mop and bucket through the long corridors of the elementary school where he works as a custodian.
But once class is dismissed and he clocks out for the day, Cash trades in his squeegees and disinfectant sprays for bright lights and microphone stands, entertaining crowds at comedy clubs across the region.
For nearly a decade, Cash has been steadily building his career telling jokes and perfecting his stand-up routine while holding down his daily duties as a beloved school janitor in the Worcester public school system.
More recently, he’s broken serious ground on the popular social media app TikTok, where millions of people worldwide have watched — and connected with — his videos about his life scrubbing surfaces and interacting with young minds, skits that have given his longtime dream of becoming an entertainer a boost.
“I’ve got a foot in both worlds,” said Cash, 38. “Some nights I don’t come home from a comedy show until 1 in the morning, and then I’m back at school at 6 a.m.”
Growing up, Cash dreamed of performing on “Saturday Night Live” or landing a role in an Adam Sandler movie. But when he had his daughter at the age of 20, he decided he needed to find steady work.
“My daughter was my main focus,” said the Worcester native, whose father was also a custodian.
But the creative itch never subsided. Once his daughter got older, Cash finally took his shot at stand-up, using his experiences as a janitor in his comedic storytelling and later to carve himself a niche online.
“It’s been who I am since I was 20 years old,” said Cash, a nickname given to him by a friend in high school that stuck and became his stage name. “When I finally started stand-up [six years ago], it was a big inspiration for it. I had some stories to tell. Not all my stand-up is about my job; I talk about my life and a lot of other stuff. But it was definitely a huge reason I started stand-up.”
Cash’s stage presence has been building for a while, and he’s dabbled with YouTube and Instagram videos before. But early in the pandemic — on the advice of his teenage daughter — he added a TikTok account to his arsenal. As he has done onstage, he incorporated his job into his content, leaning on his persona as Jimmy Cash, the “janitor with stamina.”
In December 2020, a video of him trying to clean up spilled milk with the all-too-familiar brown paper towels found in schools unexpectedly racked up more than 22 million views, giving his comedic profile a lift.
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“That one went bonkers. It was everywhere,” he said. “It was just some synchronization there, with the stand-up and the content creation coming together at the right time.”
As his videos picked up steam, students started to notice a familiar face on their screens.
“I started to get kids being like, ‘Oh my God, that’s our janitor, we know him!’” he said. “The kids absolutely love it, they think it’s the best.”
But Cash has always been popular at his school.
Students — who know him as “Mr. James” — make him birthday cards. And when classrooms shut down because of COVID-19 and he hosted a “janitor parade” through the streets as a fun distraction, some kids lined up with their parents, holding signs and cheering him on as he tossed them rolls of toilet paper.
“He’s very special to our school; very well-respected. He’s just loved by all the kids,” said Kristy Desimone, a fifth-grade teacher who works at his school. “Besides his work ethic — and his sense of humor — I think it’s his heart. Students need to make connections with people and I think they really find that they can make a connection with him.”
Still, Cash is careful not to let the two jobs conflict. Though he admits he’ll occasionally edit clips from the “boiler room” during his lunch break, squished between boxes of toilet paper and other supplies, Cash said he never records during school hours, shows any students in his videos, or names the school where he works for privacy reasons.
He’s also made the “conscious decision” to create content that’s appropriate for all ages, veering from anything too “questionable.”
“The job comes first,” he said.
What he does post are reenactments of interactions with students and teachers as he dips into classrooms to clean up messes or move furniture around; behind-the-scenes looks at custodial secrets; and reviews of classic school lunches — clips that have struck a nostalgic chord with his nearly 500,000 TikTok followers.
“A lot of the comments are like ‘Unlocked memory!’ or ‘I didn’t know I needed to remember that!’ or ‘Oh god, I never wanted to remember that,’” he said. “I get a lot of people remembering their janitor from elementary school.”
In the past year, Cash said his career has picked up considerably and he’s started headlining more comedy shows. That’s left him thinking about his future as a local school custodian.
“I always say that the janitor job is my dream job, and I just do stand-up to bring myself back down to earth,” he said. Even if stardom comes, he doesn’t plan on straying too far from his humble beginnings.
“Maybe I’ll do a little side cleaning,” he said. “Keep a little mop handy.”
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Steve Annear can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @steveannear.