Whether taking on racial stereotypes or his ‘beaner’ heritage, Carlos Mencia is not afraid to tell you what’s on his Mind.
By Dylan P. Gadino
Spending a few days in New York City has Carlos Mencia teeming with adrenaline. The sturdy veteran comic is here promoting his Comedy Central show Mind of Mencia . In a few hours, he’ll be chatting with Conan O’Brien; yesterday, he killed on The Howard Stern Show due, in part, to a story he told about a Catholic-school teacher who once got naked and hit on him. “I love the energy here,” Mencia says. “It’s alive in ways that other places aren’t.”
But he’s also quick to point out the similarities. He does this constantly — always with the we’re-different-but-the-same thing. “New York isn’t different than any other city, it’s just sped up,” explains the Encino, CA resident. “And the people that call it chaotic just don’t understand,” explaining that the city is a barometer to measure the future of other cities. “That’s why racists hate cities like this. Because they know this reflects what’s going to happen to their own town.”
Already, the blood is pumping.
Truth be told, it doesn’t take much to get Mencia’s blood moving. Sometimes, he just has to wake up. A Stern caller the previous day said Mencia was talking so much and so fast that he accused Mencia of being on coke. Not likely. This self-described “beaner” — he’s half German, half Honduran — just has a lot to say.
Some are quick to paint Mencia as a race comedian, a guy who unapologetically reminds us that racial stereotypes exist because there’s truth to them. No doubt, race is on his mind a lot.
But really, he’s more like George Carlin, expounding on the stupidity of human beings, than George Lopez, who, many times, weighs his stand-up material down with anecdote after anecdote about growing up Mexican. And since Mencia has very few limits or subjects he considers taboo — race, fake tits, Attention Deficit Disorder, education, his wife’s oral skills, America, pampered NBA players — he gets in trouble every now and then. Lucky for him, he’s hilarious.
Carlos Mencia was one credit shy of making his parents proud. Up until then, he was doing a good job of it. He was 20 years old, working full time at Farmers Insurance and carrying a full course load at California State University, Los Angeles. Always an excellent student — “Half the students didn’t know who I was, and the other half hated me for ruining the grading curve,” he has said — he could’ve went to a better school, but Cal State was conveniently located just a few exits from his East LA home.
With a degree in electronic engineering nearly in his hands, he was on track for financial success. Sure, he kept his co-workers entertained at work. But it’s not like he tried. He was just being Carlos. “I would just see stuff on the news that I thought was ridiculous or, like, the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard, and I would come to work and talk to the guys about it,” he explains. “But I wasn’t trying to be funny. It was more like, ‘Can you believe this stupid shit?’ Little by little they started to laugh. Then it became something the guys looked forward to.”
Enter crusty white guy named Joe. “He was the bitter guy that had the crappy life, crappy wife, kids he hated. He never smiled — that kind of guy,” says Mencia. “He came up to me, and in the most serious nature said, ‘You’re very funny. I know you don’t know it, but you really need to do stand-up comedy, because you’re gifted. When he said that to me, I was like, ‘You know, I think I need to do stand-up comedy. If he’s saying that, it truly means something.”
And so with some gentle prodding from a cousin, he signed himself up for an amateur-night slot at the Laugh Factory in Hollywood. Carlos walked off stage after two and a half minutes, having gotten some laughs. “The minute I got off, I was like, ‘This is what I’m supposed to do with my life. I get it,'” he says. “I quit my job, and I stopped going to school. I didn’t even go to the next class. I just kept going to amateur nights.”
His parents, however, were pretty sure this was not how it was supposed to work. When he was 3 months old, Magdelena Mencia and Roberto Holness brought Ned (that’s his birth name) over from San Pedro Sula, Honduras. Just east of the Guatemalan border, San Pedro Sula is known for its gang violence but also for Honduran tourism, soccer stadiums, museums and lush parks.
Settling in East LA, where Carlos, in his younger days, made money by selling cocaine, proved to be a different but not-so-different experience for his family. Mencia, the second youngest of 18 children — his mom started having kids at 15 and stopped at 44 — grew up having been shot at 15 times and stabbed three. Early on in his life, his parents sent him to live next door with his aunt and uncle Consuelo and Pablo Mencia. He was the only one of his clan that was sent away.
“When I quit everything, my parents were like, ‘You’re a dumbass,” says Mencia. “They were like, ‘Are you telling us that we sacrificed everything and left family behind so that you can be a fucking clown?’ Then I started making money, and they were like, ‘You’re a genius. We always knew you would be special.'”
“But I understand where they were coming from,” the 37-year-old admits. “It also lead me to understand the kind of pressures and responsibilities that I had, not only as a person but as someone who cares about his family and wants to take care of them. Now, when I get e-mails from Hispanics saying, ‘We love what you’re doing, keep doing it, you’re representing us well’ it doesn’t feel overbearing. It’s like I had that my whole life in one shape or form. It has always been like that. I’ve always had the responsibility.”
Luckily, it didn’t take too long for Carlos to get noticed. He started regularly showcasing at The Comedy Store on Sunset Strip; his other duties for the next five years there included parking cars, seating people and running errands. “I ended up going to comedy college,” he says. He worked an average of 10 sets a week and did up to six performances a night throughout Los Angeles.
In 1994, Carlos got his first high-profile gig, hosting HBO’s Loco Slam , a Latino-flavored Def Jam-esque comedy show; that same year, his first half-hour comedy special aired on the network
Then began the gradual climb. In 2000, he released his first album, Take a Joke America . Two years later, he was headlining the Three Amigos Tour with Pablo Francisco and the late Freddy Soto.
He did another HBO special in 2003, released a slew of CDs, toured constantly and popped up on TV and movies here and there. Despite the constant hustle, Carlos managed to steadily date his future wife, Amy – a six-foot, blonde-haired, blue-eyed stunner from Oregon. “Ironic, isn’t it,” he laughs. “I’m kind of like Tiger Woods that way.”
THE TAO OF MENCIA
Carlos is the kind of guy who, after hearing him talk for five minutes on stage or off, you want to give him a hug. Not because he needs it, but because you need it — not because you’re sad but because you’ve connected and, for some reason, a strong hug — the kind that guys are allowed to give their best friends — is the only way to express your appreciation. Which is why, despite Mencia releasing what some industry folks might say are, for a comic, too many CDs and DVDs, people are still drawn to see the real thing, to feel that energy and positivism in real life.
You can feel a lot of that energy on Mind of Mencia , where Carlos excels at handing viewers honest opinions on everything from politics to television to fashion. For having 22 minutes of actual airtime, Carlos proves to be a master of comic economics. He manages to regale us with field pieces — see his “Desperate Gardeners” segment, where he introduces us to real gardeners and their shabby female bosses with not one Jesse Metcalfe or Eva Longoria in sight.
He uses his LA set for sketches with the “ghost of Johnnie Cochran” and puts on a “street-wear fashion show” featuring slightly flabby models showing off ass-crack-exposing jeans for men. Then there’s the stand-up. Dave Chappelle dabbles with it on his show, but Mencia makes a concerted effort to do enough so that the studio audience feels a connection. As a result, the show was the third highest rated Comedy Central premiere ever.
“When I saw the pilot, I was blown away by how clear his voice was,” says Zoe Friedman, vice president, current programming at Comedy Central. “He’s an equal-opportunity offender, but he has a sweetness that brings people in. Whether he’s in front of 300 Hispanics or 300 middle-aged white women, he kills.”
Mencia’s live shows don’t change based on his audience. He doesn’t care what color you are, though he’s happy to point you out and the differences between you and the differently colored guy next to you. Face it, it’s funny. “I was an outsider and an insider at the same time my entire life,” he says. “I was born in Honduras and grew up in East LA, where everyone is Mexican. The whole thing has given me a very interesting perspective.”
It’s that insider-outsider mentality that has made Blue Collar Comedy Tour and its founding comedians so successful. Surely many of its fans have different politics than Jeff Foxworthy, Larry the Cable Guy, Bill Engvall and Ron White. But those comics are brilliant. They disarm their audience by playing into traditional, self-deprecating southern stereotypes. Then, slowly, we get that they’re not that different, and we’re really laughing at ourselves. Mencia does the same thing, albeit, in an R-rated fashion.
“For me with my show, it’s more important that I have the opportunity to fail than the opportunity to succeed,” says Mencia. “If there’s a white show that doesn’t succeed, whatever network it’s on is not going to say, ‘our white show didn’t work, so let’s go to a black show.’ But that shit might happen if a black show or a Hispanic show failed.”
Though it seems Mencia has seen very little of it throughout his career, he knows that failure is always lurking. He’s not scared, though. “If I died right now, I’d be completely happy and satisfied,” he says. “I’ve done the best that I could with every opportunity presented to me. So yeah, I would be unbelievably happy. I’ve done good by me, by my standards.”
Carlos Mencia’s new DVD, Not for the Easily Offended is now available. For more information, visit carlosmencia.com.