Carlos Mencia: "I Live in a Positive World"
Say Carlos Mencia three times in a comedy club and see what appears. Could be a frown, a hateful rant, maybe even a defense, but chances are you'll get something out of the comedy community.
That's because, not too long ago, Carlos Mencia was one of the most controversial -- hated, even -- names in comedy. Now, if you don't know why that is, you'll need a history lesson. So here's the quick and dirty version.
Around 2005, Carlos was accused of stealing jokes from various comedians, from no-name openers to Bill Cosby. The accusations came from fans, but perhaps most damning, from comedians.
The whole thing kind of came to a head in 2007 with an onstage confrontation between Mencia and comedian Joe Rogan at the Comedy Store on Sunset, and not too long after, Mencia was the subject of a South Park episode, where the cartoon version of himself steals a joke from Cartman (who had stolen it from Jimmy). Somehow Kanye West gets involved. It's a good episode. Check it out.
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But back in reality, things weren't going well for Carlos. And his situation wasn't helped by videos like this and the fact that a case of bad timing had pushed Mencia as Chappelle's Show replacement, which -- in addition to angering fans of Chappelle's Show (a.k.a. all of North America) -- must have been somewhat similar to the feeling Pete Myers experienced when they put him in at shooting guard to replace Michael Jordan.
Anyway, that's a very succinct version of how Mencia came to be on the receiving end of an entire ocean of hate mail. If you have a couple hours, I recommend listening to Marc Maron's two-part interview with Mencia if you wish to delve a little deeper.
Yes, this is an awful lot of bringing up the past, but it's necessary to understanding Mencia. And yet none of it really helps answer the tough questions.
Why did everyone seem so eager to get out their pitchforks when Mencia's name came up? How can we prove one way or another if Mencia did really -- intentionally -- steal those jokes? If we can't prove anything, do we drop the whole issue? And why did the accusations seem to derail his career so quickly?
After all, Robin Williams survived accusations of plagiarism with his lifetime achievement awards still intact.
You may not be over these questions, but someone is: Carlos Mencia. The comedian is nothing if not ready to move on, and if the mind of Mencia was once I-95 at rush hour, it's now a yoga studio, albeit with a few more F-words and less stretching.
Having made it through that time with an enlightened perspective, Mencia is moving forward, doing a lot of stand up, and gearing up for another run at television. But before any of that, we caught up with Carlos Mencia to see how things have been going.
New Times: So you've been out of the public eye for a while. What have you been up to?
Carlos Mencia: After Mind of Mencia, I just really felt like I had to find myself. And get back to the roots of doing stand up. Because once you become a celebrity, you're not a real person anymore. None of real life applies to you.
You never have to drive anywhere; the cars pick you up. You never have to pay for anything because people are happy that you're at their restaurant. You just end up living this life that's so unbelievable that you end up on stage going, "Don't you hate it when people want you to go to their restaurant, and you do, but then the food sucks but you can't tell them because it's free?" It's like, who the fuck lives like that? I just had to connect. And that's what I've been doing for the past couple of years, just connecting with my roots in stand-up and with regular, average people. Because that's where my voice is.
I think most people will know you from Mind of Mencia, where you had four very successful seasons. But you chose not to do a fifth. Was there a moment when the show stopped being fun and started to become a job that you didn't like?
I didn't want my show to get redundant and repetitive. What people don't understand about any kind of show that has sketches in it, is that after a certain while, you just have to cycle out of it. You have to do what In Living Color did, or what Mad TV did, which is cycle new people in and get new perspectives. Because how many times can I do a sketch about immigration?
It just got to a point where I thought that year five was going to be repetitive, redundant, not relevant. The moment it happened was when we were sitting down having a writers meeting, and they gave me 68 pitches. Sixty-eight pitches. And of the 68 pitches, I literally said, "We did that," 42 times. And that's when I was like, wow, I've either got to get a bunch of new writers or change the way this show functions, which you really can't do. Or just accept that we've done everything we need to do and it's time to move on. And that's what I did.
I think you have a really unique perspective on fame and celebrity, more so than most. Because you've been on both extremes of it. You've been on the side of extreme success with Mind of Mencia, but you've also been on the other side, and on the receiving end of incredible amounts of hatred, and it all seemed to happen really quickly. Did that turn in your career ever really sink in, or did you not have time to process it all?
There's ebbs and flows in every career. I think mine was probably exasperated at the time by so much negative press and so much hate. Looking at what happens with regular careers, and then looking at what happened with mine, it was a little different. The comedic community turned on me, and the internet was vile against me for a long period of time. At the time it seemed important, but at the end of the day I'm a much, much better human being and a much, much better comic because what I've realized is it is not my job to worry or care about what people say that don't like me. I'm going to focus on the people that do like me -- the people that enjoy my comedy, the people that enjoy me making them laugh. Those are the people that I care about because I live in a positive world. It's not my job to worry about what other people think.
I've had people come to see my shows and say that it was the greatest concert -- not just comedy show, but concert -- that they've ever seen in their life, and in the same show somebody walked up to me and said it was the un-funniest thing they've ever seen in their entire life. I just do what I do and try to make people laugh.
What I love about performing in West Palm Beach is most people think of West Palm Beach and they think really rich, but they don't see the north, the south, or when you start going down Okeechobee, and the different cultures. I think it's beautiful that I go to places like that and bring all of those people together and make them laugh at the same thing and at themselves, and each other.
Well it sounds like you've really came out of that time with a new perspective. But while you were in it, I imagine one of the most frustrating parts of being accused of stealing jokes is the inability to prove that you're innocent. No matter how hard you try or yell, there's no button you can press to just pop open your skull and let everyone have a look inside. Was that something that you found frustrating?
It was beyond frustrating. There were very weak moments. Don't get me wrong, it wasn't like a severe depression where I literally wanted to eat a gun, but there were little moments when I went, "You know, if God took me right now, I wouldn't care." Yeah, sure, there were dark moments. But in order to come out, you must go through those dark moments. Those dark moments are moments of learning. I never said to myself, "What's that doing to me." I asked, "What is this doing for me?"
And while there were dark hours and really, really dark moments, what it gave to me was a gift. And that gift is that now I really live in a bright world, filled with joy and happiness and laughter. I don't have to prove anything to anybody anymore. I don't have to prove to anybody that I'm American enough. I don't have to prove to anybody that I'm Honduran enough, or Mexican enough, or Latin enough, or funny enough. I've come through all of this, and I now stand taller and prouder, and shorter and smaller than I ever was before. And I love that. And I'm so happy that I get the opportunity to still exercise my comedy and still get TV shows and all that stuff.
I think that I'm better prepared for the next time this happens. It looks like within the next few months I'll probably have a TV show, and when this one happens, I think time is going to move slower. I know I'm going to be better at it and more mature. I'm in such a positive place that I really believe that it's going to show.
Believe it or not, I've known a couple that have come to see me perform in West Palm Beach for the last 18 years, and the last time I was there, they came up to me and said, "You've never been funnier." I feel like I'm at my best right now. And interestingly enough, I don't offend as many people as I used to. People don't walk out of shows anymore. But I feel like I actually say things that are way crazier than what I said before. I just think before maybe there was a hint of grandiose.
Are you a little nervous that, getting back into the limelight, some of this hatred will rise again, or are you past it and to the point that, even if it does, you don't care or are maybe just better equipped to deal with it?
I really don't care. I really don't care whatsoever. I've dealt with it. Mind of Mencia was in production a year before it aired. I was supposed to go on after Chappelle. I was supposed to follow Chappelle. Do you understand what a dream that was when they told me that? That I was going to follow Chappelle's Show? Chappelle's Show was the number one show on cable, and I was going to follow it. Then Chappelle said he wasn't going to do the show anymore, so they put my show on and then a lot of Chappelle's Show fans were like, "Why the fuck are they replacing Chappelle's Show with this show?" And I was like, replacing? You guys don't understand.
I fought that fight. I fought the fight of: No, no, no, listen, I record all of my shows. I can tell you when I wrote that joke. No, listen, I have it recorded. I did that joke a year before --
I fought that fight. I don't wish to fight that fight anymore. I do things that I think are funny, and I put things out there I think are entertaining, and that's me. There are thousands of other comedians. There are hundreds of TV channels. I suggest that everybody out there watch what entertains them -- what makes them laugh, what makes them feel good and happy. If it's not me, God bless them. But I spend no time on trying to live in a negative world. It doesn't do anything for anybody. It just creates more negativity.
And, you know what, through the moments of darkness -- whether they were suicidal or homicidal -- through all of it, the one thing I'm proud of is you can go on the internet, and you can read about how people don't like me, or comics don't like me, or comic think this or that, but one thing -- the one thing you can not find on the internet is me speaking ill of any of those guys. Any of the comics, any of the haters, any of it. Through all of it, I was able to stay away from that. And I'm proud of that. And now I don't care. Like what you want. I'm happy for you. You made a choice in your life to be happy. Go for it. Be happy.
Looking back, do you think it was all coming from a place of hate? Or can you put yourself in the shoes of some of the people that were accusing you of things, and do you think they were trying to do the right thing?
No, not at all. I think all of that came from...[pause] Well actually, you know what, to be honest with you, I really don't know. And I was going to try to answer that and have a hypothesis about it and whatnot, but at the end of the day I have no idea what drives other people to do or say what they do. I really don't.
But what I do have control over is how I react to it. At the end of the day, that's my role in this dance. Where it came from? I don't know. I have no idea. Where that hate came from, where it goes -- I don't know. That's a question for them to answer. For me, I'm proud of the work that I've done, and I'm even prouder of what I'm doing now. That's where I live. I exist in that beautiful place called I make people laugh and happy for a living. That's my job. What a wonderful, wonderful job.
See Carlos Mencia at the West Palm Beach Improv May 22 through 25. Tickets cost $30.00 plus a two drink minimum. Call 561-833-1812 or buy tickets here.
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