In the mind of Carlos Mencia, veteran comedian opens up

By Alison Tracy 

February 16, 2016

Let’s talk about what you don’t know about Carlos Mencia. Carlos Mencia is a Honduran immigrant who’s been a comedian for over 25 years. He’s been grinding away in comedy clubs longer than some millennials have been alive. His major Comedy Central series, Mind of Mencia, came to fruition 15 years after he had chosen comedy as a profession.

Now, let’s talk about what you probably do know about Carlos Mencia. Around the same time Mencia was seeing a rise in success, rumors of plagiarism began to crop up. Comedians from Joe Rogan to the creators of South Park chimed in on the subject, elevating the controversy beyond the realm of in-circle complaining to the public forum.

Looking into Mencia’s career, I had to really consider the subject of plagiarism in comedy. Comedians don’t find success on plagiarized jokes alone. A comic standing on stage churning out nothing but rehashed content from other people wouldn’t be booked; they’d be blacklisted very quickly into any sort of career. Many high-profile comedians have had plagiarism rumors. Amy Schumer, being the most recent to gain any attention, reworked a joke of the late Patrice O’Neal. Yet, the level of venom for Schumer was short lived and smoldered out pretty quickly.

Even though Mencia still gets tweets rebuking him, he is determined to follow his passion. He’s touring now, and CLTure had the opportunity to talk to him about his current tour and future plans.

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CLTure: You’re doing two shows a night some nights, is that pretty exhausting?

Carlos Mencia: Oh God no, it’s amazing. Every show is great. It’s a different performance and a different crowd. So what ends up happening is, from my perspective, seeing a bunch of people, making them laugh, making them happy taking pictures with them all that stuff, and then 45 minutes later I get to do that again. So it’s actually a lot more fun because it’s more intimate.

CLTure: Pablo Francisco was just here. Are you still on good terms and can we expect you two to work together again?

Carlos Mencia: It’s one of those things where sometimes, we as comedians, we don’t hang out all the time, but we grew up in comedy together. We’ve known each other for years. I was actually thinking, he and I and a comedian that passed away, we did a show called The Three Amigos. I was actually thinking of doing a reunion of like, him and me, and a couple other comedians I’ve worked with before. It’s funny because, what will happen is he’ll end up doing an interview on a radio station a week before me, and then I’ll show up, and they’ll bring him up and I’ll do impressions of him, but they’re impressions from like 10 years ago so I’m like, “Am I doing the right thing? Is this the right one? Is he going to come at me like I don’t even say that anymore!” So yeah, I miss him, I miss all those guys. I miss the camaraderie.

CLTure: You’re working clubs and smaller crowds again. How do you feel that club setting has helped you?

CM: Oh yeah. Here’s the deal: if you look at my schedule I have some in theaters with some club dates. If I can do club dates, I would rather do club dates, because I love the intimacy of it. But it’s also how you work and write. For example, I saw something on the news today and tonight I’m going to talk about that on stage… If I was doing one show at a theater, I wouldn’t do that joke, because it’s a theater, it’s more rock and roll. There’s no subtlety. Comedy clubs are like practicing. They’re like working out, it’s like getting into the ring and sparring. You’re punching, and still getting punched, but you’re working stuff out. You try things you wouldn’t try when you’re in an actual fight. I stick to clubs as long as I can…I really love talking to people. I mean, last night was magic. I tried to get off the stage four times and the audience just tells me to keep going. And this lady just yells out “Carlos! Can you please get me a Tito’s vodka with water? Nobody wants to get me a drink!” so I got her a drink and from that point on the show became a lot about her. Stuff like that doesn’t happen when you’re doing big theaters.

CLTure: Well, I was going to ask you: you respond a lot to people on social media, is that something you use to ramp up before shows, or to “keep the claws sharp,” so to speak?

CM: The internet can get really wicked and dark. You have to be careful to not get sucked into that darkness. But, it’s the new form of talk. Talking to someone through Twitter is communicating with people anywhere in the world. And it’s touching them in a way that, back in the day, used to be fanmail. All this other stuff is so amazing… I enjoy the connection of it.

CLTure: You’ve done a lot of USO shows. I wanted to ask if you were still doing those and, in doing those, did you become more attuned to the needs of veterans? Have you kept in touch with anyone you met?

CM: I did, and I get a lot of vets coming to shows. I do USO stuff or stuff for the military whenever they ask. I’ve always felt a sense of pride because I’m an immigrant, and my level of success in this country has been so awesome that I have always been very thankful for everything that I have and these are the people that have provided that in the most fundamental way. Sometimes people will ask me for a free ticket to a show or, if the show is sold out, they’ll tell me they really want to see me, and whatever I can do to accommodate I will. Especially for the troops. They don’t really ask for anything, they do their job over there. I love performing for the troops.

CLTure: Not to beat a dead horse, but I wanted to ask you on the heels of a plagiarism scandal, have you ever thought about why the controversy for you was full of so much vitriol?

CM: Part of it was my fault. Part of it was because my cocky attitude, my youthful irreverence, was taken as arrogance. I didn’t have a lot of friends in comedy. Not because I didn’t want to, but I was a workaholic. I had a spot at the Laugh Factory, and I had a spot at the Comedy Store, and I didn’t have a lot of comedy friends back in those days. For me, I mean, you saw what happened to me. It wasn’t just attacking my comedy. If you go on the internet you see “He’s not really Mexican, his name is Ned.” It wasn’t solely about plagiarism. It was like, “here’s a guy who comes into comedy clubs, bumps us, we don’t like him, he’s getting big laughs and he’s successful.—No, fuck that, you know he’s not Mexican, his name isn’t Carlos.” …It is interesting how if you look at me, if you look at Dice, if you look at Amy—it stays for two to three days and then it goes away.

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CLTure: People have had accusations thrown around– Dane Cook taking Louis CK’s material– it’s not new to the comedy scene and people’s names get thrown around all the time. Just thinking about it and the amount of contempt thrown your way versus what I’ve seen in other scenarios… I had to think about why this happened to you. Is it because there is a note of racism there?

CM: I mean, there might be, I don’t know. If you look at it, it was literally a campaign to try to ruin my career. …It was harsh, and anyone that did try to defend me was obliterated to the point where I have friends who told me they just couldn’t handle it. They were asking me how I handled it based on them getting shit for supporting me. You know, they’d say “We know you, we’ve seen you, we’ve been in the car with you listening to talk radio and you say ‘Oh my God that’s going to be so funny later.’ And we see you get up on stage and do 10-15 minutes on something we were there for.” …maybe it’s because I’m meant for bigger and better things, maybe it was a trial of some sort.

CLTure: So what do you currently have in the works?

CM: Here’s the interesting thing, I put out an album every night. I record every show. So, believe or not, at the end of the show, you can get a copy of the show you just saw. I’ve recorded every show since 1994. Right now we’re editing the show I recorded in December, so that will be out soon. Netflix has expressed interest in it. I shot in a tiny tiny club in Miami that only seats around 90 people. So it’s a much different version of Carlos Mencia that anyone has ever seen on TV. Because what they’ve seen is a bombastic theater special, prowling the stage like a lion, and this is tiny so I couldn’t do any of that stuff. We’re working on a few projects for TV, one of them is a go for sure, so everything is going really well. The ups and downs have made me a better human being and most definitely a better comic. I’ve heard nothing but rave reviews especially from people that have known me for a long time that say you’ve never been funnier. So I’m in a great place.

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