Carlos Mencia - The Dreamcatcher of Comedy
After a two year hiatus from performing comedian, Carlos Mencia has returned to the stage and will be taping his new one-hour special for Comedy Central this Saturday July 16, at Pechanga Casino in Temecula. He'll be back to San Diego in August for a show at Humphrey's by the Bay.
Mencia began his career at The Comedy Store in Hollywood, rose to fame in the 1990’s with appearances on HBO, and was eventually given his own show on Comedy Central in 2005. Mind of Mencia aired from 2005 – 2008 and helped establish Mencia as one of stand-ups rising stars. Mencia continued to perform around the country before taking a much needed sabbatical in 2009.
SanDiego.com spoke with Mencia as he prepares for the taping of his Comedy Central special, found out what he learned working as a doorman at The Comedy Store, and what fans can expect to see at Pechanga on Saturday night.
What's your process for writing new material?
Carlos Mencia: I think about writing all the time, because I never no where the next character is going to come from, or where the next idea is going to come from, or the next moment, motive or agenda or premise. So it literally is 24 hours a day bro, it never stops. I write jokes in my dreams.
Do you have very lucid dreams?
CM: Yeah, I know when I’m dreaming. So the cool thing about that is, I don’t get emotionally involved in my dreams. I’m almost a surveyor of my own dreams, and that’s how I’m able to write jokes in my dreams. I’ll think of something funny and I’ll say, ‘Wow I gotta remember that when I wake up because that’s really funny.’
What’s the last lucid dream that you can remember?
CM: The last one was; a friend told me that he saw Barack Obama on TV going into the water in the gulf coast. He told me this in the middle of the night so I didn’t get to see the actual video footage until the next day, but that night I dreamt that I was on a panel on one of the news networks and they showed the President going into the water in the gulf coast to show us that it’s safe, and that there’s no oil residuals. And I was part of the panel, and I was like, ‘Wait a minute. We just sent the President to go in the water to see if there’s any black oil. Isn’t he black? Isn’t there a better person for that job that can show a little more contrast? I mean black-on-black? We don’t see sky writing at night. I don’t get this. It’s not racial.’ I remember going, ‘That premise if funny, I gotta work on it and polish it up.’ But what you just heard is exactly what was in my dream.
Do you remember the very first time you did stand-up?
CM: The first time ever was at The Laugh Factory. I remember that I didn’t know anything about comedy, so I just went up and told some joke-jokes, but I made them about me instead of a joke-joke. But there was one joke that I told that was about a plane flying in Hawaii from one island to another, and mid-flight the fuselage came apart and a flight attendant was sucked out of the plane, and on the news it said, ‘Flight attendant sucked out of the plane at 7,500 feet, she’s presumed dead.’ I remember watching that on the news going, ‘What do you mean presumed? She got sucked out of a plane at 7,500 feet; she’s dead, you can say she’s dead, its okay.’ Then I remember thinking, ‘Was she wearing Cotex with wings? How can you even say that she might not be dead?’ So of all the stuff I said in those 2 or 3 minutes, that jokes was an original thought; an original idea. And it was something that I had thought of my whole life, but I never said because my mom was always in that mode. My mom would always stop me. She knew that I had this inside me and she was always like, ‘You better not say what you’re thinking. You better not say it now and you better not say it here.’ And for the longest time I couldn’t say any of that stuff and that was the one joke that I knew it was something that I couldn’t say and I remember going, ‘I found the one place where I can actually vocalize my thoughts. The morbid behaviors and the craziness. The first time I had a comedic thought I was about 10 years old. I was at a church, Our Lady of Soledad . This guy got killed, but this guy had killed like 6 people in our neighborhood, beat like 5 of us, threatened like all of us; he was a bad guy who did a lot of bad things. He actually had 4 teardrops tattooed on his eye, and each teardrop was a claimed death that he took from a person’s life. I remember we show up and everybody’s dressed nice, and then they bring out the casket and his mom is literally draped over the casket screaming, ‘Why God?! Why did you take my baby!?’ And I remember back then going, ‘Cuz’ he’s a killer, bitch! And half of us are actually suspects to his murder! Where were you when he was doing all this stuff? Do you not know? He’s got the teardrops man! That’s 4 suspects right now without his family included. What are you, retarded?’ Those thoughts were always there in my head.
So when did you find out about The Comedy Store?
CM: After I performed at The Laugh Factory for the first time I found out about The Comedy Store. I did an amateur night; I did 3 minutes and it was fun. The one thing I never lacked was confidence, especially back then. I came out of the ghetto guns blazing. Two weeks after that, almost 28 days after my first performance, I called up The Comedy Store and said, ‘My name is Ned Mencia and I’m from Honduras.’ And I got a call later on saying, ‘You're showcasing for Mitzi tonight.’ I did 3 minutes and I got off stage, and she made me a regular about 2 months after that. She watched me perform and she goes, ‘Ned, you can’t be an angry Mexican named Ned.’ And I’m like, ‘Mitzi, I’m not Mexican I was born in Honduras.’ And she said, ‘Yeah but you can’t be an angry Mexican named Ned. Carlos Mencia, that’s melodious. That’s your new name.’ And I knew by her taking an interest in me and from that point on, that’s when I started getting more spots than anyone else. She hired me at the door, she said, ‘you’re going to work the door and you’re going to learn from other comics, what to do, what not to do. This is your college.’
What’s the best advice a comic ever gave you when you were working at The Comedy Store?
CM: I remember talking to Sam Kinison about all that stuff, and Kinison was like, ‘Just do your thing. If Mitzi’s giving you spots, do them. She wanted me to do puppets and I wouldn’t do that, but she gave me all the spots I needed bro.’ and I’m like, ‘Puppets?’ He’s like, ‘Yeah, she wanted the screaming guy to be the puppet instead of me.’ I’m like , ‘Oh shit. That’s interesting but I don’t know if that would’ve worked.’ It was a great experience.
How long were you an employee at The Comedy Store where you had to work for your spots?
CM: I became a paid regular when I got a show on HBO. That’s not even kidding. Mitzi made me bust my ass for all the stuff that I got. She gave me 2 or 3 good spots and from that point on it was, opening spot, last spot, opening spot, last spot, last spot, opening spot, opening spot, last spot. It was just go on at two o’clock in the morning after they’re dead and there’s only three people. Go on at 1:30 in the morning after Paul Mooney, Eddie Griffin and Andrew “Dice” Clay each did 45 minutes to an hour and all the other comics left, but you’re there working the door so hey, do you want to get up and do some time? It was like that kind of stuff. Just like guerilla comedy, the worst type of atmosphere that you could possibly imagine.
How long would say that it took for you to find your voice as a comedian?
CM: It takes 5 years to get funny and about ten years to put your voice and your funny together. It first takes 5 years for you to really get funny, and what I mean by that is, where you can give any comedian that’s really funny any premise and they’ll either say, ‘I don’t do that,’ or ‘I know how to make it funny.’ For the first years you’re just saying things that are funny. Then the next five years you spend falling on your ass saying things that you think are funny but are a little too serious or a little too personal. What happens is it takes you another few years to get that machine to go together. To take what you know how to make funny, with the things that you really want to say and are important to you and merge them into a real performance. And that is when you can really begin to say things that are profound and awesome and funny. So you look at any comics greatest album or greatest performance, they’re usually after 10 years not before.
Was there ever a specific moment for you when you realized that you finally achieved that, or did that validation come along when you booked your first appearance on HBO?
CM: For me it’s never been about that believe it or not. For me it’s always been about one thing and one thing only, is making audiences laugh. I don’t need the approval of people; it’s not approval I seek. It’s not attention I seek; I’m not one of those comics. But what does drive me personally is, I want everybody around me to be happy. When somebody has a sad face around me I’m like, ‘What do you need? What do you want? I want to make you happy, I want to make you smile.’ I find myself caring more about that than I do about anything else. That’s my driving force: making other people happy.
With all the controversy that you were embroiled with in recent years, I think the most compelling thing to come out of it were the interviews you did with Marc Maron on his WTF Podcast. How did you like the way those episodes came out?
CM: I thought that the questions I was asked were fair. The only thing I didn’t appreciate was the single-sidedness of the interviews for the second part. There are a lot of comics, and people that actually not only like me but appreciate what I’ve done for them and for comedy. I don’t appreciate that the other side wasn’t shown. The fact that there are people that I’ve brought on the road that don’t have that opinion of what went down amongst us, that I thought was unfair. But that being said, I was honest and that’s all I can say, I can’t speak to anything else.
How much time did you take off from performing?
CM: Two years.
Really? I thought you had been performing sporadically around the country whenever you felt like it.
CM: I was, but that wasn’t real performing. That was automatic pilot; there was no new writing in that. There was no new material, it was simple performance. It was non-consuming.
How was the first time you got up to do stand-up after your break?
CM: That took a really long time, because I would go to the clubs and I didn’t know what I wanted to talk about and then I did, and then I wasn’t good at it, and then my attitude was different. It just took a few months; at least 6 months to actually feel a positive flow amongst the material and myself. It wasn’t good for awhile. I just changed as a human being. During season 4 of Mind of Mencia I told everybody, ‘I’m not doing a season 5.’ So once that show went away, it freaked me out because it’s not normal for me to say no to work. I’m a guy that grew up on welfare and government cheese as a foreigner in America. I know what poor is. I don’t say no to money and I don’t say no to work, and I said no to both. Even though I started doing comedy because I wanted to be funny, somewhere along the way the business of show becomes a part of who you are. I’ll give you an example. The first time I went to San Antonio, tickets were $15 and we sold out 7 shows. They generated over $30,000 at the door or whatever it was, and they paid me $6,000. I know what that split is and I remember going, ‘That’s never going to happen again.’ So from points like that on it was, I’m going to count the seats. I’m going to make sure that if the shows are sold out that they don’t pay me less than sold out. So let’s say the shows are sold out and there’s 350 seats per show. Well only 344 people showed up. So on my settlement sheet I look at it and it’s like, ‘Wait. There’s only 344? No, it was sold out.’ So then I call my agent and say, ‘Hey man, the shows are sold out why am I only getting paid on three-something?’ So I was very in tune with the business of it, as much as I was in tune with the show of it. So as a performer I wanted to make sure that they keep coming back, and from a business perspective, I’m the first comedian to ever record every single show I did. And you can purchase a copy of that show. Right now technology has gotten to the point where I can just sell you a USB drive with either video or MP3, and you can have the show that you were just at. Before I used to record them, edit them, clean them up a little bit, and then send them to people. I go as far back as I used to send people cassettes, that’s how long ago I did it. I kind of last track of the pure joy of doing stand-up. So when I stopped doing Mind of Mencia I kind of came full circle. I had the success, I had the TV show, I had the accolades, I had the awards, I had the Emmy’s. Then I realized I do comedy because I love it, but I don’t think anything’s funny right now. Then I woke up one day and something was funny. And now I feel like America needs a voice like mine.
What kind of material can the audience expect to hear during your new special?
CM: The majority of it is honestly my perspective of America. Which is so positive and different from so many Americans that I know. And a big part of it is because I’ve been to many other countries and I know what it’s like to live in a country that really sucks.
Does Carlos Mencia have a message for the children?
Carlos Mencia: I think my whole act is for developing minds. The problem is the language. If we look at language as simple language; some language is for adults some language is teenagers. I think the message is especially for developing minds. I think that sometimes though the delivery of that message is inappropriate to them just base on profanity or whatnot. The message of take responsibility for the things you do in your life because the consequences will be yours and yours alone, that’s something that all kids should understand. The message it for all the kids. I think that the way I deliver it sometimes might go above their heads or freak them out just a bit.
Carlos Mencia will be taping his new Comedy Central special this Saturday July 16 at Pechanga Casino. He's be back in San Diego on Saturday, August 20th for a show at Humphrey's Concerts by the Bay