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LAist Interview: Carlos Mencia

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Carlos Mencia is back at it and chances are you're either pumped or pissed about it. The loved/hated comedian's show, Mind of Mencia is back for a fourth season, his new Comedy Central special "Performance Enhanced" is now in heavy rotation on the cable network and he's hitting the road with the Bud Light Presents: Carlos Mencia at Close Range Tour, which hits the Gibson Ampitheater September 26 and 27. The comic who was born in Honduras and raised in East LA, took a little time out from production of his show to talk to LAist about the new season, race, Joe Rogan, being called a hack and the Internet.

What’s in store for the new season of Mind of Mencia?
I think the biggest difference this season is I got rid of a lot of the profanity. It started to annoy me when I was hearing the beeps watching it at home. There were a lot of changes I wanted to make, it was getting stale for me by the end of last year. I didn’t think I wanted to come back so I took the time off. I didn’t want to be doing the same thing. Comedy Central gave me some time to think about it and I said I'd come back but only if there were some changes to the show. You'll notice that it is a different show, it's got a lot more subtle humor, it's a more mature show.

What do you think has been the secret to the show’s success? As a whole, how do you measure success?
I don’t measure success by anything but happiness. I was born in Honduras, if I was still over there I think I'd be happiest guy in Honduras. Right now, I think I am the happiest guy here. You can chose to be happy or chose to be angry. Before this interview I was in a bad mood. I thought to myself, "Why am I in such a bad mood? What do I have to be angry about?" I don’t want to be the guy who gets in the car to drive to work and sits in traffic and complains everyday about the traffic. I just say what is on my mind. I connect with people. I say things that people think but can’t get away with it. I have no clue why I can get away the things I say, but I'm happy that I can.

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Back in 2005, when season one had just begun the New York Times' Virginia Heffernan called the show "a beggars-can't-be-choosers substitute for 'Chappelle's Show.'" Looking back, how much do you think Dave's departure from Comedy Central helped you?
It hurt and it helped. We were going to be going on after me. He was going to be our lead in and he had a huge audience, so obviously that would have helped. Him not being around also helped though, in a sense that it allowed the show to be judged on its own. There are still people who haven't been able to just look at the show as something completely separate from Dave's show, though. You're never going to be able to fight or beat nostalgia. Even with my show it's there. To the people who think my show is the funniest, they will laugh at everything, things that I don't even think were that funny. A good example of that is Napoleon Dynamite - people talk about it and laugh when they recite all the lines and then they go back and watch it and they don't laugh.

Your show focuses quite a bit on ethnic jokes, do you think ethnic sitcoms (House of Payne, George Lopez, etc.) help or hurt the targeted ethnicity in that their comedies have a tendency to reinforce stereotypes?
I think it does both. Sterotypes exist because somebody is reinforcing them. The difference between my show and the shows you mention is that my show deals with all stereotypes and all ethnicities. I do jokes where I play a white guy, a red neck, a black guy, whatever. I get to expand on things, also when you see my show all the surrounding characters are of ethnicity. You get a different view. In ways it's helpful and it's hurtful. People are better than they are, we have the capability to be better but look around you, we aren't. That's where the realness comes in. For example, if I get an email from a black guy about a jheri curl joke I did, I could tell him exactly where in my life that joke came from. I ride the bus from time to time, and when I got off the bus I had a stain on the back of my shirt from the guy with the jheri curl who was sitting in that seat on the bus before me. This wasn't a stain from like 20 years ago, this was a fresh stain.

In your Comedy Central special Performance Enhanced you touch on the use of the N word in hip-hop, what do you think of Nas' decision to change the name of his album?
You know it bugs me out because I had a great bit for the show about it but now that got killed. No but seriously, It depends on why he wanted to do it. If he was looking to be controversial he should have just kept it. Its just a word. By giving words so much power, you actually take away the essence of the realness. It depends on what his aim was, the word has too much power. If you write the word its not going to kill someone who is black. People will find another way to convey their emotions. I'd much rather have people come up to and say "you wetback beaner spic," then dress up like GI Joe and shoot and kill me. Violence is up with kids for a reason. I think it's because we are taking away their ability to express themselves. I don't know what his aim was but I think by changing the name of the album he just gave the word more power than it deserves.

Would you agree that you are a polarizing figure?
I think that's other people's opinion. I cant answer that because that's not my aim. I just want to make people laugh. In this country we pride ourselves on freedom of speech yet we are so restrictive of our content. When you're controversial, and you say what's on your mind you end up offending people.

What about amongst your peers?
Success breeds hate. There are very few people that are loved that aren't also hated. Indifference breeds indifference. If you go and see a comic you love, you'll go tell your friends and one of them is bound to say "I hate that guy." But if you go and see a comic you think is just ok and you go and talk about him with your friends will just say "yeah he's ok."

How much of being a comic is knowing your audience? Knowing who will be the one buying the tickets to these shows across the country?
In America its more about embracing the wholeness of everyone. I am not a niche comic, I never aimed to be a niche comic. I tell jokes that connect on a bigger level.

How much do you think the Joe Rogan situation actually helped your career?
I have no idea. From a human stand point though, I know it that hurt me. It hurts to be told that what you consider art was just blah. I learned that I have to embrace the fact that I have a successful TV show and that's going to breed some hate. I try to only listen to what I consider is real criticism. I love to give audiences a laugh. I don't put other people down to make myself look better.

What do you consider real criticism?
If someone says, "You're a hack" or "You suck," that's not real criticism. I can't react to that, there's nothing valuable or constructive that comes from that. But if someone says "That Bush joke you said wasn't that good, or it has been said before, maybe you should try to change that up, or tweak it a little," I'll listen to that and think about. The Internet, that's a place that breeds hatred. So few of the things that are said about me on the Internet that do not come from negativity. You won't read about how Carlos Mencia takes care of his family, or that he's helped out young comics. This is just people who don't know me saying things. Its easy to be a dick when you can be anonymous online.

I'm not really a fan of yours and this interview is for an outlet that is on the Internet, but I decided that I didn't want to be anonymous and wanted to speak with you.
And I appreciate that. You may not be a fan but that may come from how I grew up and how you grew up. I am sure there are comics who you really enjoy and they may be people who are saying the same things as I am, we just say them differently. Maybe those guys connect with you because of how they were raised. I connect with my audience because my comedy comes from my rough upbringing, you know I've seen friends shot, I've seen people killed, and those people who have been in my shoes might connect with me better. My style might be too abrasive for some. But I am giving my perspective on the things that are happening in the world, as much as people may say race isn't an issue...it is. If it weren't Barack Obama being a black man running for president wouldn't be an issue, but it is.

Were you surprised at how quickly the Joe Rogan thing spread?
I wasn't really surprised. I think the most important thing was that we were friends and it hurt. I'm glad that it happened though. It played a big part in my growth as a person. It made me a nicer human being. Before that whole thing, I don't how I would have reacted to you telling me you weren't a fan. I may have snapped on you. But this thing really helped me. I am so happy with my comedy right now. This is what I do. There are about 200 other channels on cable, if you don't like what I am offering there are plenty of other options available.

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Mind of Mencia airs Wednesdays at 10pm on Comedy Central. Tickets for the Bud Light Bud Light Presents: Carlos Mencia at Close Range Tour are on sale now.

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