As a comedian, running out of material is one thing; drawing a complete blank and abruptly announcing your exit as you walk off stage three minutes into your routine is another. In the world of funny, bombing is a fate worse than death.
However, for Carlos Mencia, it was a positive turning point in his career.
The audience’s reaction to Mencia’s nervous, short-lived first performance was incredible, causing the owner of the Laugh Factory to believe it was all part of a brilliant, but unorthodox, stage act. A month later—encouraged by the crowd’s response and the owner’s advice to “never stop doing comedy”—the LA-based comedian showcased next at the star-making venue The Comedy Store. He’s been performing regularly around the country ever since.
Quite a change for a guy once holding down a full-time job at Farmer’s Insurance while studying for a respectable if ordinary career as an electrical engineer.
Amazingly, Mencia never set out for a career making people laugh. His stratospheric rise in comedy started on a dare.
“My friends always thought I was funny, you know, hearing the stories I’d tell,” Mencia remembers. “They kept bugging me about trying it out on stage. So I thought, ‘Fine, I’ll go do it.’ It wasn’t like my lifelong dream or anything, bro. I didn’t think I’d end up here.”
Mencia still seems stunned by his good fortune and his ascent through the cutthroat ranks of comedy. Over the past six years, he has released a number of well-received and critically appraised comedy albums, including the recent America Rules; hosted cable TV’s weekly Latin comedy series Funny is Funny and HBO’s Loco Slam; earned a CableACE award nomination for “Best Stand-Up Comedy Special”; and garnered a standing ovation for his first Tonight Show appearance.
As a Latino comedian, Mercia seems equally stunned by his new status as a role model, particularly to Latino kids not familiar with Latino comics on TV. Finding yourself expected to play up to your core Latino audience leads to being accused by some of promoting ethnic stereotypes in your approach. As Mencia explains, being cast as an unofficial spokesperson for your culture adds pressure to what’s already a hard business.
“I can’t please everybody,” Mencia explains. “But really, I like the pressure. I don’t endorse stereotypes in my comedy. I tell stories that are funny, talking about people that might seem like stereotypes. But my stories are based on truth. People I know. And most stereotypes are based on some reality.
“Everything’s funny to me, you know. Like how Arabs are suddenly worried about racial profiling. Racial profiling? Like getting checked at the airport is something bad. How often do you fly? At least they’re getting an explanation. It’s not like I’m getting pulled over as a Hispanic for ‘security reasons.’ I’m just glad us and the blacks aren’t the only races getting racially profiled these days.”
So you can’t accuse Mencia of being politically correct. Which is what it’s all about in his eyes. Perhaps it’s those who can’t see how his comedy transcends the “Latino experience” that have the bigger problem.
“I just like pointing out the bullshit in life,” he says. “With me, you’re going to get someone who says things that are not politically correct. Things that will make you laugh and think. Laugh at what you don’t think you should be laughing at. If you don’t like what I say, go see Carrot Top.
“Really, I think political correctness is racism. The idea of being treated ‘different’ because of your race? Getting a job or into a school even with a lower GPA? That’s all condescending bullshit.”
Politics aside, Mencia is still grateful he found his true calling. Especially before completing his four-year college degree.
“I think God gives us all a gift,” Mencia professes. “Some of us don’t accept it, but really, everyone’s the best at something. For me, I discovered this is my ‘best’ thing—to be funny and make people laugh.”