“The Mind of Mencia” was the second highest-rated show on the Comedy Central Network in 2006. Only the legendary “South Park” came in higher. Airing for three years, the stand-up-and-sketch comedy show featured a Who’s Who of some of the nation’s best comics and celebrities as guest stars, including the late Robin Williams, Cheech Marin, Tracy Morgan, Bobby Lee, Gene Simmons, and Frank Caliendo.
The mind behind “The Mind of Mencia” is comedian and actor Carlos Mencia, who will be appearing at the Pittsburgh Improv this Friday through Sunday, Sept. 19 – 21. Mencia both hosted and performed in the TV show; his brother, Joseph, was a cast member as well.
In a recent phone interview with Entertainment Central, Mencia said, “Doing ‘The Mind of Mencia’ was an amazing experience. I learned and grew from it. The frustrating thing was, I was so busy working on the show that I didn’t see how big it was getting, and it went by so fast. It was amazing to reach that many people.”
One downside he noted, “As long as there’s commercials on the show, the network doesn’t want to offend anyone or hurt advertisers. It’s more difficult to be funny. That’s why I enjoy doing stand-up and putting comedy performances on the Internet.”
Mencia described his comedy as honest and real, which also happens to be true of his major comic influences, Robin Williams, Lenny Bruce, and Richard Pryor. But “every single comedian I’ve seen has affected me and touched me,” he added. “I grew up as a comedian at The Comedy Store, which was the greatest school of comedy in the world.” Mencia said he would watch comedians to see what worked for them and what didn’t. He was eager to learn why some people were funny every time they hit the stage, and how they worked out their new material. Some comedians, he said, even had a hidden note pad on stage to check off what parts of their new material were successful and what parts weren’t.
In one of his performances he talks about how his dad “kept it real” and was better off for it. In the bit, he speaks of walking past his parent’s room when he was four, and his mom asked his dad the toughest question for any man in a relationship—”Do I look fat in this dress?” His dad doesn’t miss a beat and says, “Yes, you look fat in everything.” His wife promptly retorts that he’s an asshole, and his father replies, “How am I the bad guy? You’re fat and I’m taking you out to dinner to make you fatter. I’m gonna feed you and then I’m gonna ‘mmm you. How am I the bad guy?” Then his mom laughs at his dad. Mencia thinks this is brilliant of his father.
From Honduras to the L. A. Fast Lane
Mencia was born in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, the 17th of 18 children. His mother, Magdalena, knew at his birth that she would send him to live (and have better opportunities) with an aunt in the Maravilla Projects in East Los Angeles, Calif., so she gave him what she thought was the most American-sounding name she could think of—Ned. Mencia recounts that just the name earned him an “ass kicking” from some neighborhood roughs. When he turned 18, he promptly changed it to Carlos.
Mencia walked the straight and narrow with the help of his family. He did well in school and went on to study electrical engineering at California State University, Los Angeles. He left college early, though, after tasting success at an open mic night at The Laugh Factory. After that, Mencia started appearing at The Comedy Store and was so popular he became a regular, even performing nightly for awhile. Successes kept coming, and he was named International Comedy Grand Champion on “Buscando Estrellas,” a Latino version of the “Star Search” TV show. He then made guest appearances on a cavalcade of shows, such as “In Living Color,” “The Arsenio Hall Show,” “Moesha,” “Loco Slam,” “MADtv,” and “The Shield,” along with the movie An Evening at the Improv.
Numerous other specials and appearances ensued, including playing the character Chuy in the pilot and one other episode of “The Bernie Mac Show.” Mencia said, “Bernie Mac was awesome to work with, a real person, a real good guy, like someone from my neighborhood. I [related to] his jokes.” In regard to working with Ben Stiller in the ’07 Farrelly brothers’ comedy film The Heartbreak Kid, he said, “Stiller is a genius. When you work with someone like that, you pay attention.”
Can You Handle the Truth?
Humorous—and sometimes raw—stories and observations about current news, culture, race, politics, and family are all trademarks of Mencia’s brand of humor. For example, a dreadful recent news item provoked this wry comment: “Ebola killed tens of thousands of Africans over the years, and there was no cure. Two Americans come down with the virus, and suddenly there’s a cure.” Mencia said he also likes the news because he can instantly work a topic into that night’s stand-up routine or do a podcast. When asked his favorite type of comedy to perform, he quickly replied, “Stand-up. Hands down. I like to challenge people.”
Although Mencia’s material can be a little rough at times, he comes across as a friendly, smart, and well-spoken man. “I see myself as a positive person, someone who counts their blessings,” he commented. “A cool thing is the acceptance of truth, although some people have an inability to accept the truth. Like, if you’re stuck in traffic, you can’t do anything about it. Why fight it?”
Mencia has performed for U.S. troops overseas numerous times as part of U.S.O tours. In addition to standup and acting, he also is a writer and producer. He’s currently developing a few new projects, but wasn’t quite ready to divulge any details. Mencia lives in Los Angeles with his wife, Amy, and their son, but pointed out that he has always enjoyed performing in Pittsburgh.
His previous local gigs have included shows at the Pittsburgh Improv and Heinz Hall. And Mencia’s bottom line on Pittsburghers? “They’re “cool, real people with real jobs.”
Catch Carlos Mencia Friday at 8 and 10:15 p.m.; performances through Sunday. Pittsburgh Improv, 166 E. Bridge St. The Waterfront, Homestead.
For the latest on Carlos Mencia including podcasts, links to YouTube videos and social media, visit carlosmencia.com
Special thanks to Carlos Mencia, Yvette Shearer, and Ani Istanboulian.
Rick Handler is executive producer of Entertainment Central Pittsburgh and a lover of great entertainment.