Comedian Carlos Mencia on calf fries, avoiding self-indulgence and never getting past his plagiarism scandal
By Chip Chandler — Digital Content Producer
More than a decade on, Carlos Mencia knows he'll never completely live down the plagiarism scandal that rocked his career. He'll even bring it up first.
As we spoke recently about his upcoming return to Amarillo — for an 8 p.m. Friday performance in the Amarillo Civic Center Complex Auditorium, 401 S. Buchanan St.; tickets are $30 to $40, plus fees — Mencia talked about his theory that comedians are better off exploring their curiosity rather than exploiting their demons.
We got there by talking about, of all things, calf fries, which he ate the last time he was in Amarillo: "I would imagine that if I was a chef, I would try to make them something completely different. I feel like they're always deep fried and served with ranch. ... One of my favorite thigns to eat is ... beef kidneys, but what you do with them is sautee them with onions, bell peppers, tomatoes, bacon, then put it all together; you don't just deep fry them. ... I'll experiment on some testicles. That's the mind of a comedian, it really is.
"A lot of people think what we do comes from angst, and I would imagine that a lot of it does because when the world doesn't make sense, we look for the funny, but the curiosity factor is the biggest factor of what makes us tick," Mencia continued.
"I feel like comics see more layers ... but we also have the ability to simplify them," he said. "I think that's where the genius lies in great comics."
I asked if he didn't explore some of his own angst in his work.
"Nah, nobody cares about my dark issues," he said. "I remember when I was going through the whole plagiarism thing (see here and here and here). I would go on stage and try to address it with the audience, and they didn't care for it at all.
"On the internet, they cared. The audience that comes out, they just want you to be funny," he continued. "It's not that they don't care about plagiarism. They don't believe any of it if they've been fans long enough.
"They want you to make them laugh, to do your job. There's a solace (in that) for me, as well," he said. "I have a tendency sometimes to get very Lenny Bruce-ish, and that's not good. It's good that the audience doesn't let me go there."
Good for who?
"For both of us. If my act is cathartic for them in the midst of laughter, that's a beautiful thing," he said. "If my act is cathartic for me, that's not a good thing. It becomes self-indulgent. I've seen performers like that, but it becomes about the artist.
"I believe a great artist is there for the people, for us to gain from their work, for us to see it or hear it or feel it and become petter people," he continued. "To me, it's for you, the audience. If you're some (male organ) up there talking about your issues and when people don't laugh and you say, 'Well, they don't get it,' you're wrong. They don't care. They don't care, and that's a big difference."
Amarillo has something of a connection to Mencia's low point, in fact.
He recalled that a comedian friend named Juan Villareal was approached after they both performed in Amarillo.
"Somebody came up to him ... while I was in the bathroom, and while I was walking around the corner, this guy was saying, I remember you, you're funny, he stole your act," Mencia said.
As Mencia also told the New York Times, that's exactly backwards.
"He literally had a few minutes of standup (early in his career); he hadn't been doing it long enough," Mencia said. "He called me up and asked if I was going to be performing in Corpus Christi any time soon, because they paid him $3,000 to headline and (he) started doing (my) jokes.
"I said, 'Dude, why would you do that?'," Mencia recalled. "He said, 'Look at it from my perspective. When I was a young kid, I stole a car and got five years probation. Now, I stole your jokes, and I got paid $3,000.'"
So back to the Amarillo part of the story.
"Juan explained to him (the Corpus story) ... (and said) he's only ever been nice to me, only ever helped me out when I needed money or needed work," Mencia said. "There was a pause, and the guy goes, 'You know what? (Expletive) him. I don't like him anyway.'"
Mencia is resigned to not winning for losing.
"It's moments like that that made me realize that people who dislike me want to find a reason to dislike me, so my job is to entertain the best I can, to write the most relevant material, the most connected material, to be the most relevant artist I can," he said. "I can't worry about who is going to like me — or dislike me, for that matter. I pay attention to the audience, to their laughter, but outside that, you can really, really, really drive yourself mad thinking about the negatives."
Getting to that point "takes a lot of time, takes a lot of therapy, takes a lot of support and love," he said.
"I'm a much better comic than I ever was, a much better performer than I ever was," he said. "I'm much more well-rounded. I was able to go from cocky (on the outside) and humble on the inside to being able to be humble all around.
"When I was younger, I had something to prove to the world," he said. "I went on stage and screamed it from the mountaintop — 'I'm funny!' ... Today, my mentality when I go on stage is I have a gift and this gift is for me to share with the world, so I'm going to share it with whoever wants to share it.
"And that's it," he continued. "There's no proving. It's just literally, I'm a funny guy, let me share my funny with you. It's a much different perspective now. And whether we unintentionally create things or belive in the Zen or the Buddhist way or (that) God works in mysterious ways, whatever parable or thought you believe, I used it to grow.
"At the end of the day, I used it to grow."