C 4 UrSelf: Carlos Mencia’s Take on Comedy and Politics
If there’s one thing that critics and fans alike can agree with, it is that Carlos Mencia’s comedy does not shy away from the political, and this politic is often neither “correct” nor sugarcoated, oftentimes leaving anybody in his audience vulnerable to being the pun of a joke. In an age of maintaining the peace by “keeping things PC” (essentially a movement towards attributing a purposeful attentiveness to a plethora of individual sensitivities via language), Carlos Mencia has not been tempted or convinced quite yet to euphemize his verbal shenanigans. This could be why he has been the subject of vehement opposition while juxtaposed with his revered title of “International Comedy Grand Champion,” really begging the need to “C 4 UrSelf” what makes Mencia’s twists on race, culture, class, and justice so enthralling
It isn’t just his jokes that have made his stand-up showman and acting career as fruitful as it has been, it is also the person and the philosophy behind Mencia’s talent that have distinguished him for nearly three decades. While Delaware County will now have the chance to (literally) see for themselves Mencia’s act at The Valley Forge Casino, I suggest that they first read for themselves the mostly serious lessons that Mencia hopes to convey amidst sharp one-liners and gasp-inducing laugh bombs. After all, in the midst of divisiveness, rage, exhaustion, and an unprecedented future for our nation’s government and people, we could all use a few laughs and reality-checks:
Carlos, you’re known to not shy away from pretty much any material. This has gotten you into trouble, but it has also been your strength. As a comic that weaves pertinent social commentary into his performance, what do you consider your role to be, especially given our current situation?
“This is a really important time for comedy… There’s so much fear. People are angry and fearful because they are powerless, and people fear those with power. Right now, it’s important to be a unifier, and to talk more about human experiences in a legitimately authentic but positive way. I want people to say, ‘Holy shit, I never thought of it that way!’ when they hear my jokes. Especially because I want them to understand that, when Obama took office eight years ago, there were issues. The Right got pissed, but the Left didn’t care. Now, 8 years later, guess who’s pissed and who doesn’t care. I try to joke about that in general. My material is constantly changing. Every night I spend about 30-40 minutes thinking about new things to say that keeps things fresh, but manages to dig into the emotional part [of the audience].”
What do you wish to get out of them “emotionally,” about that topic [politics]?
“I think we get stuck on the little things and nuances way too much, when we should really be looking at the bigger picture. I hear people saying that this is the end of America. That this is the start of slavery. Like, seriously? Don’t be so ridiculous, don’t be so gloom and doom. Look, [Trump] has the executive power, but not the power to pass laws. Congress has that one, so relaaaaax. That’s what I want to tell people right now: relaaaaaax. But, I do it through the jokes by confronting a lot of the issues. Many comedians are escapist in nature, but that’s not my way of doing it. Instead of pretending that issues don’t exist, I make the audience sleep in the closet with the monster. It’s about tackling our fears about other people and other situations. Once you sleep in the closet for one night, you’ll never want to sleep there again. It’s uncomfortable as hell, and you’ll want to let go of the monster and just get on with your life. Which is why at my comedy show, you have to leave all of that sensitivity at the door.”
That leads me to one topic of heated debate and interest amongst many people right now: Political correctness. Some say it’s the death of comedy, others say it’s the death of democracy, and others say that it’s just being a better person. And, political correctness has been witnessed in all sorts of degrees and levels on the spectrum. As a comedian, what are your thoughts? Why should people leave their sensitivities at the door?
“Everyone’s been talking about 'safe places'… Well, no matter what is said at a comedy show, this is a safe place. You’re laughing at each other, with each other, at others. Trust me, I get that not all people are monolithic and cannot be lumped altogether, but giving language itself all that power and not much perspective is just stupid. Like, I’m Latino. I have friends who are Latinos. People get so heated over terms like ‘illegals’ and ‘undocumented,’ but I’m over here calling my bros ‘border brothers’ and ‘wetbacks’ just for fun. No one is getting hurt. And look, if I went into a Home Depot, and I said 'Oyeeeee güeys, you bunch of wetbacks, here’s twenty thousand dollars just cause,' they wouldn’t be hitting up CNN to report on me calling them that after giving them that donation. You have to have perspective, and you have to be more positive, and more willing to make fun of the real world.”
Why do you think people, specifically in The United States, have been having such a hard time with that [making fun of the real world]?
“The majority of life as human beings is failure, and we’re a culture obsessed with getting everything right. We want the man of our dreams, the woman of our dreams, the job of our dreams, the salary of our dreams, the house of our dreams… That shit hardly ever happens. We fail, and through failure we accept and we grow from it. That’s just a fact of life. Now, everyone wants to be President and thinks that they can make it. Guess what? Only like 0.0001% get there. There are just some things we have no control over, like people’s opinions of you. All I can do is be myself, and you can do you. Americans have great lives, but great is never good enough for them. But instead of thinking of the state of our country as ‘good,’ or ‘great,’ we should think about how we can make it better… We have problems, yeah. But are we broken? Not in this lifetime. And you know what, if you’re pissed about the government and the establishment, well guess what? Give the middle finger to yourself because America is by the people for the people, and if you’re the people, you’ve failed yourself. We have to work from here. And, through comedy, we can process and reflect on reality in a fun way.”
As a Honduran-American, where do you see your role as a comedian, specifically in tackling Latino issues? Latinos are feeling particularly insecure about this presidency.
“I changed my name from Ned to Carlos, in order to appeal to Latinos, and that is unheard of in Hollywood. Most people want to make their names as Anglo-Sounding as possible, but I wanted to remain relatable. I tackle the issues from my own perspective, but Latinos are an intricate bunch. Like, Latinos born here for example. They’ll call themselves Mexicans. But are you really? Are you born in Mexico, or are you of Mexican descent? And, if you’re of Mexican descent, then why do you call yourself Mexican when you’re really an American? There’s that… And then, well, this is the problem with Latinos and writing jokes about them, and catering to all of them as a whole… We’re complex. There’s so many different types of us. We’re from Ecuador, Paraguay, Argentina, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic… There’s no unification. Not even our cuss words are unified. I make sure to address the fact that we’re not homogenized, even though most of the public thinks we’re either Mexicans, illegals, or undocumented. It’s true. There’s so much that makes up who we are in America. So, as a Honduran-born comic, I have to make sure to be funny but responsible with my depictions, because Latinos aren’t all the same under the umbrella term. It’s a complicated line to walk, but it always makes for an unbelievable and surprising show.”