INTERVIEWS

Carlos Mencia: Defintely Not Normal Part Deux

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carlos-mencia-3In our first interview with Carlos Mencia we went back in time and revisited Mencia’s first decade in the business. This time around, Mencia is about to record 5 shows at the San Jose Improv (tix here), for his latest album(s).

Transparency: the recorder glitched at the beginning. So let’s dive into Carlos Mencia talking about his new 3 hours of material and breaking it down for the new album.

Mencia: When I do current jokes I try and tie it into an emotional idea. But once those moments go away, I can’t really use that material again. Last year I had some great bits before the election on Trump and Hillary. Once the election is over all those bits go away. As funny as they were, you can’t expect an audience to want to hear what happened a year ago. I waited a long time until I got the itch to record again, so I’m doing the special. 5 nights at The San Jose Improv. Each night a different show. Depending how it goes I might end up with 5 specials and I plan on releasing them in some shape or form over the next few years. I have three hours of material based on four premises. I’m going crazy trying to figure out what to leave in and what to take out. But you always have to remember, take a breath and then concentrate on “what is it you want to say?” That’s how it starts.

SUSC: Why did you choose the San Jose Improv to record these five shows?

The reason I’m doing it there is because 20 years ago I did my first one hour special there. It’s called Not for the Easily Offended. So, two decades later I’m going back to where it all started. Like a 20 year anniversary of my original special. My agents were like let’s make a bigger deal of this, get some special guests, shoot it in LA and I was like “no”. I think going back to that original stage in San Jose is the best choice. It’s like, “We’re Back!!”

You’ve played everywhere. How does San Jose add up?

It’s changed from 20 years ago. In 1997 the Silicon Valley was a baby. They were a bunch of nerds that were still figuring stuff out. Back then it was a lot of Latinos and some Asians. The Sharks were still gaining in popularity. It was the beginning. It was fun but the identity was different. Downtown San Jose was flourishing. People went out at night. Everybody was there and there would be shootings. It was strong and youthful and kids would say, “I’m going to downtown San Jose ma” and she’d say, “Don’t get in trouble.” It was innocent.

How has it changed?

Now there’s more of a mixture of cultures. The downtown is revitalizing. People are driving from SF to go to San Jose for some nightlife. That would never have happened 20 years ago.

How does that change your act?

Back then it was a little more ghetto. So if I did Mexican jokes, I knew they would hit. But if I wanted to talk about the government I was more cautious. Today none of that exists, in the sense that, now I have no hesitation doing any joke on any topic. When I write a special, it’s for everyone. It’s for the world.

Do you think the internet has helped comedians that are starting out?

Yeah, bro. Nowadays comics don’t have to get a meeting with HBO. When I first started doing stand up, unless somebody from a network gave you a shot, put you on the Tonight Show or on HBO or on Showtime, there was nothing you could do. You’d have to wait around until somebody gave you that opportunity. Now, YouTube and all of these platforms give really funny comedians a way to bypass the old system and go directly to the internet. Do what Anjelah Johnson did, put your nail salon bit out there and just your one bit can make you a star. The opposite side of that is it used to be 5 women across America could do a bit about a nail salon.

Right. So comics used to be able to do similar bits and nobody would notice?

Here’s what I tell young comics. You don’t want to be too similar. We all swim in the same water but don’t step on other comic’s styles or jokes. But, if you have a true story about something, anything and you see another comic telling their take on the same topic, don’t be afraid to stay with what you have. If you have a story about a nail salon, don’t worry that Anjelah Johnson has millions of people who identify her with that story. You tell your story. There’s room for that and the negative side of the internet is that it makes it seem like there isn’t. I mean how many comedians tell jokes about going to the gym?

All of them?

But if you have a true story, then claim it. And sure, your friends or whoever might go after you on the internet. But my point is let these new comedians grow. If you’re a comic who goes, “I’m going to do stuff nobody has ever seen before. I’m going to be the most unique comic there is.” Great. Some comics find gold there. And some comics are just running away from telling their truth onstage. On the other hand, I see a lot of comics telling their stories onstage and it’s not funny. Be original, but be funny first. Wanting to reinvent the wheel is ambitious, but don’t run so far away from the format that it’s not funny anymore. I’ve heard comedians say, “I don’t need to make them laugh.”

I heard that the other night.

Do you want to be original or do you want to be funny? Be funny. Not being funny is something everybody else does, it’s called being normal.

What was stand-up like pre-internet?

Back in the day you didn’t pay attention to the other comics at shows.

That still happens.

Back then the less you watched, the more original you were. Now I’m not talking about people you emulate. Like I know comics that emulated Chris Rock and when they started their act was just like Chris Rocks. Mine was Richard Pryor. I did his act. I didn’t do my own jokes, I did Richard Pryor’s jokes. Back then people understood more. Comics did that. It was a step towards being original. My idols were guys I was performing with Paul Mooney, John Caponera, Pryor. People would say this guy sounds just like the last three people we saw.

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Interviews
01/22/2018

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