Carlos Mencia says the joke's on you - whoever you are

by Lydia Martin

McClatchy Newspapers (MCT)

3 October 2007

Comedian Carlos Mencia laughs during an interview for a new movie he is in, "Heartbreak Kid," September 25, 2007, at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Miami. (Donna E. Natale Planas/Miami Herald/MCT) 

MIAMI—There’s nobody Carlos Mencia won’t skewer. Black, white. Hispanic, Anglo. Gay, Christian, Muslim. His hit Comedy Central show, “Mind of Mencia,” slams them all.

So it’s no surprise that the Honduran-American comedian raised in an East L.A. housing project is sitting here joking about why Hispanics (actually, he prefers the term Beaners), are sometimes compelled to choose the most Anglo-sounding repairman in the phone book.

“I had that experience with my fridge. It was a huge Sub-Zero. There was something wrong with it, and my brother said, `I know a guy.’ And I was like, `Bro. No, I want some guy to come here and say there’s something wrong with the computer, and it’s gonna cost a (boat)load of money to replace, but it’s gonna be under warranty for a year after that.’ My brother’s friend would have just blown on it or something.”

Mencia, 39, is not so uptight that he can’t see the humor in certain cultural broad strokes.

“Back in like 1992, I was walking out of a mall in Glendale, Calif., and this guy comes up to me. He wasn’t being a racist, but he looks me in the face and he says, `I need your help. I locked my keys in my car. You’re, like, Mexican, right?’ I wanted to get mad at the guy, but I actually had a Slim Jim in the car.

“The first words that came out of my mouth were, `What kind of car do you have? A Nissan? What model?’ I couldn’t betray the fact that I actually knew how to open his car. I just helped him and chalked it up to irony.”

What Mencia won’t do, he says, is take one of the many movie roles he has been offered in which he would play the worst stereotype of all—a Hispanic valet parking attendant who adds nothing to the story.

Somehow, playing a giant-mustachioed Mexican who works at a south-of-the-border resort in “The Heartbreak Kid,” opening Friday, seemed a major step up.

In the latest Farrelly brothers movie, starring Ben Stiller, Mencia plays the strongly-accented Tito Hernandez, a hotel employee who ultimately has everybody’s number.

“I grew up with guys like Tito. Guys who live in the ghetto, but they have a $10,000 plasma TV in their living room. You know they didn’t steal it, but what’s up with that? What it is, is that he’s a guy who knows a guy who knows a guy.”

Mencia, whose real name is Ned, was born in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, the 17th of 18 children. His father is Honduran and his mother Mexican.

Which makes him, he says, a Beaner.

“I used to say Hispanic, but you can’t say that because politically that means a certain thing. So I started saying `Latino,’ but I can’t say that either, because I don’t actually speak Latin. I remember I was performing somewhere and I said, `Jesus, I can’t say either word, so I’m a Beaner. I mean, we all eat beans.’ And then a Cuban guy was like, `I’m not a Beaner.’ And I was like, `You eat black beans; you’re a Beaner.’ And everybody laughed. The term Beaner, believe it or not, is the least offensive term because it’s stupid and goofy, but it’s not political.”

Mencia is a guy who manages to keep it real—no celebrity tantrums because he has had only three hours of sleep, a long day of interviews ahead of him, and the kitchen sent out his sushi, soup and chicken all at the same time.

“It’s OK. Really, it’s OK,” he keeps telling the worried waiter who can’t stop apologizing.

In recent years, Mencia has found the kind of fame and fortune he never even dreamed about. When he was in seventh grade and growing up in East L.A., he was doing so well in school that his teachers wanted to bump him to the 10th grade. His father, fearing he’d wind up in a dangerous setting with much older kids in gangs, took him back to Honduras.

“I went to live in this village. I don’t even know if you can call it a village. It was basically a few huts in the middle of nowhere. And I had to work. I had to milk cows at 4 in the morning and get a machete and chop things up. Man’s work. The experience taught me humility and to respect what you have and understand how blessed you are.”

He eventually returned to Los Angeles, graduated from high school and started studying to become an electrical engineer, but his keen observations always cracked up his friends, who talked him into trying stand-up comedy.

“After my first time onstage, I never looked back,” Mencia says. “I always thought that I would go to college, get a job and be sort of middle class. I figured my kids would be able to go to a state college. But the success I have had, this is ridiculous. This is all on a level I will never really understand.”

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