Carlos Mencia shares a piece of his mind

Mark de la Vina [San Jose Mercury News]

Comedian Carlos Mencia has been called offensive, racist, obnoxious and gratuitously provocative.

That's of little importance to the star of "Mind of Mencia," (Comedy Central, Wednesdays) -- as long as audiences are laughing.

Whether on stage or in the TV studio, Mencia tackles racial perceptions with a fervor that both tickles and infuriates audiences. (With 2.1 million viewers, his show is Comedy Central's most popular series, after "South Park.") His style continues a comedic tradition that Richard Pryor epitomized, a comic tonic necessary for a culture choked on political correctness, he says.

The Honduras-born, East Los Angeles-raised comic is in the middle of an 85-show national tour, but he spoke by cell phone from his bus in Oregon. Mencia chatted about the comedic lines he won't cross, the health risks of attending one of his concerts and his former name, Ned Holness.

Question: What are you traveling in? A bus?

Answer: Yeah, a huge primo bus. When they said they wanted to . . . put my face on the side -- my face is huge on it -- I thought it was a good idea. Now that people are honking, throwing rocks, trying to cause accidents to make sure that I'm in there, I realize how stupid that idea really was.

Homeless people are walking up to me now going, "Oh, my god, it's Carlos Mencia!" I'm like, "You don't even have a TV, let alone cable. How do you know me?" I'm blown away. It's surreal."

Q: What do you make of that?

A: I'm just trying to be funny, trying to make people laugh and trying to make the world a better place through some jokes. I don't have words for it. It's so overwhelming.

Q: What was tougher: being the second youngest in a family with 18 kids or growing up with the birth name Ned Holness?

A: My birth name is Ned Mencia. Holness is my birth father's name, but it's never been my legal name. When I was born, I was given to my uncle and aunt to raise as their kid because they couldn't have kids. Out of respect for my father, he said you should use Holness. I thought my name was Ned Holness, up until I was 18.

With Ned, I got my ass beat a lot. I was known as the white wetback.

Q: Making fun of racial stereotypes is a big part of your material, and you've said that you're an equal-opportunity offender. Is there a line you won't cross?

A: Yes. If it's not funny, I won't do it. I won't go up there and go on tirades just to make a point and not be funny. But if I think it's funny, there is no line I will not cross. I will make a joke about any of my family members, about me, about my wife, if I really thought that I'm doing it to be funny. If there's some darkness to it or I think it's ill-willed or mean or not cool, then I won't do it. But if I think it's funny, you're screwed.

Q: Would you do a Holocaust joke at the Simon Wiesenthal Center?

A: There would have to be a reason for that joke to be there. I wouldn't just go up there and tell a Holocaust joke to say I did one at the Simon Wiesenthal Center. If I had to tell a Holocaust joke to get a laugh and make a point and get everybody into the mood of laughing at other stuff, yeah, I would do it.

What I think has happened with jokes is people have forgotten that their intent is to be funny. I think a lot of people have mixed racist comments with people like me intending to enlighten and make you laugh through a joke.

Q: You're calling this tour "The Punisher Tour." Might this suggest an unhealthy fixation with Dolph Lundgren, star of the movie of the same name?

A: God, I hope not. It came from a bunch of comedy friends of mine who would say "Dude, you're not a normal comic. You punish your audience. You feed them all this information and laughter and you punish them." The audience is like, "Oh, my stomach hurts." I've had like three heart attacks and six births all during my show.

Q: Someone's really had a heart attack at your show?

A: I'm serious. I have them documented. I actually recorded those shows. You can actually hear the person hit the table when they're having a heart attack. I'm not even kidding you. None of them has died, by the way. Thank God.

The first time it happened was hilarious because I didn't even notice anything until the paramedics took him away. He was with a group of 10 other people, and I said, "I can end the show right now out of respect. I don't want to be mean or anything."

And they all started laughing. His friends. That he came with. And he's gone. And I asked them why they were laughing. And they said, "You don't understand. The dude that had a heart attack -- he's a mortician. If he dies, we already know where we're going to bury him. Keep going, dude!"


© 2006, San Jose Mercury News (San Jose, Calif.). Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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