In its inaugural year last April, the Moontower Comedy Festival in Austin, Texas featured 200 performances on 12 separate stages over the course of four hilarious days. This year, the line-up of national acts has grown even bigger and more impressive, starting with comedian Jim Norton. Norton, who is a regular on SiriusXM’s “The Opie and Anthony Show” and former host of the short-lived HBO comedy showcase “Down and Dirty with Jim Norton,” brings his self-deprecating, personal, topical and often dirty and offensive material to the stage on Saturday, April 27at Midnight at the Paramount Theater in downtown Austin.
Moontower is only in its second year of existence but they’ve been able to pull some really good acts. What about the festival appealed to you?
There are a lot of good acts working there. Amy’s [Schumer] working there, [Anthony] Jeselnik, [Marc] Maron. So the fact is when you see these really good comics doing something and you’re invited to do it you feel good to be associated with good comedians. And I like Austin. I’ve only done Austin once, but I loved it. The money was good and it’s a late-night show. It seemed like a really, really easy one to say yes to.
I saw last week that Louis CK was kind of criticized by a blogger about something he said during his HBO special. How frustrating is it as a comedian to see other comedians continue to be attacked for things they are saying on a stage in the context of their act?
It’s embarrassing for the country. It’s frustrating, but it makes me embarrassed for the country because we’re such a nation of twats. I mean that’s across all gender lines. We’re just babies. It makes me angry. Also, I find the outrage with all of them to be absolutely fraudulent and attention seeking. I have zero respect for the people offended by comedy or want to have comedy “taken to task.” Zero respect for them.
Right. It seems like in a lot of these cases you have these interest groups come out and basically try to dictate what is or isn’t okay to joke about. Do you think that makes things a lot more difficult for comedians who are trying to have their free speech and say what they want to say during their act?
Well, you have to take your free speech. You have to say what you want anyway. The interest groups are all selfish. All of them. Black groups care about black stuff, gay groups about gay stuff, Irish groups about Irish stuff. Every interest group is self-centered. So why anybody takes them seriously when they snivel about language is laughable. I respect a lot of what they do. I think that GLAAD is fighting for gay marriage and all these real things – these legitimate things – and then they get caught up on somebody’s language and I’m like, “Shut the fuck up.” Like, “That’s what you’re worried about?” Then they lose me. You know what I mean? Or all these other special-interest groups like women’s groups. They were all founded for a reason. They all started for a very legit reason and they’re all fighting for a real thing. But when they begin language policing it just makes me sick to my stomach. And I don’t believe that they’re truly offended. What they want to do is piggyback on the performer. Like when they catch you out there, “Gotcha!” They want to jump on your back and then you run around and parrot their message. It’s really weird. Special-interest groups are parasitic when they catch people saying something.
What about this past weekend when [Boston Red Sox player] David Ortiz dropped that F-bomb and the FCC came out and said that since he spoke from the heart it was OK. Were you annoyed by that?
No, I mean I liked the way they did it because they get letters from people like the Parents Television Counsel and all those other vomit-inducing groups. So, I think what happened is they were just kinda coming out and saying, “Everybody can just shut their mouths. We’re not changing anything.” I think that’s why the FCC did that. They kind of came by that to cut off any complaints that might come in.
Do you think the FCC doesn’t look at things circumstantial enough? Like they’ll just throw out a fine if you’re breaking a rule rather than looking at context?
Well, the FCC is a worthless organization. I mean, the content is everything and I can understand at one point where certain profanity wouldn’t be allowed but then they just, like everything else, over-extended and over-reached and they just became hateable thought-police. The reason cable is just kicking the shit out of radio and TV as far as all these awards are concerned is because a lot of the content can’t be done on regular TV. A lot of the honest language, they can’t have on regular TV. So I think the FCC has hopefully lost some steam.
Do you think it’s important that no subject is off-limits in terms of comedy?
Absolutely not. Of course, it’s all in terms of how you address the subject. Like, if you do a Boston Marathon joke, you might wanna be careful not to make fun of the people who got their legs blown off, you know, cause then people will be like, “Eh, we don’t see any joke there at all.” But the subject itself, why not talk about it? Why not talk about the incompetence of the attackers? Or make fun of their attraction to Islam? Whatever you want to make fun of. Usually you want to keep it off the victims, though. Or make fun of the media and the way covered it. But there’s no subject as a rule that is off-limits. Absolutely not.
Do you think in some cases it can make things like that easier to deal with? Just the fact that you can find a laugh somewhere in such serious subject matter?
It actually makes it easier for me. They call it gallows humor and I’ve always had that. So that’s what I think the great part of comedy is. People go, “Well, that’s not a funny subject.” Well, of course not. That’s the beauty of talking about it. The subject doesn’t have to be funny to talk about it. A comedian’s job is to take a subject, even an unfunny subject or a sad subject, and allow you to laugh at it. Or about it. Or with it.
You’ve been doing “Opie and Anthony” for many years now and I was wondering if being in that kind of environment where you’re always around funny people put some pressure on you to be funny or at least entertaining for four hours a day. Does that impact how you approach stand-up or do you see those as two different processes?
They’re different things. I hear Ant laugh or Opie laugh but with stand-up there’s an immediate reaction with strangers. So it makes you think more about topical stuff because we’re talking about them all morning. But it doesn’t really change the way I approach stand-up because I can’t meander on stage the way I can on radio. You can just talk about something for a little while.
Something I’ve heard you say on the show before is that you don’t really watch other comedians. Can you kind of elaborate a little on that?
I don’t want to know what they’re doing for a couple of reasons. A: it will depress me if it’s really good and B: I don’t want to be influenced by it. Like I’ve seen Louie (CK) do stand-up a million times, but I’ve never watched one of his stand-up specials. It’s not cause I don’t love him. I think he’s great. I think he’s hilarious. I just don’t want to see other people’s jokes, you know what I mean? I just don’t want to know. I don’t want to know what they’re doing. I’m only concerned with what I’m doing and this way I know any time I come up with a joke it has not been tainted or influenced by another person.
Does that make it any more difficult to know whether or not somebody has done a similar joke or a similar premise that you’ve done?
Yeah, I mean, it’s almost like if someone else is doing the exact same joke that I’m doing then one of us shouldn’t be doing it. But premise-wise, there are very few things that you can talk about that aren’t talked about. What can I talk about that no one else is? Which is why whenever I talk about stuff I try to put my own personal life into it and expose myself. Cause that part I own. I talked about Tiger Woods when that was topical. I can get my own destructive perversions and now I make fun of him. To me, that’s what makes it mine. That’s what makes it original. Owning up to my own bullshit, my own deviance.
That seems to be a trend that you see more and more often – comedians getting more personal with sometimes unflattering details about their lives. Do you think that’s something that is ingrained in a comedians DNA – to be able to talk about those things with no shame?
Some comedians. And sometimes even with shame. But I think comedians have learned how to take these demons and these horrible things, the things that hurt you or make you whatever, and make fun of them because it’s a way of getting power over them. That’s all it really is. Just a way of getting power over something that you feel is hurtful. Some comics don’t talk about stuff like that though. They don’t talk about personal stuff at all. So that kind of varies from comic to comic.
Something I feel like I’ve noticed is that there’s more comedians who are stepping away from the “joke-punchline” format and going to more anecdotal, long-form stories. Is that something you’ve noticed or picked up on?
Well, I mean again, I think that a comic should do all things. I think set up and punchlines are fine. But I also think you should be able to tell a story without making it such a joke-fest that there’s nothing believable about your story. But I think sometimes a laugh can come, not on an anti-punchline but on certain moments in your story. It doesn’t always have to be a rhythmic pounding. Any good comic, I think, is a little unpredictable. Whenever I see a comedian who is predictable in his rhythm or predictable in every opinion he has, I get immediately bored. When comics try and be right all the time, they get boring. I think you’re only obligated to be honest. You’re not obligated to always be right.
You’ve written two New York Times Best-selling books. I imagine that when you’re working out new stand-up material you have an instant sense of whether something works or not for an audience. Is not having that immediate feedback something that makes writing a book more challenging?
Well, I didn’t mind it because I’m a pretty good judge of my own writing. I re-write and re-write and edit and re-edit it so many times that by the time it got out, I was very confident in it. But it does make it a weird thing without any feedback, sure. But sometimes that can be an advantage because you get to look at it so many times before anybody else sees it. So I’ll get a good feeling whether or not it’s good. Like, I’ll read it and go, “Oh, that sucks!” Or, “Wow, that really holds up 10 days later.”
Has there ever been any point where you’ve gotten burned out on stand-up after doing it for so many years?
When I shoot a special, I’m done with that material. Like, “Please Be Offended,” I shot a year ago and it aired on Comedy Central and I haven’t done that material in a year. I just shot another special about a month ago which is going to be called “American Degenerate,” which will not air until June but I’m almost done with this material, too. So I don’t get burned out on it but I get burned out on certain material. I’m actually still enjoying the stuff I’m doing now cause I’ve been doing it less than a year, but after a year or 15 months I get burned out on certain jokes. As long as I’m switching out my material, I always find stand-up to be pretty fresh.
So your special will be running on Epix. Is there any kind of theme to it or is it just you doing your thing?
It’s me just talking about myself and what’s going on in the country and attacking the media. It’s like “Please Be Offended,” but the material is totally different. It’s me tying in my own dysfunction to what the rest of the country is going through.
Best known for his stint on “Saturday Night Live” in the 80s and 90s and for his role on Showtime’s “Weeds,” comedian Kevin Nealon has been a staple in the comedy world for nearly 30 years. During a phone interview with me, Nealon, 59, talked about where a show like “SNL” fits into the current TV landscape and which of his former SNL cast members he thinks could make a comeback to the show today.
You’ve never really stopped doing stand-up comedy over the course of your career. What is it about the craft that has kept it part of your life for so long?
It’s just something I have a passion for. I did it during my years with “Saturday Night Live.” I did it while I was doing Weeds. It’s what I did even before any kind of acting work.
Is stand-up still as fun as the first time you did it or have you managed to squeeze all the enjoyment out of it over the years and get it down to a science?
I’ll never have it down to a science. It’s a lot more fun in a different way because it’s not as angst ridden. I’m not pacing and sitting on the toilet an hour before I go on.
Will you be watching the Oscars this weekend?
Yeah, I will be. I love watching the Oscars. I’ll probably be Twittering during it.
You’ve starred in a couple of movies with Oscar winners – Jack Nicholson in “Anger Management,” Nicole Kidman in “Just Go With It.” Did you ever think Jonah Hill, the guy who sucked on a breast for the duration of his screen time in another of your movies “Grandma’s Boy,” would now be labeled an Oscar nominee for his role last year in Moneyball?
(Laughs) You know, I never did. When he was in “Grandma’s Boy” I had just met him. I had never heard of him before. He went on to do a lot of great work from there. It’s great to see that.
Since leaving “Saturday Night Live” in 1999 the show has gone through a lot of changes. Do you still watch?
I watch it once in a while. I’ll DVR it and then fast forward through it, especially if I hear it was a good show.
I do the same thing. I rarely watch it live anymore. I’ll just get on Hulu and flip through the skits.
Yeah, I don’t think anybody watches it in real time anymore. It doesn’t have to be live.
Where do you think the show registers in today’s TV landscape now that cable is such a big player when it comes to original content?
The thing about “Saturday Night Live” is that it’s such a unique show and has held up for so long. It’s had its peaks and valleys. Certainly now there is more competition with cable. But I think “Saturday Night Live” is sort of a mainstay for certain people and generations. It has just about everything you need. It’s topical. It has music, comedy, and the hottest hosts. It still has a winning formula, I think.
In the entertainment industry, we are seeing a lot of actors who are getting older come back to what they know best. For example, Bruce Willis just did another “Die Hard” movie. Arnold Schwarzenegger is back to doing action movies. From your class at “SNL,” who do you think could successfully make a comeback to the show today? Or has the comedy evolved too much?
I think from my original cast probably Dana Carvey or Adam Sandler or Mike Meyers or David Spade.
Is it interesting to see when people leave that show how some of them find success in the film industry and some just can’t seem to break through?
You never know who’s going to come out of that show with heat on them. It’s something that is still so unpredictable. But you know who the likeable people are and who is talented and who has a pretty good chance of going further.
The last “Saturday Night Live”-based movie was “MacGruber” in 2010, which didn’t do very well at the box office. Before that was in 2000 with “The Ladies Man.” Do you think “SNL”-inspired movies are a thing of the past now?
It’s hard to know because they’re taking a sketch and trying to make a movie out of it. We had actually written a movie for Hanz and Franz called “The Girly Man Dilemma.” Arnold [Schwarzenegger] was co-producing it and co-staring in it. Sony paid us to write it. I wrote it with Conan O’Brien and Robert Smigel and Dana Carvey. It was a really funny movie. It was actually a musical. It never got made because Arnold got cold feet. He had just come out with “Last Action Hero,” which kind of parodied himself. He had six other movies on the docket he had to choose between. I think it could have done well.
Since it would’ve been Hanz and Franz’s first foray into feature films, were you and Dana willing to work out and give your characters some natural muscle mass or did you still plan to stuff your sweatshirts?
(Laughs) Oh, we would’ve totally stuffed.
Have you started to have any “Weeds” withdrawals now that the show is over?
(Laughs) Not yet. I’ll probably show up at the studio later this spring and be like, “Oh, that’s right. It’s over.” It was a good run and really fun to hang out with all the people there. But I think it ran its course. You can only smoke so much pot.
It might not be evident from his role as laid-back DEA Agent Steven Gómez on the hit AMC drama “Breaking Bad,” but actor Steven Michael Quezada is a funny guy. With only eight episodes left in the final season, Quezada hopes he can get back to touring as a stand-up comedian. He spoke to me about his comedy routine and how little action his character has seen in 4½ years on the show.
I had no idea you were a comedian. Is that something you’re hoping more people learn about you as your career continues?
Yeah, people don’t think I’m a comedian. They see me as this really straight tough guy on TV. It’s cool when they find out because they start supporting my [stand-up] shows. I started doing comedy as a way to feed myself. I did pretty well on the comedy circuit. I decided to take a break in 2007 and do more acting, but I’m ready to get back into touring. “Breaking Bad” has kept me busy.
Busy chasing after the bad guys…
Trying to catch the bad guys, but I haven’t caught nothing! Me and Hank (Steven’s partner played by actor Dean Norris) are the dumbest cops alive. My gun doesn’t even come out of the holster. It’s glued in. All the cops love us for the way we portray cops on TV, but they have to be mad at us because we haven’t busted anybody in five years. Well, there was that janitor with the joint in Season 1.
Do you talk about Latino issues in your routine?
Yeah. People will come up to me and ask, “Why do you do Latino stuff?” and I say, “Because it’s our turn for the spotlight.” I tried to be a redneck comedian, but it didn’t go over very well. My comedy is what I experience and what I see.
Since just about anything can happen on “Breaking Bad,” do you think we could ever see Gómez double-cross Hank?
Nah, it’s one of those verbally abusive relationships that work. Being a Mexican on “Breaking Bad” is hard enough. I think I’m the only Mexican still alive.
When do you start shooting the second half of the final season?
We start shooting Dec. 6.
You’ve made it this far. Are you worried about the possibility of getting killed off?
You bet I’m worried! But this is the final eight episodes, so people are going to die. People are going down!
“Let’s be clear in this article,” comedian Adam Carolla, 48, says. “I don’t give a shit. I sell out theaters. I have a business. I don’t need anybody. Twitter away all you want. I’ll be at the racetrack.” A few days prior to our interview, the host of the web’s most downloaded podcast, “The Adam Carolla Show,” was lambasted online for telling the New York Post that when it comes to comedy writers “dudes are funnier than chicks.” He spoke to me late last month for the release of his new book Not Taco Bell Material and his upcoming stand-up tour stop in San Antonio.
Are you getting any kickbacks from Taco Bell for using their name in the title of your new book?
You think I would, but I’m not. The good news about Taco Bell is that their food is essentially free anyway. If you go there and get a burrito and a taco, you’re not spending more than 85 cents. You want a steakhouse to give you free stuff, not Taco Bell.
Stephen Colbert the other day said the global economy could be fixed if more companies did what Taco Bell did and started adding Doritos to their products. Do you have a better plan?
I actually like that Dorito plan. I think it’s a marvelous idea. I’m definitely one of those people who want to see lower taxes and make it easier for businesses to operate. Businesses don’t want to do business on foreign soil, but if it’s cheaper they will. That’s how it works. That’s who we are by nature. You raise the taxes, people flee. You lower the taxes, people stay.
With the success of your podcast and the work you do in the TV and radio industries and as a bestselling writer, you really don’t have to ever do stand-up shows again if you don’t want to. What brings you back to the stage?
I like to go out and do it on my own terms. I don’t want to spend Thursday through Sunday in Poughkeepsie doing wine shows and sleeping in a Red Roof Inn. That’s miserable. But I have no problem coming into a town and doing one show at a big theater. That always feels good. Honestly, it’s like anything. It becomes work at a certain point. Going in and doing nine 90-minute shows over a weekend is taxing. Instead of doing seven shows with 300 people at a time, I’d rather do one show with 2,000 people. That’s a hell of a lot more fun and a lot easier. You don’t get burnt out by it.
Is it still as satisfying to make someone laugh as it was when you first started?
It should be more satisfying, but it’s not. But I don’t break it down that way. People pay money. They want to hear what I have to say. I want to make them laugh and if I don’t I’m disappointed. And if I do make them laugh, I’m supposed to. It’s like being a bus driver. If you do a great job, nobody says anything. If you screw up and take too many pain pills, then we have a problem.
You became Public Enemy No. 1 recently with your comments about female comedy writers. Were you surprised by the backlash?
I was thoroughly surprised. It definitely means I must’ve struck a cord. There’s no way this many people could be upset at something that’s completely false, right? I just talk and talk and people write it down. If I said something horrible to you right now and you wrote it down, I wouldn’t think about it. All of a sudden someone gets a hold of it and next thing you know I’m getting a bunch of crappy tweets. You can’t decide what goes viral. The internet decides that. And by the way, I wouldn’t pick something to go viral where I have to read 1,000 tweets a day about what a douchebag I was. What’s really funny is when someone says that I said something for publicity and to gin up some interest in my new book. Nothing can be farther from the truth. I’ve never tried to gin up controversy to try and sell a book. I don’t know if a whole bunch of negative comments about me on the internet sells books, honestly. My last book made The New York Times bestselling list and this book will make The New York Times bestselling list as well, with or without the negative commentary.
Of course, there were female comedians who took swipes at you and defended themselves online. Since we’re talking about female comedy writers, did you think any of those 1,000 tweets you read were especially funny?
Well, I did read one from Mo Collins, which I thought was a little bit of a low blow. She said something about seeing me doing standup and that the 20 minutes I was onstage sucked. I thought, “Where the hell did Mo Collins see me do standup?” And then I realized she saw me do standup when I was headlining a benefit for some horrible autoimmune disease or something. I had given up a Sunday night to perform for this charity I have no affiliation with. That’s how Mo Collins wants to take a stab at me? I was doing a benefit for sick kids. That, of course, didn’t get worked in to her comment. The only thing she said was that my standup sucked. You can think my standup sucks, but saying it sucks when I’m doing it for a benefit is a little below the belt.
Even though you think male comedy writers are funnier than female comedy writers overall, you’ve said yourself that there are some really great female comedy writers out there. What three female comedians would you ask to be on your writing staff?
I would definitely have to hire Tina Fey. Teresa Strasser who I used to work with doing morning radio is a great writer. Alison Rosen who I now work with doing podcasts is a great writer. Kathy Griffin, Sarah Silverman … the list goes on and on.
What three male comedians would you flatly deny?
I would flatly deny … on my writing crew … I would say … You know I’m probably going to get myself into more trouble if I mention a whole bunch of guys’ names. Let’s put it this way: I think Tina Fey is funnier than Tom Green and Pauly Shore. I’m not saying they’re not funny. I’m just saying there are plenty of women who I think are funnier than plenty of men.
Wow, Adam Carolla actually does have a filter after all.
Well, what happens is that I say this and Tom Green is probably supposed to do my podcast next week or something.
Well, I can appreciate people who speak candidly and don’t sugarcoat things just because they’re going to hurt someone’s feelings. Are you the type of person who can tell their famous friends that their movie sucked or do you let them off easy?
My comedian friends never make any movies for the most part. I’m not interested in hurting anyone’s feelings, contrary to popular belief. If I see someone’s movie and it sucked, I’ll pick out the three things I liked about it and focus on that. If you get a haircut, I’ll tell you that you look great even if you look like shit.
You admit that you are not part of the “in” crowd that gets to makes movies and say there are only a select few comedians who get that opportunity. Do you go out and support those mainstream comedies or would you rather just stay home and re-watch “The Hammer” (Carolla’s 2007 comedy) and “The Mole People” (1956 movie written by Carolla’s step-grandfather László Görög)?
(Laughs) Yeah, that’s all I do is stay home and watch “The Mole People” and “The Hammer.” No, I don’t go out very much. I stay home with my family. I don’t support or not support anything. I’m really into cars. That’s my passion. I’m into racing. I go out and race on the weekends. I have to prep these cars. That’s pretty much where my head is at nine times out of 10. I’m not really doing that much for good or for bad when it comes to art or movies or whatever. I don’t have that mindset at all. I don’t think of myself as an artist or an author or even a comedian. I just try to make money so I can go mess around with my cars.
You’re a self-described conservative. Why aren’t there more funny Republicans doing what you do?
Dennis Miller is pretty conservative and he’s pretty damn funny. Conservatives and the art gene don’t usually go hand in hand. It’s like saying why aren’t there more smokin’ hot female accountants? They just don’t go together. I got in trouble because I said men are funnier than women, but no one is going to say anything when I say Democrats are funnier than conservatives. Who’s going to give me crap for that?
Probably no one, but now you’re going to get tweets from frumpy female accountants.
Well, yeah, I guess I have that to look forward to.
What do you think about the news that Arsenio Hall is going to get another late night talk show in 2013?
I don’t believe there is any place for black people on TV. Ah, that’ll be my next internet sensation. I like Arsenio a lot. I know him very well. I got a chance to work with him. I’m happy for the guy. Honestly, is there room for a black man? Is there room for a Hispanic man? Is there room for a woman? Uh, if they’re good and they’re funny, yeah. When I did “Celebrity Apprentice” there were 16 contestants and at the end there was a black guy and a gay guy. Why? Because they were the best. Arsenio is good and there is room for good. If you’re a black guy and you suck, there’s no room for you. If you’re a woman and you suck, then there’s no room for you. Why is there so much room for Tina Fey and Oprah?
During an interview with me last week, Lee, 39, who is best known for his role on the sketch comedy series “MADtv,” talked about his life as a comedian after his show was cancelled in 2009 and tries to explain the weird stigma former cast members of the show still fight in the entertainment industry today.
Have you found more time to tour since “MADtv” was cancelled in 2009?
Yeah, I mean, after “MADtv” I didn’t know how to survive – you’ve got mortgages n’ shit. So, I just decided to go back on the road. When you do a show for that long and then it’s cancelled, nobody wants you for a while.
Are you used to not having the show there for you anymore?
Yeah, I mean, when you’re seeing the same people every day for eight years and then you don’t have them anymore, there is this gigantic void that opens up. I’m just blessed I can do stand up. It’s better, in a way, because it’s my voice and I get to dictate how I want to do it.
I read about how your parents weren’t really happy when you decided to go into comedy until they saw you on “MADtv.” When the show ended, did they think you might find a regular job?
They have no idea what I’m doing. They don’t understand how the business is run. They’re just glad I don’t call them for money anymore. I used to call them for money like, “Can I have $100?” Now that I’m not doing that, they think I’m fine. It’s weird.
They just know you stay busy.
Yeah, they know I stay busy and they’re really happy when they hear that some people love what I do. They just can’t believe it. My parents are immigrants. They came to the U.S. and thought I was going to be a lawyer. When Asians come to this country they think, “Oh, my son is going to be a scientist.” Then their son starts telling penis jokes and they’re like, “What the fuck happened?” But at least I don’t do porn.
Didn’t you bring your parents on “MADtv” a few of times though?
Yeah, they were on it. I brought them on like three or four times, but they still don’t know what goes on. Actually, they still get residual checks since the show still airs in other countries. Every time they get a check my dad will call me and be like (in an Asian accent), “I didn’t do anything.” He can’t believe they get free money. It blows his fucking mind.
What would you be doing if you decided you didn’t want to do comedy anymore after “MADtv” ended?
Oh, I’m really dumb. I’m lazy and stupid so I’d probably have a weird job like raising coy fish.
I’ve been seeing you on “Chelsea Lately” a lot recently.
Yeah, I just did it again like 10 minutes ago. All of a sudden I started doing “Chelsea” and it was like I became relevant again. She’s an old stand-up friend from way back in the 90s. I thank her every day for putting me on her show. She really reinvented me in a way. She got me back on TV. I mean, “MADtv” had such a weird stigma to it. People in the business hated it. They think it’s awful. All the “MADtv” people that were once on it still get fucked.
How does a show that was on for 14 years get hated so much?
I have no idea. I mean, we got zero advertisement. We never had a billboard. We were never in magazines. We were never advertised at all. The reason they couldn’t cancel it was because we still got pretty good numbers. After 14 years, they decided to yank it and they still haven’t really filled that time slot with a permanent show. Yeah, but they hated it. There are still casting directors now that won’t see me for anything just because I was on “MADtv.”
Looking back now, what do you think of the show?
I mean, a lot of it wasn’t funny, but a lot of “Saturday Night Live” shit wasn’t funny either. There were a lot of sketches I did that I was really proud of and then there were some that were garbage. But that’s how television is. Every TV show does shitty things, know what I mean? But “SNL” was such a big dynasty – and still is – so how were we going to fight against that?
You know, now that I think about it, I can name handfuls of former “SNL” cast members that have gone on to have huge careers in the entertainment industry, but I can’t think of one from “MADtv.” Is there anyone?
We have people with cultish followings like Artie Lange. Then we have Orlando Bloom (he meant Orlando Jones). He was doing a bunch of shit for a while. Alex Borstein is a producer on “Family Guy” (and the voice of Lois Griffin). Even me, I’m doing OK. I have “Harold & Kumar 3″ coming out soon. I’m in the new Sasha Baron Cohen movie. I worked with Ben Kingsley and Edward Norton in that one. It’s not like we’re losers. It’s just the fact that there is no one that has hit it huge. We don’t have our Adam Sandler or Eddie Murphy yet.
So, if you could do it all over again, would you do “MADtv?”
Yeah, because I made a name for myself on that show. A lot of my friends ask me why I did the show. Well, for one, I was broke and struggling and they offered me money. Who’s not going to do it? Who says no to a TV show? As an Asian American comedian, I paved the way for a lot of people like Margaret Cho paved my way. I’m a part of Asian American lineage when it comes to show business.
Are Asian American comedians supportive of each other in the business?
Oh, yeah, there are no weird egos or anything like that. Like, I’m good friends with John Cho from “Harold & Kumar.” We became friends because a long time ago we both auditioned for the role of Harold and it came down to the two of us and he got it. John and I are like brothers. It’s great because Asian Americans are doing well now. We’re on TV more. It’s a reflection on how things are changing. We’re all trying to support each other.
Would you like to be the first cast member from “MADtv” that breaks out and becomes a big star?
I mean, that’s not up to me. It’s not really something I even know if I want. At the end of the day all I can do is my job as a comedian and get laughs. All I know is that I just want to work, so I can eat. So, yeah, I’m eating. I’m helping my family out. I love where I’m at. I’m a survivor.
To understand what Carlos Mencia’s professional life has been like over the last three years watch “Fishsticks,” a 2009 episode of “South Park” in which an animated version of Mencia is beaten and killed after taking credit for a joke that isn’t his.
While the episode features a cartoon Kanye West and his cronies swinging the baseball bats, it has been fellow comedians themselves who have come out in full force against the Latino funnyman and what they claim is blatant joke-stealing. True or not, the reputation has stuck, and although he’s denied the allegations, Mencia has quickly become the most hated comedian in the industry.
Currently on a stand-up tour to prepare for a TV special he will be shooting this fall, the 42-year-old Mencia, formerly of Comedy Central’s “Mind of Mencia,” spoke to me about where he is in his life and how he feels about his colleagues making him a villain in the comedy world.
Has life taken some time getting used to without your TV show?
What has been hard is thinking about why I decided to walk away in the first place. I come from a working family, bro. We don’t say no to work or money. I didn’t know if the next season would have been as good as I wanted it to be. I’d rather leave and have people say, “Hey, where’d you go?” than have people see it and say, “Ah, that last season sucked.”
Did you feel like you were at a crossroads?
I was in a place where I was just not ready to go there. You go through periods in your life where you begin to question yourself. That’s never been a part of my psyche. I took a bit of time off to look at my life. I never had that kind of time to see my situation as a human being, artist, and comedian. All of this hit me in the face. Up until “Mind of Mencia” I’d been doing comedy out of fear. Now, I’m back at that place again with no sense of doubt.
Even with the comedy world vilifying you so harshly?
I realized if somebody doesn’t want to like me they’re going to find an excuse not to like me. It’s like when you go on a date and you don’t like the way the other person looks, you’re going to find a reason not to go out with them again. I’m just not going to live in the negative anymore. As a human being, of course I’d like my peers to dig me, but it is what it is. I’m a happy person, and I probably have never been as good of a comedian as I am today.
You’ve denied allegations that you steal jokes, but do you think it happens with other comedians?
I know for a fact all comedians have people they want to be like. Eddie Murphy, all of his jokes were pretty much Richard Pryor’s. It’s where we all start as comedians. Within a few years you shed that and become your own human being. It seems to me the majority of comedians complaining about plagiarism are not successful comedians.
Intellectual-property laws don’t include copyright laws for stand-up comedians. Do you think we should go as far as making it illegal for comedians to steal ideas from one another?
I don’t know if you can do that. The problem with comedy is the same problem with music. We all interpret our own things in our own ways. What would happen if we said only Michael Bolton could do love songs because he was the first one to do it? No one would be able to sing about heartbreak ever again.