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.