Carlos Mencia’s brand of ‘humor’ perpetuates tired cultural stereotypes
Season three of Mind of Mencia comes out on DVD soon. How does Carlos Mencia still have a show and why do an average of 1.4 million people watch it? I have yet to meet any one of these people, but if I ever do, rest assured that I will do whatever it takes to understand why they enjoy Carlos Mencia’s comedy.
I’m not opposed to liking it. In truth, I wish I could, but every time I see him perform, I become physically disgusted by how completely unfunny I find him. What kind of person enjoys assigning negative character traits and flaws to their own and other cultures? Mencia seems to be saying to his audience that harmful cultural generalizations are actually positive and society needs them.
People who struggle with being negatively stereotyped shouldn’t find Mencia’s comedy funny. On his show, Mind of Mencia, Mencia rips into all races and ethnicities and really breaks down each culture to find out what their values are and what drives them. HAHAHA, just kidding! He feeds off of the basest emotions of society — fear, hate, jealousy — to create false characters and inaccurate generalizations about entire cultures. The people who watch his show already hate people who don’t look like them. Seeing someone famous like Mencia portray these stereotypes feeds their intolerance and allows them to act the way Carlos does on his show to actual people, not just actors. Mencia is telling the world that it’s completely acceptable to laugh at the mentally and physically handicapped, as well as uninsured minorities and, as he calls them, “fat asses.”
Now, before you think I’m uninformed, biased, or unqualified to judge Mencia’s particular brand of comedy, I just want to say that I’ve watched Mencia’s stand-up. I’ve seen his show and HBO special and I am not impressed. The following is a typical transcript of my reaction:
“OH MY GOD, CARLOS, YOU ARE SO FUNNY. I had no idea that the fact that a large portion of the Hispanic-American community is religious could be so funny. I bet you could do that with other cultures, too, and it would be just as funny. Oh, I got one: Europeans talk funny and wear tight pants! Also, they’re more accepting of alternative lifestyles. HAHA. Damn. I smoked their asses.”
I could go on for a while like that. On the other hand, at least my observation wasn’t a poor rehashing of a more famous comedian’s sketch, like that time in 2006 when Mencia did a bit about a father teaching his son football that was questionably similar to part of Bill Cosby’s routine — which Cosby performed in 1983. Carlos Mencia has been accused of joke stealing by many other comedians. Paul Mooney, George Lopez, and, most vocally, Joe Rogan have all accused Mencia of stealing jokes. It just begs the question: Can all these people be wrong?
The definitive answer, in my mind anyway, is no. The world of comedy is hard to break into. Those who try are exposed to the routines of comedians who’ve made it, and some who haven’t. They study them and try to figure out their secrets to success. It’s safe to assume then that Mencia has seen the acts of Bill Cosby and Sam Kinison. Coupled with videos of Cosby’s and Kinison’s routines, Mencia’s version of them almost seems as if he had a thesaurus next to him and was looking up synonyms as he paraphrased others’ jokes. It may have worked at California State University, Carlos, but it won’t work in the world of televised comedy.
Let’s talk about Carlos’s real name for a second. It’s Ned. Until the age of 18, Carlos Mencia was Ned Holness. Now, I’m not saying that it’s illegal to have a stage name, but if the material Mencia wrote were actually funny, wouldn’t it still be funny if his name were Ned Holness? Mencia is actually Ned’s biological father’s last name, a father he never met.
You won’t learn any of that on Mencia’s website. The site’s writers made a biography for Mencia that makes him look squeaky-clean. Young Carlos was a model student and he stayed away from gangs. With a name like Ned Holness, maybe the gangs stayed away from him.
One of the things that confuses me the most, though, is how Mencia tries to portray himself. Is he a good kid who loves his family, as his website indicates, or is he this tough guy who grew up in East Los Angeles, lived in poverty, and struggled to make it in comedy? The answer is that Carlos presents himself as the latter to make his audience identify with him more, which makes him more money. The reality is that Mencia is not who he pretends to be, his observational humor is not funny, and whether or not it’s even his is up for debate.
Maybe Carlos Mencia didn’t steal jokes from Bill Cosby, Robin Williams, “The State,” or Sam Kinison. Maybe it’s just a giant coincidence. But there’s one thing I can’t accept: Carlos, if you’re going to perpetuate negative stereotypes, at least do it well.