There was a time, beginning in the late aughts, when the name Carlos Mencia summoned nothing but vitriol, the Internet rife with video accusations of joke stealing, podcasts about how he bumped headliners and blog posts describing a shameless self-promoter with no regard for others. “In the comedy community it was cool to hate Carlos. It was not only cool, it was a requirement. When somebody says that a comic steals jokes it’s the ultimate betrayal of comedy,” acknowledges Mencia, the 47-year-old comic whose Comedy Central show “Mind of Mencia” lasted four seasons (2005-2008) and handled issues of race, immigration and ethnicity in ways never seen before on television.
Mencia still bobs the accusations of thievery (“Ten comics can say the same joke, and I’m the one who gets called a thief.”) in spite of his tongue-in-cheek admission of “sampling” other comics jokes like a hip-hop producer in the 2010 documentary “I Am Comic.” Instead Mencia reflects on the reasons why he was so spurned: “I was a very cocky and unlikable young comic. But I came from the hood and that’s what I learned.” Therapy and life coaching helped him deal with his issues and focus on moving forward with his career. “This was an introspective journey. It was all about me, completely diving into myself and accessing who I’d become and been and changing things.”
Through it all, Mencia never stopped working. He aired a special for Comedy Central in 2011, “Carlos Mencia: New Territory” where he revealed a gasp-inducing 70-pound weight loss. “I had to gain some weight back because it was too drastic for some people. I would go on stage and people would be like ‘Oh my god!’ ” He also worked opposite Forrest Whitaker in 2010’s “Our Family Wedding,” an updated “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” that proved a rather meaty role for a comedian.
Mencia also stayed on the road, hitting clubs all over the country, practicing his craft on any audience that would listen, but he did make a few changes in his approach to touring. Before Mencia would spend years traveling with the same corral of up-and-coming comics to open for him, but when Mencia-hating became de rigueur in the comedic world, many of them showed little support. “Now I don’t want to create that bond anymore,” admits Mencia. “I help them, but not as much. I run them for one lap then I say, ‘OK, go run your marathon.’”
Mencia has been able to keep moving forward through all the controversy because of his single-minded belief in his talent. “I believe that my part to play in this world is stand-up. That’s what I’m addicted to. I believe that I serve a purpose. It’s the difference between a calling and a paycheck.”
If you ask him if he feels positioned for a comeback, he’ll quickly remind you that he’s been grinding away all along. “I never stopped working. There was never a time when I took time off. I feel like if there is a comeback, the comeback isn’t mine. The comeback is the audience.”