Mind of Mencia: A Lukewarm Defense Of A Wholly Unoriginal Show
Is there anyone else in comedy history who was as brutally and effectively bullied out of the business as Carlos Mencia? After years of dodging very public plagiarism accusations, Carlos was named one of the three most hated comedians among other stand ups by the Wall Street Journal in 2010. Shortly thereafter, he disappeared from the comedy world entirely.
By the end of the 2000’s, it felt like the hate for Mencia had dwarfed the popularity of his projects, and today the Internet seemingly remembers him solely for the alleged joke-stealing controversies. But the Honduran-born, mid-2000’s comedy icon and his Comedy Central sketch show Mind of Mencia deserve a modicum of respect for filling the gaping void left by Dave Chappelle’s highly mythologized exit from his eerily similar and far superior show in 2005.
Although we’d never characterize Mencia's show as “original”, we would like to demonstrate our modest appreciation for his perfectly passable Bush-era comedy program that, if nothing else, scratched the itch for vulgar, irreverent, racially charged sketches in a post-Chappelle’s Show world.
Carlos, born Ned Arnel Mencia, started his career in his hometown of Los Angeles in the late 1980’s. He was the seventeenth of eighteen children, which is a remarkably Catholic headcount (as someone who was also raised Catholic, I have the utmost reverence for his mother).
After dropping out of college, Carlos began to pursue comedy full-time, devoting himself to the Los Angeles open-mic circuit. The late and legendary comedy kingmaker Mitzi Shore, then the owner of The Comedy Store in West Hollywood, suggested Mencia change his first name to Carlos “in order to appeal to Mexican audiences”.
Mencia found success at the most famous comedy clubs in Los Angeles throughout the early ‘90s before making appearances on The Arsenio Hall Show and Buscando Estrellas, a Latin-American talent seeking competition where he was named "International Comedy Grand Champion." In 1994, Carlos Mencia was tapped by HBO to host their Latino-focused comedy showcase Loco Slam, firmly placing him on the track towards eventually hosting his own serialized comedy program.
The late ‘90s were similarly kind to Carlos’ career, and he released two separate half-hour comedy specials for HBO in that time. His style was simple – loud, in-your-face jokes about racial stereotypes and Latin-American culture. He appealed to a younger generation, not unlike another early 2000’s comedian who would be accused of joke stealing and fall off the face of the earth.
Carlos’ television career began to bloom at the turn of the millennium as he took acting parts on programs like The Bernie Mac Show and The Proud Family before his breakout performance on Comedy Central Presents in 2002. Carlos had name recognition, he had a brand, and he had a niche that a certain network would desperately need to fill after a certain legendary comic would walk out on them a few years later.
While Carlos Mencia was busy building his list of credits, Dave Chappelle was working on a show that would dramatically change the style and scope of television comedy. Chappelle's Show premiered in January, 2003, and the half-hour mashup of sketch and stand up comedy was a hit. A massive hit. Like, almost too big.
We won’t go into the details of a story so well-known and impactful that it’s etched into the tomes of television history, but suffice it to say that Comedy Central had found the format that they would repeat ad-nauseum for at least the next two decades. The simplistic equation, in the eyes of the network’s executives, was as follows: “Racial Humor + Pop Culture Parody = Massive Payday”. Mix stand up with sketches and throw in a music guest here and there, then rake in the royalties for years to come. Easy peasy.
So when Comedy Central’s main cash cow decided he was done being their underappreciated and underpaid flagship product in 2005, it didn't take long for the network to replace Chappelle’s Show with a program that featured their new star of stereotype-heavy sketch comedy, Carlos Mencia. On July 6th of that year, just two months after Comedy Central announced an indefinite delay for the unfinished season three of Chappelle’s Show, Mind of Mencia premiered as the network’s cut-and-pasted replacement for race-based sketch comedy.
Considering the context of the show’s creation, the sketches aren’t quite as bad as angry Internet commenters want them to be. Comedy Central asked Carlos Mencia to make a Latino Chappelle’s Show, and he completed the assignment as best he could. Sure, he had an awful catchphrase that was basically a slur for the mentally disabled. Yes, half of his sketches were just repackaged half-ideas from Chappelle’s Show – instead of “Racial Draft”, think “Stereotype Olympics”. But was it funny?
Honestly, sometimes. Not all the time, of course. A large number of sketches just made the lowest-hanging fruit jokes about race, gender, and sexual orientation in a way that, even for the mid-2000’s, felt exploitative and insulting without even attempting to be clever. But every now and then, Carlos would have Aries Spears come out and help him do a parody of Kanye West’s “Gold Digger”, or he’d do a sketch like “Dateline Punk’d”, a mashup parody that showed Ashton Kutcher entrapping pedophiles which included the line “Some gross dudes on the Internet like super young girls. Not me, my wife Demi is like three 16-year-olds.”
Following in Chappelle’s footsteps, Carlos regularly invited popular comedians and musicians of the era onto the show. Robin Williams, Dave Attell, Tracy Morgan and many more of the best comics of the 2000’s made appearances on Mind of Mencia. Despite less-than-favorable reviews from critics, the show had decent ratings – in 2006, the show was Comedy Central’s second-highest rated program, behind only South Park.
Mind of Mencia ran for four seasons before ending in 2008, with Carlos Mencia’s career quickly following suit. By the end of the decade, all of his TV and movie credits were behind him, and he had one last stand up tour in 2011 before withdrawing from the public eye entirely. The plagiarism accusations plagued the twilight years of Carlos’ career – he revealed that he had been in therapy to deal with the mental toll in 2011 – and, nowadays, a cursory Google search of his name brings up dozens of compilation videos of different comedians telling jokes followed by Carlos telling similar jokes in his own set.
We couldn’t even find clips of Mind of Mencia on YouTube – the only sketch remaining is the following “UBS” which speaks for itself.
Nevertheless, Mind of Mencia occupied an important space in a tumultuous time for televised sketch comedy, even if it was just a stand-in for superior shows like Key & Peele to later surpass. For better or for worse, Mind of Mencia was proof that Comedy Central’s patented stand up/sketch comedy mash up show worked in a Chappelle-less television landscape.
The blowback that Carlos Mencia experienced was severe, and it dissuaded him from re-entering the entertainment world for over ten years – he made his return to TV this past February when he reprised his role of Felix Boulevardez on the Proud Family reboot The Proud Family: Louder and Prouder. We honestly hope that Carlos is able to enjoy his life without getting harassed by the swarms of old-school Joe Rogan fans who still hold a grudge over the incredibly public and incredibly damaging feud between the two comics some fifteen years ago.
Was Mind of Mencia a ground-breaking show? No. Did we love it anyways? Also no. But was it a passable placeholder for an audience that was bereaved of Chappelle’s Show and looking for some low-brow racial humor to fill the time? Sure, we can give it that.
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