Carlos Mencia was faced with the difficult task of trying to make people laugh just hours after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings Dec. 14, but the 45-year-old standup comedian said before his show at Governor’s Comedy Club in Levittown, NY, fewer than 90 miles from the tragedy, that he was not only up for the challenge, but he wouldn’t shy away from the subject.
Mencia feels it’s what makes him unique.
“I guarantee somebody in the audience will ask, ‘Hey Carlos, got anything to say about that?’” Mencia said while driving to the tour stop. “They still come to me for my reaction. It’s cathartic for them. It makes them feel better about the world around us — the craziness around us.
“What works best for me and is best received is when I do premises that are in people’s heads, but are kind of off limits to other comics. The beauty of comedy is when people come to a comedy club, there is a certain veil of reality suspended. We all know it’s a joke. But it’s best served without any anger or edge. That would come off as negative. I’ve learned to adjust. It’s made me a better comic.”
The old Mencia might not have cared how he came off. He was pulled from the Mardi Gras parade in New Orleans in 2009 for jokes he made about Hurricane Katrina. But Mencia — who will perform Friday and Saturday at Up Comedy Club — has been making plenty of changes recently. He said he had to.
Once the star of his own show, “Mind of Mencia,” on Comedy Central for four seasons, and the face of Bud Light’s Super Bowl ad campaign, Mencia saw his red hot career tarnished in 2007 when fellow comedian Joe Rogan confronted him on stage and accused him of repeatedly stealing jokes from other comics (the video of the incident has more than 3.3 million views on YouTube). Mencia admits the backlash from the public and comedy community forced him to step away and reevaluate himself.
“We all have forks in the road,” Mencia said. “When the comedy community turned on me, I had a lot of reflecting to do. I didn’t want to approach it with the same '(Expletive) them, they’re jealous.’ I wanted to grow from the experience. I said ‘OK, I’m not some Hamburgler guy in a corner watching other comics.’ That’s not who I am and anyone who says otherwise is disingenuous.
“The fact that so many comics were waiting to jump on the bandwagon of hate toward me — what is it about me that engages this kind of behavior? I began to see it: My cockiness, my lack of hanging out with other comics. A lot of that wasn’t my fault. I don’t drink or smoke. But I got to the point where I began to be introspective and go to therapy.”
Mencia’s self improvement included losing 70 pounds (he said he decided to go on a diet after a diabetic friend pointed out how heavy he was) and tweaking his standup routine so that it wasn’t so angry and included less f-bombs and shouting (he said he often lost his voice from screaming on stage). He returned to Comedy Central in 2011 with his appropriately titled stand-up special “New Territory” — and, like so many other comedians, he now has his own podcast, “Laughin’ and Livin’.”
“It takes a bad thing to happen in your life for you to make a huge dynamic shift. We don’t grow as human beings from good things happening. We grow from failures,” Mencia said. “I changed the program in my head. I always had good intent, but now it’s a little more overt. I was granted a gift and I’m just trying to share that gift.”
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When: Friday and Saturday, 8 p.m. and 10:30 p.m.
Where: Up Comedy Club, 230 W. North Avenue
Tickets: $30, upcomedyclub.com