"My dad was like, 'If you want to be a clown, be a clown. Put on the face paint.' But my mama was like, 'Are you retarded?'" Mencia said, laughing, of the parents he calls the biggest influences on not just his life, but his career in comedy.
The star of the wildly successful "Mind of Mencia" on cable's Comedy Central paid a personal visit to Pollstar and sat for an interview between promoting the show and his upcoming 50-city caravan, The Punisher Tour.
His favorite college classes might have been in philosophy ("It taught me how to think in a non-linear fashion"), but Mencia has a brain for business. And one venture in particular sounds very familiar today.
"My own business started when I first began doing comedy shows more than 15 years ago
I would record that night's show and then sell it to the audience at the end," Mencia said. "I started doing that way before anybody else, that I know of."
And he can rattle off how much he might make off a T-shirt on a given night, explain a $5 difference in ticket price in a given market, how many staffers it helps keep employed and how much more money he might make if he just had the time to promote his own tour.
"I've always been in the business side of it," he said. "A lot of the time, I was the money guy in these and the promoting was done by Icon Entertainment or whoever. But I was fronting the money so that they could do it. ... That way, I could make my front end as an artist and my back end from the promoter fee."
His agents talked him out of it. "They told me I had to make them work for it," Mencia said. And they are.
"This is Carlos' first big national tour," Gersh Agency's Matt Blake told Pollstar. "It looks like we're up to about 50 markets and 80 shows, and I have a stack of offers here for tie-in dates. We're just going to keep routing them through, because he wants to work."
Mencia's leaving the promoting to others this time, but his old friends at Icon are still on hand to tour manage. Mencia is intensely loyal and understands the importance of relationships in the entertainment industry.
"As a comedian, you spend years and years, and you build and build. Once you get to the 1,000-seat level, you've already built your relationships working with a lot of people. But you realize that they've invested money in you and they believed in you all that time," he said. "They took a chance on you, so you have a chance to repay that. Some of us find that important."
Mencia's worked hard not only to get where he is, but to keep right on moving up. It's in his hard-wiring. "Mind of Mencia"
which has quickly become Comedy Central's second-highest rated show
just wrapped for the 2006 season. Were it not for the tour, he would be going right back into production in three months for next season.
Mencia ticks off his itinerary for the next two years: "As soon as we're done with the tour, we're going straight back into production for about six or seven months. Then we have a bunch of movie projects lined up.
"That'll happen," he continued, "and then I'll probably try to bank more episodes than normal, so Comedy Central can have a longer season and ... then take a little bit of time off to do a movie and possibly another tour."
Even before the Punisher tour began, he was on the road, chatting up radio DJs, newspaper columnists and yours truly. He and his wife, who is about five months' pregnant with their first child, live in L.A. but recently built a "weekend getaway" house in Oregon. But even so, he'd rather be working, boosting his tour and promoting the business of being Carlos Mencia.
"It's either me coming over here and taking care of business or me being at home, scratching my balls, going out of my fucking mind because I've got nothing to do, thinking about what I should do. You know what? I know this is a job, but I don't work for a living."
He started out at the famed Comedy Store in West Hollywood, seating audiences and parking cars. The comic Mecca, owned by the notoriously demanding but respected impresario Mitzi Shore, was "my own University of the Comedy Store," Mencia said. "I learned everything I know about comedy from the greats to the mediocres that came through there."
"When a comedian wouldn't show up (the first three comedians to go up most nights were non-paid), I would go on stage. I was a non-paid regular for 4-5 years.
"But I learned that Mitzi, who I'm still close with, she really believed in me but just needed to make it hard on me for some reason. But whatever her reasons, it worked and I've got the balls to take it in this business.
"I've got nothing but beautiful things to say for her," he continued. "She's responsible for me changing my name from Ned to Carlos when I went on stage. She said, 'You can't be a Ned with that act of yours.' I have an uncle named Carlos and my last name is Mencia. And she said, 'Carlos Mencia. That's a perfect name.'"
So Mencia is living the dream his parents brought him to America to find.
"When you watch me perform, you will talk about some of the shit that I said later on. All of a sudden, you go out to have a smoke, and it's 'Man, did you hear what Carlos said last night? Dude, that was fucked up, but it was real.' It's a source of personal pride that I can start those conversations. Then you have that dialogue, an intelligent dialogue.
"But there's got to be somebody who says that shit, and I guess that guy's me."