I don’t know how the incident went down, all I know is that it did. Carlos Mencia (first name is actually Ned) was confronted during a performance at one of L.A.’s comedy clubs by Joe Rogan (‘NewsRadio’ and host of ‘Fear Factor’ – the show that forced me to invest in cable in order to avoid it). Joe’s beef was that Carlos steals material from other comedians. For instance, a joke pertaining to a proposed wall to be built between the U.S. and Mexican border would probably be built by illegals is an astute observation that earns Carlos laughs when he performs it, but he wasn’t the one who came up with it. To further complicate things (or not) Mencia admits that he lifted the joke. He defended himself by saying that the comedian who originated it is Jewish thus it is funnier for a Mexican (actually Mencia is Honduran) to perform it.
Carlos Mencia has a show on Comedy Central called, ‘Mind of Mencia.’ My first five-minute impression was that it was an updated version of ‘The Benny Hill Show’ as translated by a Mexican-American and since I didn’t like ‘Benny Hill’ I thought ‘Mind’ would not be my cup of tequila flavored tea. However, the program caught a lucky break when Dave Chappell broke down and left his successful and very funny show at the beginning of its third season to discover himself in South Africa. (I’m so tired of making Britney breakdown jokes, but feel free to insert one here ______.) Carlos was the go to minority of the moment.
About six months ago, I witnessed an Internet discussion between Johnny 5000 (anyone remember him?) and some other guy (who I don’t remember, sorry) about classifications for comedians. Here’s how I recall it broke down. There is the comic that has good material but when something doesn’t work he is able to build on it instead of making it an uncomfortable situation for the audience. In other words, he knows how to bomb. I tend to think of Jon Stewart being about to do this on ‘The Daily Show.’ There is the comic that is good but bombs badly. I have no idea what Lenny Bruce was like live, but I have gotten the impression that he didn’t bomb well. Then there is the comic who isn’t very good but knows how to take a nose dive and build from there. That was the category that they put Carlos/Ned in. Of course, there is the bad comic that doesn’t know how to react to laying an egg and they are the ones who shout at people leaving the show, “Hey, where do you think you’re going?” Paging Michael Richards.
Does the above paragraph make you miss Johnny 5000? It does me too.
Eventually the ordeal led to Rogan’s agent dropping him because both Mencia and Rogan were represented by the same firm. Since Mencia still has his Comedy Central gig and Rogan is surviving on residual checks - the agency kept Mencia. I have heard now that Mencia is, or was at least, thinking about suing Rogan for defamation of character, which leads to the cliché, is it defamation if it is true?
My bet is that Mencia is going to talk a little game but not do anything. His reputation is such that too many people are aware of the accusations. I think comics tend not to be a sue happy lot so they don’t come forward to proclaim material theft thus Mencia's activities have been flying under the radar. He has too much to lose if more people become aware that he steals his material from struggling comedians. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if his lawyers make some quick deals to buy the material unduly taken.
I wrote this because of some questions I have about the whole ordeal and how it relates to the concept of community (be the community one of comedy or Gather) and how situations should be handled if they are handled at all.
1. What should Mencia do? Assuming he isn’t really a bad soul generally how could the situation be remedied?
2. Is Joe Rogan a hero or just a troublemaker? If the other comedians were so concerned why didn’t they interrupt Mencia’s set? If other comedians know that their material is being pinched shouldn’t they have grown some ‘Colbert inspired balls’ to address it themselves?
3. I’m guessing this sort of information doesn’t make Mencia more likeable, but does it make him so unlikable that people will avoid his show because of it? What should Comedy Central do? Support Mencia? Fire him?
4. Is, or should it be, acceptable to lift comedic bits from other comedians? If Donald Trump can copyright an otherwise common phrase such as, “You’re fired!” and Paris Hilton, “That’s hot!” is the English language up for grabs? Where is the middle ground?
5. Who really suffers from the situation? The audience? The comedians? Rogan for standing up? Mencia for not being honest?
Copyright (just in case) 2007 Westerfield