In the world of stand-up comedy, Carlos Mencia has become a pariah with a well-known reputation as joke thief and bully. After famously being called out on stage by Joe Rogan in 2007 and then killed on South Park, Mencia's bad rep went beyond the comedy geek circle and into pop culture.. But it took comedian and former Air America radio host two episodes of his podcast to actually appear to make a breakthrough of sorts with Mencia.
It's just another reason that Maron's WTF? Podcast continues to be required listening for anyone interested in either the world of stand-up comedy or the related fields of human behavior, ethics and neurosis.
Maron's descent into the mind of Mencia actually began a few weeks ago, when Maron did a episode with Robin Williams and had a no-nonsense conversation that included William's rep for stealing jokes. Williams was fairly contrite and honest about it and that seems to given Maron the chutzpah to take on the Mencia issue, which has been festering for years. The accusations about Mencia had been made by comic George Lopez and many, many others but all the discussions had been either whispers or angry trash talk by accusers followed by occasional angry denials by Mencia.
Marc Maron stepped into the lion's den. He did a full WTF? episode with Mencia but something troubled Maron about that first podcast. The nearly hour long interview addressed some of the issue but Mencia turned the talk into a discussion of how he, Mencia, had been wronged. Maron felt played and that the interview was a lot more superficial than he would have liked and he also got calls and emails from other comics urging Maron to dig deeper.
So Maron followed up with another episode that is really fascinating. He starts by talking to Latino comics Willie Barcena and Steve Trevino, both former friends of Mencia's who know him well. Both laid out a number of incidents with Mencia and neither seemed to bear a huge grudge, actually feeling more sorry for Mencia than anything. Then Maron contacted Mencia, who came back to Maron's garage studio and responded to the accusations in a segment that was worlds away from the first Mencia interview.
What emerges is a portrait of Mencia as a talented performer and a lazy writer with a photographic memory and troubled soul. Mencia also seems to have a huge ego, enormous drive to succeed. and a mean streak that comes out in a variety of ways.
One example of Mencia's aggression is his habit of 'bumping' other comedians. For example, another comedian is headlining a show at a club like the Improv or The Comedy Store in Los Angeles. Mencia will walk in off the street and ask to get on stage for a few minutes, then will proceed to do an hour and more and make it impossible for the headliner to do his act. Maron gets Mencia to actually admit doing this a number of times, purely out of spite or a need to put other comics in their place.
But just reading about Mencia's doesn't do it justice - you really need to hear it to understand how much the tortured mind Mencia unravels under Maron's merciful but unrelentingly honest questioning. Mencia is all over the place; apologetic in sentence and back to his own rationalizations in the next. It's what Nixon / Frost wanted to be...quick, someone book an off-Broadway theater because this thing has crossover potential.
In the end, it's hard not to feel a little sorry for Mencia...but it's impossible to actually feel sorry for him because the guy brought it on himself. There's an old saying in Hollywood -- "There are two times you deal with people in your career...once when you're on your way up and then again when millions of people have watched YouTube videos that prove you steal and all your peers and former friends either despise or pity you because you're a thieving bully so suck that karma pipe hard, bro." Cliche, sure -- but it seems to fit here.
Judging from Mencia's Twitter stream, the episodes seem to have had a deep effect on Mencia, too, although it's too soon to say whether he has reached a bottom that he'll move on from or whether his anger rise again. He tweets..
I'm devastated. I cancelled my gigs this weekend cuz at this moment, I don't ever wanna do stand up again that's how hurt I am.
And even the most crazed critic can be pretty damn sure Mencia wrote that himself...
Follow Lee Stranahan on Twitter: www.twitter.com/Stranahan