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Tricks of the Trade

Carlos Mencia’s evolution of comedy

By Tim Wassberg


Carlos Mencia has always been a comedian of differing perspectives. Whether honing his craft at The Comedy Store in LA to his success on Comedy Central with his own show Mind Of Mencia, he has always found ways to connect with his audience. Mencia sat down with Casino Player to talk about energy, strategy, behavior and recognizing the tells of your audience.

Casino Player: How do you prep yourself for the stage?

Carlos Mencia: The best thing for me to do is to be completely free and allow the actual conversation to take place. The weird thing about stand up is when you get a group of people together, whether it is 10 or 10,000 normally a huge percentage will laugh at or not laugh at specific jokes. It just doesn’t matter how you do it. What I have to do is say “This is a different audience than yesterday… and they are all going to feel a certain way.” My agenda to make them laugh. It is their laughter that is telling me which direction to go.

CP: So it is about balancing and finding rhythm in delivery.

CM: I realized that the timing of every joke I do is very specific to the way that I’m telling that joke to that specific audience. It becomes musical in nature. For me personally, our interaction is huge because the audience’s laughter is the baseline—they are the ones that drive it. I am just the melody and they are like BOOM… BOOM… BOOM. In my head, I can feel that music.

CP: So you have a strategy… like a poker player?

CM: I can liken it to that idea because, especially nowadays, there are two kinds of poker players. There are poker players that grew up playing nobody on the Internet. You can’t read these players, because they don’t play the way normal guys do. Sometimes it works out and they win tournaments. And then there are the old school guys. They know how to find a tell and they know how to not give a tell.

That is the school I come from with my stand up. I come more from the school of “I’m going to look at you when I say this joke and see how you react”. It all depends on agenda. If I want to bluff you, I am going to behave a certain way. If I am going to go to a joke “here” I am going to get you “there” but I don’t know how until I start doing the joke. If you laugh “medium” or “hard” or whatever that is, it will show me that you need to be led “there”. If you laugh really hard, it’s like “Let’s dive into this immediately!” It is all about the excitement level of the audience. But the strategy becomes more about how do I make what I am saying not just funny but important—and meaningful.

CP: So there is always a science to the story being told…

CM: The science of the story is always to keep the audience involved. And that is where tricks come in. Comedians say “this” [as in] you know how when you do “this” and when you do “that”, you go “here” and your mom is like “what!?” With that phrasing… the general “you” is put in there so people can be sucked in. [So it becomes] my mom is like “that” but so is yours. Remember when she used to do “this”? Remember when you used to go outside and play? Remember when you used to play Atari? All of a sudden, it becomes “that’s you”. When I say “I used to play Atari…” and the crowd reacts I say “You too!?” Then they come in of their own free will. I am not forcing the “you” in there. They are basically saying “we get it”.

CP: In that way, how has Carlos Mencia evolved?

CM: The evolution is expansion. It is really funny. Somebody sent me a video of a comedian doing some jokes and he said “Doesn’t this remind you of you 15 or 20 years ago?” Another buddy showed me the same one and said “This reminds me of you 10 years ago”. Then another said “This is like you 5 years ago”. That shows that what I am trying to do is not to evolve but to expand. I would never have thought of doing jokes on music or singing when I first started doing comedy. I think the last time I was in Vegas, the last 15 or 20 minutes of my show was all about music and songs and I was actually singing. I am not Jamie Foxx and I am not going to put it out there, but it is about growth. It is about finding a way to tell a different joke. I started out very loud, very boisterous, very in-your-face—very cocky. Now I just want to keep adding things to my arsenal: physicality, self-deprecation, whispered jokes; just finding ways to be able to surprise not just my fans, but myself because I have a ridiculous standard. I can take “I don’t think you were funny” but I cannot take “We saw the same show last time”. I can’t take that. That is like a stab in my heart.

CP: How have the aspects of gambling changed since you started coming to Vegas?

CM: Well, the world has gotten more casual. That’s just the way it is. But back in the day, when I was really young, there were not really a lot of theaters in Vegas. There were a lot of lounges and the theaters—they had had these booths. You could be like “I’m going to give this guy a $50 and he is going to give me a good table.”

Now it has become more of a mill. When you have 4,000 people coming in and out of “O”, the last thing you are worrying about is getting cocktails. It has become a more casual thing which has also taken some of the luster off of it. When you open up so many places and you got to get people in, it becomes all about reinvention. I mean look at the transformation of Downtown within the last 25 to30 years. It has gone through three or four giant renovations in trying to reinvent itself. When that happens, when you want more people to come, you tend to get everybody. A majority of the people aren’t going to go out in a suit and tie like they did back in the day when Sinatra used to do this.

CP: Comedy can be an emotional and intellectual exercise but it also about understanding human behavior much like poker in many ways. It is about poise.

CM: It is a visceral reaction but it follows a gaming perspective. The first thing you do in many situations is that you say “Hi” to somebody and you see how they react. Just upon saying “Hi”, you immediately see how they say “Hi”. What are they trying to hide? What they are not trying to hide? How are they trying to play? Are they trying to be cool? Are they trying to be funny? Are they trying to be friendly? Are they trying to smile? Are they trying to hide behind glasses and not say “Hi”? That’s an audience. I go up onstage and say “How you guys feeling?” And just by how they react, they are telling me if they are ridiculously excited, unbelievably excited, or whatever it is. From that point on, it is the dance—the push and pull. The reaction of them from the beginning gives me the platform of how to move on.

Editor’s note: Carlos Mencia performs at The Orleans Casino in Las Vegas July 3& 4; Turning Stone Resort & Casino in Verona, NY, on July 10; and Mont Bleu Resort in Lake Tahoe on July 18.

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