Sunday, January 8, 2012

Carlos Mencia's "New Territory"

There are only a handful of things that really turn me off when it comes to stand-up comedy. They include pandering to the audience, talking down to the crowd, and building a premise around a lie (yet purporting it as truth) just so you can get the masses riled up and on board.

On his album New Territory, Carlos Mencia manages to cover all of these bases with a manic glee and more than likely he's completely unaware he's even doing it. His comedy is littered with falsehoods, contradictions, and wishy-washyness that, considering the confident bravado with which the material is delivered, is a bit ironic.

It's been a heck of a last few years for Mencia, mostly because he's found himself on the defensive. A lot. He's spent most of his time in interviews explaining his actions in a whirlwind of less-than-ethical allegations and situations (the most damning -- and compelling -- being his two-part appearance on Marc Maron's WTF podcast) and it's affected his comedy. Mencia now spends an unsettling amount of time in his set apologizing and/or explaining his own material. It really takes the bite out of what he says when his conscience feels such a constant need to defend himself even when no one is accusing him of anything.

Mencia is a chameleon and he changes his persona, who he is, his identity, depending on what he's talking about, who he wants to make fun of, and how seriously he wants to be taken. If he wants to make fun of Guatemalans and their poverty, then he brags about the fact that he's a Guatemalan, almost trying to make it sound like he just got here in August. Later on when he wants to use the word "beaner" he comes across as Mexican and still later, when asked where he's from, he claims California as his homeland.

When Mencia decides he wants to be taken seriously, he morphs once again. One minute he's calling people who don't agree with his point of view "bitches" and the next he's speaking in a hushed, extremely calm, passive-aggressive voice that is calm, deliberate, and mysteriously free of any Latino accent whatsoever. When he talks in this way, he's usually defending something he either just said or is about to say with well-rehearsed run-on paragraphs that begin with phrases like, "It's an affirmation that you know what I'm talking about..." He reminds me of the old Sinbad routine about Mike Tyson when he got his G.E.D. and tried to impress everyone by using big words to prove he was smart. When Mencia is really back on his heels and against the ropes, his voice gets quieter, his words become multi-syllabic, and his sentences grow and twist around like a tangled up ball of illogical string.

And then, it's back to "bitch!"

One thing I will say about Mencia: He knows how to manipulate a crowd. Remember the pandering I referred to earlier? The very first thing he says when he gets on the stage, the very first thing, is his bold statement that the audience is amazing and we are living in the best country in the worrrrrld!!! He is rewarded with thunderous cheers and a huge round of applause and just as quickly as he got them on his side, I wanted to puke. And as if that weren't bad (and obvious!) enough, I lost track of how many times he uses that exact same ploy throughout the album. Is the crowd getting restless? Starting to audibly disagree? Running out of material? That's OK, just proclaim that the United States is the greatest country in the worrrrrld!!! and you'll have them back on your side just like that.

I also mentioned in the beginning of this review that Mencia will take a straight-up lie or exaggeration and present it as a truth just so he'll have something "outlandish" to rail against. He's especially guilty of this when he's talking up America in comparison to other countries. He talks down to the crowd as if we're a bunch of backwards idiots who've never experienced other cultures but it's OK because he's going to enlighten us and explain how the world really works. I knew we were in trouble when he talked about Europe in all seriousness and explained that they're so behind-the-times, they don't have elevators or air conditioning.

Huh?

He then goes on to explain that America is so great, so free and liberated compared to other places, because "we're the only country that can do jokes about anybody else." This statement is met with an obligatory patriotic applause that embarrassed me. Mencia then goes on to prove his point by explaining you couldn't even do a joke about Mexico in Sweden, implying they'd be too stupid to get it.

There's so much wrong with his approach and point of view my head wanted to explode out of frustration. First of all, I would recommend actually listening to a comedian from another country. They love making jokes about other people and depending on who you listen to, you'll hear jokes about all different people: People from "the North," people from Manchester, the Irish, the Welsh, the French, Germans, Australians, and especially Americans are all targets for them. Yes, Carlos, you're right, a Swede might not get a joke about a Mexican. Maybe because, oh I don't know, they don't share a border with them. Likewise, I might find a lot of Norwegian jokes zipping over my head. That doesn't make me stupid, it just means I live thousands of miles away from Norway and I have no idea what's going on there.

Mencia slaps a caboose on this portion of the show by stating that other countries don't like Americans because they think we're prideful (and after listening to Mencia, can you blame them?). I don't think there's anything wrong with loving the country you live in. I love being an American, yes, but at the same time there are a lot of other really cool places around the world people call home. The dangerous part comes when  your pride turns to arrogance. And it gets really dangerous when it's an arrogance based on...well...brash stupidity.

At that point, yes, we have indeed reached new territory.

***

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