Carlos Mencia: comedy out of Mind

Carlos Mencia brings the funny to Tampa Improv for a slate of shows this weekend.

click to enlarge STILL AT IT: Carlos Mencia is on a stand-up tour, stopping off at Tampa's Improv this weekend. - PUBLICITY PHOTO
PUBLICITY PHOTO
STILL AT IT: Carlos Mencia is on a stand-up tour, stopping off at Tampa's Improv this weekend.
  • PUBLICITY PHOTO
  • STILL AT IT: Carlos Mencia is on a stand-up tour, stopping off at Tampa's Improv this weekend.

You already know Carlos Mencia from his Comedy Central show, Mind of Mencia, which ran for four seasons and ended in 2008. And Mencia knows that you know. Just don't expect a simple rehash of old sketches when he comes to town for six shows this weekend at Tampa Improv in Ybor City.

"I don't ever feel beholden to the audience to have to give them anything but what I think is best. The day that I live on 'dee dee dee' (a catchphrase from his show) is the day that I never do anything else," Mencia said. "My whole goal is that people see me perform and go 'when you go see Carlos, you get new material every time, you get a different show, you get a great show.'"

With 20 years of stand-up experience, Mencia feels that he's a pretty good judge of what constitutes a great show. And often, it involves sensitive topics like race, ethnicity or sexuality — themes covered frequently on Mind of Mencia. But he also discusses topics like America's "first-world problems," although he approaches it from a specific viewpoint. Instead of a more traditional comedic perspective (that Americans are fat, lazy or greedy) Mencia uses it to point out the comforts we all enjoy, encouraging his audience to appreciate what they have and laugh instead of finding reasons to complain.
In fact, Mencia gets a little defensive when it comes to the United States (born in Honduras, he became an American citizen a few years ago) and rejects a common trend to criticize the country and focus on what's wrong with it.

"Everybody wants to believe the worst. They say America's broken. Are you serious? The day that Mexicans jump back over the fence and Cubans swim back to Cuba, on that day you can begin to question how bad America is," he said.

Undoubtedly, Mencia appreciates freedom of speech, using it liberally at his shows. But even when discussing controversial topics, he insists they're really designed to provoke thought and can even create positive outcomes that go beyond the stage. Mencia said that after one show where he talked about homosexuality and coming out in frank terms (joking that it's never a surprise to their family when people announce they're gay), a young man came up to him and said that he chose that night — after he and his family attended the show — to come out to them. And just as Mencia had suggested earlier in the night, it wasn't a shock.

"He laughed and said they knew already," Mencia recalled. "It became this funny thing for us, but for him this seemed to be a life or death moment before the show. It seemed to be the biggest thing, and the ramifications and repercussions of this were going to be so out there, so crazy that he was filled with this angst and anguish."

Whether it's different colors, religions, sexuality or backgrounds, Mencia likes to see diversity at his shows. He explained that telling jokes to a homogeneous audience is boring, and he wants different groups of people coming together to share laughs about topics everyone can understand. And after traveling across the country for many years, he recognizes that Ybor City is one of the most diverse areas he's visited. "Ybor City — it's such a strange and bizarre, yet amazing place. I don't think that people understand how really awesome and diverse it is. I mean, you can literally turn a corner and go to a frat boy party, then you walk half a block down and it's an all-black club, then you go another half a block and it's a completely gay club," Mencia said.

"I just find that amazing. I think it's awesome."

See Mencia live Thu., 8 p.m.; Fri. at 8 p.m. and 10:30 p.m.; Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and 10 p.m. Sunday at 7 p.m. The Tampa Improv is at 1600 E. Eighth Ave., Ybor City. Tickets are $28. For more information, visit improvtampa.com or call 813-864-4000.

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