Friday, May 23, 2008

The Degeneration of Culture: Carlos Mencia

So I was over at the other day, procrastinating, and I read this posting about the "triumphant" return of Carlos Mencia to Comedy Central. In it, the author discusses about why Mencia may be the most under appreciated comedian of his day. One of his major theses is as follows:

Here is, perhaps, the most important aspect of Carlos Mencia and his comedy. It’s the reason most people don’t “get” Carlos. Get ready, white folks, because I’m about to rock your world. See, Dave Chappelle once did a skit to show the world what it would be like if there was a black president.

And it was funny in a “makes you laugh often” sort of way, which is fine if that’s what you’re looking for in a comedy. But Carlos Mencia opted to take the road less traveled by doing exactly what Dave Chappelle did several years later, but with a twist: Mencia was going to show the world what it would be like to have a black president, but he was going to do so without being funny or relevant.

Very true. (I highly advise you to follow the link to Chappelle's skit. It's not his best, but it's pretty funny, and it follows my theme here quite well. You might still be able to watch a version of Mencia's "skit" on Cracked, but I think that Comedy Central is going around the web, removing them all. Still, the image of Mencia in black-face ought to give you an idea of the quality of his material.) But then I got to thinking: "Black President? Black President? Hmmmm.... where have I heard that before...."

The Laugh-Track for this skit is really bizarre. Pay attention to it; are they merely laughing at the absurd concept of a black man "playing" at president?

has recently been involved in a long, drawn-out catfight with Joe Rogan and other comedians who have been claiming that Mencia has violated some kind of unspoken pirate code of stand-up comedy by stealing their material and actually profiting off of it. (Mon Dieu!) But everyone does that to some degree. Good writers borrow, great writers steal. (Trademarked 2008, Joel Enterprises) And if you really boil it down, most if not all of ethnic/ racial comedy is some variation of the formula of "Black guys drive like this: doo-doo-doo-doo. But white guys, they drive like this: dee-dee-dee-dee." ("Hahahaha! We SO do!") So, when you think about it, Mencia's crime isn't that he steals his jokes from other comedians. It's that he is able to do so while making them absolutely not funny. For example:

It's like magic how Mencia can take an otherwise funny schtick and just suck all of the joy (fröhliche, for those of you actively tracing my mental processes here) out of it. And I think that it has something to do with how he responds to the (humorous) situation. Richard Pryor's skit is subtle and nuanced. In just a few minutes, he addresses the discrepancy between blacks and whites in unemployment, the inherent racial biases found in our cultural concepts of high art vs. low art, and the reality that even a black man who is president will still be "boy" to many Americans. And it's all hilarious. If you ever get to see Mencia's, it focuses mainly on how black people love weed, liquor and "bitches". And even though Bill Cosby's football story isn't (overtly) racially motivated, he is still able to convey nuance to his audience. His reaction to his son's betrayal is a kind of a sly, c'est la vie, shit-happens, isn't-that-just-what-kids-do smile, whereas Mencia just shouts a lot and calls his wife "bitch". (There may be a pattern developing here.)

It's almost as if he doesn't recognize what's funny in the joke that he himself is telling.

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