I am not with the times when it comes to television. Schadenfreude TV upsets me; I can’t watch it. You know what I’m talking about: the semi-scripted reality shows, the “true life” documentaries, the TV that makes you want to die. I know you remember the episode of I Love New York when the woman asks the guy if he’s dressed in pink and green on the assumption she likes watermelon. I don’t get it—sure I enjoy elitism, but I still just can’t bring myself to like these gleeful chronicles of the sheer staggering fucktardedness of people.
But I do love the “Sarah Silverman School” of comedians that you find while channel surfing late at night: Colbert, Cohen, Chapelle—the ones that hurt so good. And the fact that Carlos Mencia tries to be one of them pains me. He is a disgrace to himself and to the profession; to the extent that he discredits his superiors by association, he is unforgivable. The genius of the comedians of this School lies in their ability to skate on such perilously thin ice. Doesn’t Dave Chapelle seem to live in some “one skit away from being canceled” purgatory? Their humor doles out pain and pleasure in equal measure; it cuts to the heart of issues with dazzling precision. Silverman’s routine about her grandmother’s choosing a customized vanity number for her Auschwitz tattoo—my favorite moment in comedy—takes surgical skill to execute. Carlos Mencia has no skill. No creativity. No subtlety. He is a blatherer. His only assets are the cretinous bellow of a palsied Bessarabian village idiot, and enough of a mestizo appearance to pass off his slurs as self-effacing. And he’s deluded (or stupid) enough to have constructed a theory of comedy as the marriage of cruelty and noise. What Mencia misses—indeed, what so many would-be provocateurs before him also have missed—is that it does not suffice merely to push the envelope. It is not enough for Silverman to say “Auschwitz,” or for Chapelle to say “slavery.” But Mencia thinks he can yell “beaners” at the top of his lungs and call it an act. Ultimately, it’s not so much the racism and brutality of the humor that damn him, as the artlessness. The man is plainly unfunny. Silverman calls herself a humble genius and her character an arrogant idiot. And there’s something to that idea. The comedians of the Silverman School are thinkers; on stage, they present the ironic personae they have conceived. Their work sits squarely in the tradition of the “wise fool,” who uses humor and a ridiculous façade to speak the truth. Wise, self-conscious irony will always trump blustering vacuity. Think Feste and Malvolio. And so too Steven Colbert and Bill O’Reilly, Sasha Baron Cohen and Lou Dobbs. There’s a reason college students love these comedians: the outrageousness is bolstered by such intelligence. It did not surprise me in the least to learn that Cohen read history at Cambridge, or that Chapelle’s father taught at Antioch. In the comedy of the Silverman School, ugly naked men wrestling is never just ugly naked men wrestling. Mencia creates no persona—he is that arrogant idiot. And he doesn’t realize it. His shows are tedious indulgences of instinct: base, aimless, and vitriolic. His brand of humor comes off the trash heap of revolting—and worse, hackneyed—nativism and xenophobia. Each of his jokes is a cheap shot. Yes, political correctness has its excesses… but he is not the cure. He is not the breath of fresh air he thinks he is. He is so crass, so arrogant, so lacking of self-awareness that I can’t watch him onstage; I get too embarrassed for his sake. And then there’s the laundry-list of foibles: the pandering name change, the Honduran—not Mexican—origins, the struggles with plagiarism. But no matter. I’m just here to ask, as sweetly as I know how, that Carlos Mencia please make a swift and silent retirement from comedy. That is all.