At one time considered the heir apparent to Comedy Central's mercurial star Dave Chappelle, comedian Carlos Mencia received his start in stand-up at such famed Los Angeles clubs as The Laugh Factory and The Comedy Store. A growing reputation for his comedic skills led to opportunities like hosting the cable special "Loco Slam" (HBO, 1994) and headlining his own stand-up event "Comedy Central Presents: Carlos Mencia" (Comedy Central, 2002). After filling the void left by Chappelle with his show "Mind of Mencia" (Comedy Central, 2005-08), Mencia suddenly became a ubiquitous presence on the comedy scene. With more specials like "Carlos Mencia: No Strings Attached" (Comedy Central, 2006) and appearances in such feature films as "The Heartbreak Kid" (2007), he was undoubtedly one of the hottest comics in the business.
Born Oct. 22, 1967 in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, Ned Arnel Mencia was the 17th of 18 children born to his Honduran father, Roberto Holness, and his Mexican mother, Magdelana Mencia. As a boy, he was raised in East Los Angeles by his Aunt Consuelo and Uncle Pablo Mencia, where he went by the name Ned Holness in honor of his father. By his own admission, avoiding the street violence of East L.A. was difficult when he was growing up, but with the help of his family, he excelled in school and stayed away from the gang scene. He majored in electrical engineering at Cal State University Los Angeles, but left early to pursue a career in comedy after a successful performance during an open mic night at the world-renowned Laugh Factory. Continually honing his craft, Mencia began to impress audiences at hip stand-up comedy joints in and around L.A., such as The Comedy Store, The LA Cabaret and The Ice House. His growing reputation soon led to guest appearances on "The Arsenio Hall Show" (Fox, 1988-1993) and the Spanish-language talent competition "Buscando Estrellas," where he bagged the title "International Comedy Grand Champion."
Cable television provided Mencia with some of his biggest breaks when the budding comic was asked to host the Latin comedy special "Loco Slam" (HBO, 1994), given his own showcase on "HBO Comedy Half-Hour: Carlos Mencia" (HBO, 1996), and added to the lineup for the pay-per-view event, "Latino Laugh Festival" (1997). As he moved up the stand-up ranks, Mencia's style increasingly became known for its in-your-face raunchiness and steadfast devotion to political incorrectness. To many, especially in the collegiate crowd, he was a fresh, edgy comedic voice. To others - especially many of his fellow comedians - Mencia's material skewed heavily toward the unoriginal and appealed to the lowest common denominator.
In conjuncture with his stand-up career, Mencia grabbed the occasional acting gig, with appearances on television series like "Moesha" (UPN, 1995-2001), "The Bernie Mac Show" (Fox, 2001-06) and "The Shield" (FX, 2001-09), as well as a small part in the feature "Outta Time" (2002). However, it was on the comedy scene where Mencia thrived. In 2000 he released his first comedy album, Take A Joke, America, which was followed by co-headlining the Latino comedy tour "The Three Amigos" in 2001. His comedy special "Comedy Central Presents: Carlos Mencia" (Comedy Central, 2002), proved to be breakout moment for the entertainer, who was soon taken under the wing of the cable network.
Suitably impressed by his 2002 special, Comedy Central - which desperately needed something to fill the void after "Chappelle's Show" (2003-04) abruptly and controversially stopped airing - gave Mencia his own half-hour comedy show, entitled "Mind of Mencia" (Comedy Central 2005-08). An almost instant success its first season, the show mixed his stand-up comedy with sketch comedy, taped segments and man-on-the-street interviews. Now one of comedy's most visible talents, he went on to headline more stand-up specials, including "Carlos Mencia: No Strings Attached" (Comedy Central, 2006), and made appearances in mainstream films like the Farrelly Brothers remake of the romantic-comedy "The Heartbreak Kid" (2007), starring Ben Stiller.
As popular as Mencia's show had been during its first two seasons, by the fourth, ratings had dropped significantly. Amid increased criticism from both fellow comedians and within the media - in a 2006 issue of Maxim magazine, Mencia ranked among the worst comics of all time - Comedy Central canceled "Mind of Mencia" in 2008. His reputation continued to take a beating when he was cut from the celebrity line-up by a parade organizer for a planned appearance at the New Orleans 2009 Mardi Gras festival after a joke he made about African-Americans and Hurricane Katrina was deemed grievously offensive. For years, Mencia had been the frequent target of accusations of material plagiarism, most notably by fellow comedians Joe Rogan and George Lopez. After repeated, vigorous denials, Mencia eventually confessed - to a degree - in a pair of revealing hour-long interviews with comedian-host Marc Maron on his bi-weekly podcast "WTF with Marc Maron" in 2010. That same year, Mencia was mentioned as one of the stand-up performers most hated by other comedians in a Washington Post article. Determined to rebound from such bad press, Mencia was seen in a featured role opposite Forest Whitaker in the culture-clash comedy "Our Family Wedding" (2010) and later returned to his old network with another hour-long comedy special, "Carlos Mencia: New Territory" (Comedy Central, 2011).
By Bryce Coleman