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Carlos Mencia talks small cities, TV, Robin Williams

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Carlos Mencia, who performed in Clovis in 2011, returns for a Friday night show at the Clovis Civic Center. Tickets are $37.50, and available at the Clovis-Curry County Chamber of Commerce and the Civic Center.

Carlos Mencia has been in standup more than a quarter century, with a career that’s spanned movies, HBO and Comedy Central specials, his own television series (”Mind of Mencia”) and a share of controversies.

Mencia, who performed in Clovis in late 2011, spoke with us this week about the show and his last three years in the business.

At what point did you know you’d be coming back to Clovis?

You know what it is? I identify with audiences, and there are moments when I connect. I just know I have to come back. It was when I was on stage; I felt a connection with that audience.

To be honest, the promoters wanted to cancel this state. When tickets went on sale, there wasn’t a big first day and they got scared. So they were going to call it a day and whatever. I said, no relax. It’s Clovis. They buy their tickets three minutes before the show.

What was memorable from the show?

I just think Clovis is one of those small-size cities not a lot of people know. I identify with that. I’ve always been counted out. I’m a Latino in America, a country that when I started doing standup in 1988 the only real Latino standup people talked about was Paul Rodriguez because Freddie (Prinze) was already dead.

You can read article upon article. I was never viewed as a guy the establishment was against. I’ve always been ignored. In success, I don’t think they’ve given me the real credit, so to speak. But I’ve always cared about my audiences.

The promoters were OK with canceling the show because they hadn’t really spent much promoting, so they weren’t going to lose a lot of money. I said, “Give them a chance. If they don’t come out, we won’t come back.” I don’t look at life or my comedy from that perspective. There’s something about the town I identify with hugely. It’s the kind of town where I can walk down the street, and somebody recognizes me. They ask if I’m Carlos Mencia, and I say yeah, and they say, “What the (expletive) are you doing in Clovis?” I think there’s something cool about that.

What’s changed over the last few years?

When I went through all of the stuff after “Mind of Mencia,” there was a lot of negativity floating in my heart. Instead of changing the way I thought, I would push it down until it didn’t exist. I didn’t want to do that. I worked really hard to look at life from a positive, beautiful perspective as the gift that it is.

I wish Robin (Williams) would have called me to go through those thoughts. There was a time where hating me was cool, where not liking my comedy was hip. The one thing is I never talked about the detractors who had anything negative to say. I weathered the storm.

Do I do performances where I call people stupid? Yeah, but it’s laughter. I live in a place of laughter. Instead of being a guy who wants to prove I belong, the crowd is going to see a guy whose mindset is, “I have this gift of making people laugh.”

How do you deal with reminders? I saw the “Fish Sticks” episode in reruns a few weeks ago. (Editor’s note: In an episode of “South Park,” one of the children creates a wildly popular joke about fish sticks that Mencia steals credit for inventing).

They’re trying to find humor in what they thought was negative (Editor’s note: Mencia faced numerous accusations of joke stealing). I don’t know what side or position those guys have, but at the end of the day that’s not where I exist or live. When it came out, I hid my hurt in something like, “I’m funny enough to be made fun of.” But at the end of the day, if South Park is mentioning you it’s never positive. That’s not good or bad; that’s what they do.

Do you have any desire to get back into TV?

I’m working on three projects and a movie project. Fans should come see this show, because when I come back, tickets will be more expensive, they’ll be harder to get.

I feel things are right the way they were before “Mind of Mencia.” Based on all of the work and the things I’m working on, I feel like I’m in the best place I’ve ever been in.

Do you feel like you needed some time away from the spotlight to get to this point?

I don’t know if I needed it ... you know, I actually did. I needed to find my sense of self. In terms of just simplicity, I grew up in the projects where nobody believed in me. When I did standup people said, “If you do college you’ll get out of here ... and you want to be a comedian?”

I always told myself I don’t want to be dumb, I don’t want to be in jail, I don’t want to be a drug addict, I don’t want to be a drug dealer. The reformation is now that I do things for a positive reason. I don’t want to prove anything; it’s not my job to judge. It’s my job to make people laugh and talk about the things I think they want to hear. It’s a 180-degree turn from who I was before. It’s subtle, but people who have seen me perform for years can tell.

Nobody grows from beautiful experiences. When bad things happen, when negative moments occur, you find something to change to grow from it or you become bitter.

We lost Robin Williams because of whatever darkness or negativity was inside of him. How many people in the world are feeling just like he was, and how many people could have been helped if he’d have worked through that on stage? He could have saved a lot of lives. Not that he didn’t (save any lives), because he was a philanthropist and helped people, but he could have done something more had he chosen a different path.

What’s next? Back to movies? Netflix exclusive? A self-funded standup like Louis CK?

That only worked with Louie. For everybody else, it hasn’t really worked out. I have a special ready, in my pocket. There’s HBO, then there’s Comedy Central, or you could do Hulu or Netflix. I’m trying to find out what’s best for me. A network wants to do a travel show with me, and I’m seeing if that works for me. There’s a scripted show two guys are writing and another one I’m writing. We’ll see what sticks.

I’m glad it’s happening now. I’m prepared. “Mind of Mencia,” I was so young and coming from a different world it was tough for me to enjoy it. Every moment was write, direct, produce, star in, etc. Now, it seems like time has slowed down in a good way.

Let’s say Jerry Seinfeld calls you to do an episode of “Cars in Comedians Getting Coffee.” Do you do the episode, and what car do you want him to bring?

Yes, I would. I would want him to pick me up in a ... I don’t even know if they have them anymore, a (Mercury) Comet. I’ll never forget the blue Comet my mom and dad used to drive. When I was a kid they sent the sheriff to the school to talk about abuse. I went home and told my mom she couldn’t hit me anymore because I could call the cops. She tricked me later. She told me we were going to buy some shoes, and she took me to Mexico and beat the (expletive) out of me. I’ll never forget that blue Comet, because that’s the car she took me in.

— Compiled by staff writer Kevin Wilson and edited for length and clarity