Interview: Carlos Mencia On The Heartbreak Kid

Carlos Mencia is a man on the comedian career path. He's shifted from stand-up to sketch comedy on Mind of Mencia, which became the successor for The Chappelle Show after Dave Chappelle did his $50 million vanishing act. Now Mencia is making the move from television to movies, and finally taking on an actual acting role that requires him to play a character other than himself.

Frankly, Mencia could do a lot worse than The Heartbreak Kid to begin his transition to film. The comedian readily admits his character, Uncle Tito, is reminiscent of his own family, making it easy to connect with the character. Meanwhile, the Farrelly Brothers have a long history and a built in audience, especially as they partner back up with Ben Stiller who brought them a lot of success in There's Something About Mary.

To promote the Heartbreak Kid, I sat in on this conference call with Mencdia, as he talks about the route his career has gone, what working with the Farrelly brothers (and Ben Stiller) is like, and how Carlos Mencia himself is just a character.

How did you get involved in this movie? Can you tell me a little bit of the story how you got the script, et cetera?

Carlos Mencia: You know, what was funny about this movie was that the casting director just really, really, really wanted me to be a part of this. I mean he was just a big, big fan of mine. And I went in there and I read - and the Farrelly brothers weren't there. It was on tape. And this was after they had already like sent me the script. And of course, when they sent me the script I was like so excited to read it. And when I read it, I was so, so excited just to even attempt to be a part of it. And I read it the first time and I read it again. I was like, "This is really funny."

So I went to go audition for it and they called me back and they said, "Listen, we really think you can do better." And I was kind of hurt by that, you know what I mean? But, you know, because when you're told you can do better, you're like, "Oh man, did I suck? What happened? But sometimes that just means there's something different that they want.”

And what it was is, a lot of times even, believe it or not, even though I know I'm funny -- I have a TV show where I'm funny, I go on stage and I'm funny -- believe it or not, once they take me out of my comfort zone, you know what I mean, I question whether it's funny or not.

And auditioning is the worse possible thing. Auditioning -- do you know what auditioning is like? There is no reacting. Acting is reacting. That's when acting is great -- when you say something, somebody said something, they make a face, they pose, they use something physical, then you react to that, then they react to you. And at that point it's not really acting, it's reacting.

Well, the hard part about doing auditions is that the person reading you the lines, they're not really into it. They're just going, "Oh really, so why do you think that?" And they're just looking at a piece of paper. And you're kind of staring into their eyes, but it's vacuous, there's nothing there. So, I get really nervous at auditions. I know how to make people laugh, but auditions just really make me nervous.

On top of that, they were really concerned. There's once scene in this movie and it's a really quick scene but it's a very, very pivotal scene in the movie and it's when the character, my character, Uncle Tito, kind of puts a mirror in Ben's face to let him know, "Look, this is who I thought you were because this is how you're acting. I'm sorry that I did this crazy thing to you, but I thought that it was okay with you for me to do this."

And it's a really serious moment there where he kind of catches me doing something crazy but I didn't think it was crazy. And that was the part that they really wanted to get right. So, believe it or not, like, I was kind of like, "Man, I can't believe I wasn't funny. Why do you want me to do it again?" It had nothing to do with the funny. It’s that they wanted to make sure that I was able to deliver on this more serious dramatic moment, and even though the moment is funny, I'm serious and dramatic in it.

So I went in there and I read it again and I did exactly and then I found out that the Farrelly brother's kids are big fans of me and big fans of Mind of Mencia and they really rallied for me to be on in the movie, and the guys, you know, who were fans and fans of the show, and that's how it came about.

But there was a moment there where I think had the casting director sent out the first tape, I don't know that I would have actually gotten this far even though, you know, it seemed like everybody was rooting for me to get it. You know, it wasn't a part that was just handed over to me. I kind of had to go in there and go, "No, I'll read it again" because my agents and managers we're like, "Look, if they want to pick it up and they want you to be in this movie, then they should be nice." I was like, "No, no, I'll go read it again. I could do better." You know. And I got like, you know, I puffed up and I was, “I could do it,” and I ended up getting the part.

So, you know, and now it's history.

I know that tons of fans love your show, Mind of Mencia. I was wondering if you could tell them what to expect from your role in this movie compared to…

Carlos Mencia: To what I do on the show? Well (unintelligible) the difference is, what I do on the show, you know, I don’t think that we’ve ever done a piece that’s over… six minutes long. I think six …five or six minutes is the longest (unintelligible) piece we’ve ever done. And so, this is a movie. This movie isn’t about me. It’s about a story. I happen to be a pivotal part of the story, but it’s more about the story itself. And that’s, you know, what you’re going to get to see… see somebody completely different. And expanding on my abilities as an actor, so to speak. And… You know… you’re going to see me reacting to other people for fun… they never get to see me do that…

It’s a movie, man… a giant movie and believe it or not, there’s the level of respect in the level of - there’s something different about doing a movie. And I didn’t realize that until my friend who, by the way - I’ve been doing stand-up for 20 years. I’ve had the TV show for three years. My friends who have been with me since I was a teenager… you know, started treating me different after they saw a preview like they got to see a sneak preview of the movie. And after that my friends are like, “Dude, you’re in the movie, man.” And they started - I was like, “What is your wrong with you, bro? You - we’ve been around forever.” “No, it’s different, man. You’re in the movie, man. You’re in the movie with Ben Stiller, Farrelly brothers.” I was like, “All right, you need to get out of my house now, you’re creeping me up.”

So there’s something different about doing a movie… For people that have been fan for a while, it’s going to be a fun departure from the normal.

How was it working with Ben Stiller and how is he different than how he’s portrayed in the movies?

Carlos Mencia: Listen, I’ll tell you something right now. I, you know, I’ve watched Ben’s movies for a long time and, you know… I mean not even the ones that close …where he gets to play funky characters and stuff, you know… You could go, “Wow, that’s pretty amazing.” But I’m going to be honest with you, actually working with him and being across from him and reacting to him and acting with him, he’s amazing, man. He is such a giving actor. And what I mean by that is, the best acting is reacting. It’s when you’re reacting to their looks, to their personas, to what they’re saying, to their lines. And the more an actor gives you… the easier it is for you to react. And as an example, if somebody wants you to flinch and they flinch a little bit, you know, you’ve got to react. You’ve got to pretend to be flinching because you’re not really scared. But if somebody actually throws a punch at you, even if they don’t connect, you’re going to flinch, that’s kind of what acting is all about. And he is just unbelievably astute at being able to deliver that, which makes your character react better and his character… …react better.

And there were times where we stepped on a set and, you know, we would rehearse something and he’d say, “Yeah, that doesn’t look funny, does it, Carlos? “And I was like, “No, it doesn’t feel as funny as it should be.” And we would… just feel it out and then… you know, the Farrelly brothers would be like, “Yeah, that doesn’t work. Let’s try this or let’s try that.” And it would all work out because, you know, Ben is not afraid to take a chance or take a lead… And do something different or do something funky. He’s amazing, man. And I’m not kissing his ass because I want to be in his next movie. I’m just really being honest with you about how good he was and… and how just blown away I was by his professionalism and on top of that, he’s just a really cool guy that… he talks to you, he hangs out with you, he asks you questions about your family, I mean… you know, and he really… on the set and there’s something really cool about that because, you know, sometimes you’re on sets where actors, they deliver their lines, they leave, they come back, they deliver their lines, they leave, and that’s all that you know, and Ben was just more of human being than that.

And while we were down there, it was his birthday and we got to hang out with him in his (unintelligible) for his birthday and his wife and kids were there, it was just really fun. It humanized him in a way that I never thought it would, just experience. And on top of that, it made me appreciate his professionalism and his ability to, you know, there’s a (unintelligible) - you go - you always go - when you’re in this business, you always ask yourself like, you know, why that guy… why is that guy making all these movies and you know… you want to be in him, too, and sometimes we get a little… hey, why not me. But in performing with him, I went… I know like exactly why Ben Stiller.

How much of yourself were you able to insert into your character?

Carlos Mencia: You know what’s funny is that I have an uncle who lives in Mexico who actually is very much like Uncle Tito. Uncle Tito is the guy that, you know, if you say, “Hey man, I need, you know, I need some company tonight.” He’ll get it for you.

He’s the guy that says, “Hey, I need to get on a boat ride and go fishing.” He’ll get it for you. You know, he’s the guy that has all the connections, I think, that you would ever - you need, even though he’s not the concierge. He’s that guy.

I have an uncle who lives in Mexico, who was pretty much that guy. He’s not in the hotel business, but he’s that guy. And so, it was kind of easy for me to just model everything after him as far as, you know, how much of me is in this.

When it comes to movies, especially movies like this, I hope that’s not a lot, you know what I mean? I hope that I can just immerse myself in the character and just to truly become that character in some way, shape or form, you know what I mean?

So it’s more about, can I identify what this character and if I can identify what the character, then how do I make this character bigger and bolder and more, you know, a very indigenous part of this movie process. And so that it doesn’t look like, because there’s nothing to me that takes me out of a movie more than when a comedian comes in and he acts like a comedian and you can tell that he’s being a comedian and you go, “I have never met anybody in real life - A, who shit like that or act like that.” And that is something that I didn’t want to do. So the edginess part, these guys wrote a very edgy script. So at no point in time while reading that script that I ever go, “Man, this needs more edge.” I never said that. I just love the script. I love the character. I went, “Oh my God, that’s like my Uncle Jose.” And I just called my uncle up and talk for a while and stole his accent, and I became my uncle. I became Uncle Tito.

So you’re talking about them writing this witty script, how much did you guys stick to the script? I mean, Ben Stiller is not exactly well known for, you know, not going off onto his own.

Carlos Mencia: let me tell you the process, and it was an unbelievable process. The process was, we would get there and block out a scene. And when we will block out a scene, every once in a while, something didn’t feel right, like a word or a sentence or whatever didn’t feel right, because it wasn’t, you know, it was - it just didn’t feel like it was a part of the dialogue and the movement and the scenes. So that would change.

And then we would do the scene as written as is with a little bit of change that was made up until everybody felt like - well not everybody, but, you know, up until pretty much Bob and Peter kind of - Bobby and Peter kind of went - came up and said, “Hey, you know what, that’s great, man.” Then Peter would say, “All right, we’ll do another one and just have fun with it.”

Now, at this point, we already kind of we’re in the scenes, so we kind of knew where we could fuck around, so to speak, and where we couldn’t. And that’s when we would like have fun. But it wasn’t just like we would do a scene and then we would just move on from there. What happened was, he would say, “Go ahead and have fun.” And we would do different stuff and then he would come out and go, “All right, you know what, this was really funny. This was really funny. That was really great. Keep doing that. Keep doing this and let’s do it again.”

And then we would refine the second version of that scene with all the added elements that we just kind of came up with. And so, there’s literally two movies in the cast. There is a script version of the movie. That’s pretty much exactly what the script was, excuse me, and then there’s the movie that you guys are probably going to see that more of the crazy stuff that we did that was a little different that was on script, but it was secondary. And it just ends up being so much more fun than the rest of the stuff because it’s grounded in like eight takes of this structure and then once you move out of that, it just feels really good. And the majority of the stuff that we did that was off the cuff ended up in the movies as I’ve already seen it.

Carlos, what was it like behind the scenes, cameras weren’t rolling, where somebody is funny as yourself along with Ben Stiller and the Farrelly brothers, what was that like?

Carlos Mencia: It was so fun, man. I mean, we’re playing poker, you know, we’re playing liar’s poker with dollar bills and stuff. We’re laughing our asses off at stuff. We’re talking about, you know, anything and everything crazy. But believe it or not, you’re talking about people that take their job very seriously on the other hand.

You know, we all have a goal and that we all understand like that’s the - that was the beauty of working with these guys that are professionals like - I’ll give you an example. On my TV show, every once in a while, I’ll call up a friend, who’s in the business, you know, who’s a comedian or whatever and I’ll say, “Hey, man, come by. We’re going to do the TV show.”

And they want to have like a lot of fun in between takes and stuff, but they don’t get that there’s like, you know, a serious element to what we’re doing in the sense that there’s money being spent, there’s, you know, can’t fuck around too much. There’s not a lot of time, you know, you can’t be pushing schedules and all that kind of stuff, and people need to maintain focus.

So - and then the structure of that focus, we had a lot of fun, but you’d be surprised at how everybody knows what their job is and we all want to make a great product, and it’s all about that. It’s all about the movies. I mean you walk in there and everybody is smiling and everybody is having a good time, every once in a while, we’re ripping on jokes. But on the other hand, you can see this sub-context of intensity that’s there that, you know, I’m Uncle Tito, and I got to get this stuff right and I got to give the other actors, you know, this performance so that they can react to my performance so that this scene can be elevated to its highest potential.

And you see that throughout and so what happens is like you’ll see us work in and we’ll get it and then we’ll laugh and we’ll go, “What about if I do this?” And then we’ll try and then we’ll laugh and then we’ll get serious and then we’ll do it and then all of a sudden, you know, we’re like, “All right, poker,” and we’ll play poker and then, “All right, we’re going to have an egg tossing contest,” and everybody puts in 20 bucks and all of a sudden, we’re, you know, there’s a line of 40, 50 people tossing eggs to see who can toss it and catch it farther without breaking it and that guy sometimes will end up winning, you know, $300, $400, whatever it is and everybody has fun and we go back to work.

So there’s a mentality of we need to have fun. It needs to be fun. But there’s also this sense of we’re responsible, and we’ve got to get this right and it blends in perfectly on the set with those guys. But there’s stuff that we’ve talked about that we all made a promise that we wouldn’t never mention again, because we were being really funny and we were making fun about a lot of celebrities. And we had to make a pact not to ever say who we were making fun of.

I was wondering if you enjoyed the transition from television to the big screen and if there are other offers that you’ve gone for any future movies.

Carlos Mencia: Yeah. Actually, to answer the last question, yeah, I’m in development right now for a couple of movies with a couple of studios, Lions Gate being one of them, 1031 being another one. So, that - and believe it or not, I’ve already turned down, I don’t know, a few roles that I didn’t think were, you know, good for my career that they just offer that they just say, “You want to be in this movie? Here’s an offer.” And I just didn’t think it was, you know, good for me. But, yeah, so that’s already happening.

As far as this transition is concern, it was really cool because the TV show is, you know, TV is bigger then movie. And what I mean by “bigger” is, because you’re smaller you have to react bigger, your facial expressions have to be much bigger, it’s much bigger medium, you know what I mean? Whereas, movies are much more saddle in nature because your face is so huge on a close-up, so you don’t have to be like, “Damn,” and pop out your eyes. That looks like you’re overacting. So, it was really, really fun for me to be saddle, because I rarely, in my comedy, get the chance to be saddle. So, that was an awesome transition to make.

Also, the fact that I got to work with, you know, seasoned actors that were really, really good. So, I got to be, you know, on an A-list number one set with A-list number one actors. It was awesome.

The thing that was hard for me was, you know, on my TV show or standup, I do those both live. When I tell a joke, I immediately know whether it’s funny or not. You know, I either react to it, or don’t, or change it, or whatever. This was difficult, because we started doing this movie almost a year ago. So, with almost, like, a year ago, we went, “Knock, knock,” and I’m just waiting for a whole year for somebody to say, “Who’s there,” to deliver the punch line and see if people laugh.

So, when I got to see the movie for the first time, you know, at a screening with a bunch of people and I heard them laugh, it was so, like, “Oh, my God. Yes, thank God it’s funny,” because you believe it’s funny, you do good work, but you still, you know, need people to say it’s funny in order to actually find out whether it is or not. It’s almost like a kiss in a cheek for, you know, the whole year before you actually get some. God, it’s so hard. So you can imagine how unbelievable it was when I actually got to see the movie and people laughed.