Exclusive Interview with Actor, Comedian and Writer
By Dr. Farzad Farahmand:
Published in the December 2011 issue of the Calabasas Times Magazine:
Making his first appearance on the Calabasas Times Magazine is the Actor, Comedian and Writer, John Mendoza. John was born and raised in New York City, and moved to Los Angeles in 1982. In 1978, after working at many odd jobs including driving a Taxi in New York and working for the New York stock exchange, he went into a comedy club one night. He recalls seeing David Brenner on stage and discovering his passion to become a comic.
John says he has always had a passion for comedy. He often memorized lines of his favorite comics such as George Carlin and Philip Wilson, and performed their acts at parties. He eventually started writing and coming up with his own material.
John: Comedy clubs required that you come up with your own material. So I wrote and wrote for about a year and constantly tried to come up with new ideas. I tried my material in comedy clubs, did well and was often asked to come back.
I remember there was a brief period when I didn’t do so well, and I stopped. But then I came back again and eventually quit my job and became a full time comedian. I drove a taxi during the day, and perform in comedy clubs at night.
Farzad: So you made your living driving a Taxi and doing comedy?
John: No, actually you couldn’t make a living on doing comedy back in those days. They only paid you $2 a night. They would give you a hamburger and $2, and on the weekends they paid $5. This mostly was to cover the Taxi fair. Comedy clubs were like showcase clubs, where you showcased yourself and someone would come in and hire you for other job.
Bookers would come in and book you in comedy clubs around the country, and people from TV shows would come in and ask to do TV shows or advertisement. And that’s how I got the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.
Farzad: How did it feel like when you first appeared on the Tonight show with Johnny Carson? To be viewed all over the country?
John: Well the first time I was offered to do it, I turned it down. I wanted to make sure I had enough material to do it at least 3 times. 6 months later I went on the show and it felt great!!
Farzad: Are you ever insecure or worried about coming up with new material? Like a writer’s block?
Farzad: Because when you make a living off of comedy, you have to constantly come up with new material. And let’s say that one day you just can’t think of any new material, or you have personal problems in your life to a point where your mind cannot think of jokes.
John: At that point you just take a few days off, relax, and then you start writing new ideas, by for example coming to a restaurant, watching people and making fun of them.
Farzad: So you observe the daily activity of people at places like restaurants and coffee shops.
John: Yes! Through the course of the day I’ll find someone who does something stupid. I just wanna be there when it happens. I love stupid people. There is nothing better than stupid people.
Farzad: You like me then, LOL...
John: Oh, I love you, LOL...
Farzad: I remember about 20 years ago or so, I was watching a lot of stand up comedy on Television, specially Comedy Central. And I used to record the clips. Some of those clips featured you talking about stupid people.
The joke I still remember is the one where you said something like, “It’s good to be stupid” “You know when you do something and people look at you and say, What are you stupid?” Just tell them, yes, I am. It takes the pressure off.
John: I just said that joke the other night for the first time in 20 years. Actually, last night.
Farzad: Wow, last night! It’s amazing how I just brought it up. And as you remember I mentioned this same joke when I first ran into you at the Starbucks. I mentioned watching you on Television about 20 years ago, doing that joke.
How many jokes have you written?
John: Thousands!! At least 5 or 600 jokes per every 3 40 minute HBO specials.
Farzad: Wow, you are a joke writing machine!!
John: Yes, I was a joke machine!! But not as much right now. I don’t get as much specials as I used to get.
Farzad: You had no other jobs besides comedy. You went from driving a Taxi in New Tory city and making $2 a night doing stand up, to making a very nice living doing just stand up and TV shows.
John: Yes, that’s right. I had my own Television Sit. Com. In the mid 90’s called “The Second Half” on NBC. And also did a lot of pilots in the 90’s.
Farzad: So as you said, most of your material comes from observing stupid people. You live in the right place for that. It is very easy to find plenty of stupid people. They are all over the place.
John: I go to restaurants and I sit there and watch people have fights and stuff like that!!
Farzad: Well, you look around and you’ll find that at least 95% of the people are stupid. Including myself of course!!
John: Me too, Everybody is stupid.
Farzad: Any other career adventures that you recall from the 80’s and 90’s?
John: I travelled around the world, shows in London, France, Austria, Mexico etc….It was incredible. I am a very very lucky person!! Only a handful of people would get the chance, and I happened to be one of the lucky ones.
Farzad: And of course, eventually you worked with the famous comic Howie Mandel. How did that come about?
John: Abut 8 or 9 years ago, I was at the Starbucks waiting to get something to eat, and we met on line.
Farzad: And of course, he recognized you, but you had never met before!!
John: Yes!! We’ve actually been on the same TV shows without ever actually meeting each other. He was doing Saturday Night Live in London, and I came in the following week. They showed me a tape of the guy who did the show the week before, and it was Howie. And we did an HBO special together. He was in Canada while I was in New York doing it.
Farzad: So you became good friends, eventually became a team and you started to open for him. And still do!
John: Yes, It is wonderful working with Howie. He’s a great friend.
Farzad: I remember going to Howie’s concert, 21 years ago, back in 1990. It was in the Universal Amphitheater. I remember the first thing he said when he came on stage was that, “I just had a kid!! Can you believe I am somebody’s dad?” I’ll never forget that.
John: Well, you know last night we were in front of 4000 people in Florida. I did a half hour and then he came on and did his show for an hour.
Farzad: What goes on behind the mind of John Mendoza when he writes jokes?
John: I am basically a reporter. I simply report what I observe, to the audience. I see what everybody else sees with the difference that I am willing to get up on stage and report it. So I see you do something stupid and I get up on stage and talk about it. And the audience says, oh, I’ve seen that too. They laugh because they can relate to something stupid like that.
Farzad: Can you share some of your jokes with us right now.
John: Well, jokes have to be done in the right context. For example if I say to you that my sister is asthmatic, and in the middle of an asthma attack she got an obscene phone call, and the guy said did I call you or you called me? It’s not as funny as when you see it on the show with everyone laughing.
Farzad: Well, I still think it’s really funny!
One of my favorite John Mendoza jokes is the one about ugly people. “They say one out of every three people is ugly. So if you’re ever in a room with 2 other people, look to the left, look to the right, and if they are not ugly, then you’ll know you are!!
John: Yes! It’s all about the right context, the right rhythm and having a large audience who is involved with the joke at the same time.
Farzad: What is John Mendoza’s definition of Comedy?
John: I will tell you whatever I tell my son. “Whatever is funny to you”. Whatever makes “you” laugh is funny.
Farzad: Yes, And that is why in Comedy, it is very hard to appeal to everyone at the same time.
John: That’s right! You can’t make everybody like you. It’s the same thing in life. Just like you are a doctor. Some people come into your practice and like the methods that you use, while other people may not like them.
Farzad: Another issues besides appealing to people’s taste, is to be careful not to offend certain individuals or certain groups of people.
John: Well, they don’t get offended, because they’re stupid. It’s the people who think that they’re not stupid that may get offended.
But in comedy, whatever you do, there is always somebody who’s going to be offended. It’s not that big of a deal.
Farzad: Is it true what they say about clean comedy being more difficult than dirty comedy?
John: No! They’re both difficult. Dirty comedy may be a little bit easier in that you can get laughs by only saying certain words over and over. But it really doesn’t matter. It all depends on your audience. You have to know your audience.
Doing comedy, like everything else is about passion. If you have a passion to do it, then you’ll do it. For example, I don’t have the passion to be a doctor. So I wouldn’t put the energy, the work and the desire into it. But I have the passion to make people laugh and so I put the passion into it..
Farzad: Well John, it’s been a pleasure talking to you. Thank you so much for your time and for sharing your insights with our readers. This serious and dry world of ours needs more and more people like you. On behalf of everyone I thank you for making us laugh for the past 33 years. Please continue to do so!!
John: Thank you. Pleasure talking to you as well.