Carlos Mencia has always considered Bakersfield more than just another tour stop.
What brings Mencia back time and again are the strong family ties and friendships he's developed, starting with his earliest years in stand-up and on through his tenure with his Comedy Central show, "Mind of Mencia." The comedian is ready for another homecoming when he hits the Fox Theater on Saturday.
"I have cousins that live in Bakersfield," said Mencia during a phone interview. "I gotta get there two days before and go to every one of my tias' and tios' (aunts and uncles) houses. They're all going to make tons of food. If I don't show up, they're all gonna get mad and give me guilt trips.
"I can still remember performing a show at a small theater in Bakersfield that I don't even think exists anymore and the deejay who hosted the show got busy with his girlfriend backstage during my show, which led to the conception of a child."
The rare nostalgic anecdote aside, Mencia prefers keeping reflections on the past to a minimum. At age 46, he's experienced the highs of Hollywood stardom as well as the lows, having been accused of joke theft. In 2007, while performing his act at the Comedy Store in Hollywood, fellow comedian Joe Rogan publicly accused Mencia of plagiarism (the clip is available on YouTube). It's a sore subject, but not a topic Mencia avoids, having already fired back at his critics and comedy community.
"Critics I understand, but comedians, who are my compatriots, who are the people who I can fall back on, or thought I could fall back on, kind of turned on me; that was bad. When the comedy community basically turned it's back on me, and even my friends, I was so toxic that just to even say, 'Oh, I like that guy' on a radio station, the deejays would be like, 'What? How could you like that guy?'"
Mencia has always maintained his innocence but admits the experience did take its toll.
"To be honest with you, at times in the past and for a few years, there have been a couple suicidal days. I mean, I would never take my life, but there were days where I went, 'You know what, God: If you were to take me out today, I'm good with that.'"
Stepping away from the spotlight to clear the air on social media, radio and TV, Mencia added he also had those "other days."
"Sometimes I just wanted to go to the comedy clubs and do something really bad to show some people that there are certain consequences for your actions. But no, I wasn't going to do that."
While coming to terms with the accusations, Mencia continued selling out his concert appearances, soul-searching and cleaning his closet along the way.
"Little by little I realized that there were things about me that I wanted to change. Then it comes down to, 'Well, am I changing because of them, or am I changing because of me? Is it something that I want, or are they winning?' I seriously took the time to say to myself, 'Ok, I know who I am. I know I'm not this monster everyone paints me to be. That is clear, but, that being said, why is so much of the Internet community and so much of the comedy community so willing to accept this as truth?'"
Mencia said the experience has made him a better man.
"There's so much self-doubt that comes with that stuff. You question so much. I drudged through it to the point where I came out on the other end and, thank God, I'm very proud of the fact that no matter what has been said of me, I never fell into the game of putting someone else down to make me feel better about myself or to rally my troops. I understand that hate brings people together more than love. I get that. I just don't wanna live in that world. It's not who I've ever wanted to me."
Eager to embrace Bakersfield, the city he's always considered a second home, Mencia has plenty of surprises for the longtime comedy faithful along with something for the newbies.
"I'm where I was right before 'Mind of Mencia,' where I'm getting phone calls and everybody wants to work with me. This will probably be the last time I'm at the Fox for a few years, because I'll probably be going through that upward swing when you catch that wave. Pretty much what Bakersfield is going to see is anywhere from 80 to 90 percent of what is going to be in my next special. For me, it's about connecting with authenticity, and this is the best material I've ever done."
Saturday's showtime is 8 p.m. All reserved tickets are $34.50, plus service charge and available at the Fox box office, 2001 H St., or at vallitix.com. 324-1369.
If you haven't come across a copy of Project Oh!, Bakersfield's newest indie art and photography publication, you can scoop one up at the magazine's Project Oh!-Chella release party at JC's Place on Saturday.
Founded by Bakersfield photographer Jeremy Gonzalez, 32, the glossy quarterly print magazine has been building buzz in the underground art scene since making its debut last year.
"Project Oh! is really just a convergence of several ideas and passions I've always had," said Gonzalez, 32, who has been taking photos for more than 10 years. "The main motivation was to create a publication that was focused on the under-represented artists in Bakersfield and give them a way to share their work with more people."
The current edition is the magazine's third official issue, following an initial test-run printing to show readers how they can contribute their works and become part of Project Oh! Despite a few advertisers, the expense of producing the magazine is shouldered mostly by Gonzalez, who said the budget "can easily exceed $1,000 for each run after print costs, promoting and events, even with our very limited printing" of 50 to 60 copies. He recoups some of those costs through sales of the magazine ($12 at Bakersfield Skateboard Company or $16 on the magazine's website, projectoh.com)
"We feature the creative projects of local talents included but not limited to photography, painting and illustration. The bottom line is we want it to look interesting and meet a certain standard of quality. As we get more organized and have more time to plan ahead we will try to take on more challenges in serving different types of content in unique ways.
"Our audience is anyone who appreciates art and something just a little weird and different. The response has been very positive. People have seemed to be on board with the concept so far. The identity of each issue is really just predicated on the selection of artwork we have available to use."
Despite the costs associated with producing a print magazine, Gonzalez said he believes print always will be the preferred medium over the Web for photographers.
"There are several reasons for choosing print over Web. The first is that artwork just looks better in print. Second, we wanted to go against the grain to fill a void left by publications switching over to Web only. Third, we want the artwork to be mobile and more visible in the real world."
A painting of legendary Mexican wrestler "Blue Demon" by Bakersfield artist Jorge Guillen graces the latest cover.
The issue also features works by area artists Carlos Fierros, Jessica McEuen, and Bobby Holland, Lysa Ann, photos by Amulu, and fashion by Kendall.
Gonzalez credits the busy work of his primary staff: public relations manager and promoter Danielle Velling, and artist scout Maylanie Mendez.
"We have a revolving staff. I have a ton of ideas I would like to be able to get to. Right now we are just taking one step at a time. The next phase is to grow our team and try to get funding for the magazine so we can devote more time to the production and planning of specific concepts."
Saturday's event kicks off at 5 p.m. at JC's Place, 1901 Chester Ave. There will be live music by The Lift, Terra Alive, various deejays, an art display, food and drinks for purchase, plus a fashion show by Bakersfield's Ooh La Luxe! Fashion Boutique. Admission is $5 in advance, $7 at door, or free with purchase of Project Oh! magazine. For pre-purchasing and more information, visit: projectoh.com.
Stella & the Steel Cats at Padre Hotel's Prospect Lounge, 1702 18th St. 7 tonight, free, 427-4900. Fronted by smooth-as-silk Bakersfield singer "Stella," aka LaShay Munoz (no relation to this writer), this torchy jazz act has become a favorite since debuting two years ago. Combining vintage sounds from the pop catalogs of iconic vocalists Peggy Lee, Rosemary Clooney, Julie London, Eartha Kitt, and with a helping of Elvis, Frank Sinatra and more, Munoz and bandmates can shake it up, or pour it on straight with no chaser. Check out the band's newly revamped website stellaandthesteelcats.com. Highly recommended.