Latin King Of Comedy Joey Medina

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Boxer, police officer Comic? Stand-up comedian Joey Medina hasn't had a predictable career, but he's found stardom on stage, telling jokes. Medina talks about pushing the boundaries of ethnic humor as on of "The Original Latin Kings of Comedy."

NEAL CONAN, host:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

Comic Joey Medina is here with us in Washington today to perform this evening at this year's Reyes of Comedy organized by the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute. And he's been kind enough to stop by here in Studio 3A. You will remember him as one of the stars of "The Original Latin Kings of Comedy," from performances in just about every major comedy club in the country and from many appearances on TV.

Mr. JOEY MEDINA (Comedian): I love Mexico - I love driving across. Did you ever notice when you drive across you got Mexican immigration checking us out?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MEDINA: And I'm thinking, what're they afraid we're sneaking in: technology?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MEDINA: You sir, the one with the laptop, get out of the car.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MEDINA: It's not a laptop, it's an Etch-A-Sketch, huh!

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Joey Medina is also an actor, writer and director best known for his film, "El Matador." He was once a professional boxer and a police officer before he started his career in standup. If you'd like to talk with him about his comedy and life in the comedy business, 800-989-8255, email talk@npr.org.

And Joey Medina, nice to have you on the program.

Mr. MEDINA: Hey, man. Thanks for having me. You know, it's like, I was - I actually listen NPR, so I love that you guys asked me to be here. Thank you so much.

CONAN: I wonder, when you go to this event tonight, is there a Congressional Hispanic Caucus humor?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MEDINA: Well, you know, Hispanic people, Latinos pretty much laugh at the same things all Latinos laugh at. You know, like, for instance, today, I took a walk in - I walked to the White House and it was amazing to see white gardeners working. So that was different.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MEDINA: And I was like, you could see the - the video on YouTube right now.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: I wonder, do you have any material on the latest associate justice of the Supreme Court?

Mr. MEDINA: Oh, yes. She's Puerto Rican like myself. And, you know, so…

CONAN: And from the Bronx like you.

Mr. MEDINA: Yes, from the Bronx. So, actually, my mom's house, we have actually a saint already of the lady.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MEDINA: So, we you know, my mom's praying to her and doing all her other stuff.

CONAN: And again, you came to standup from a career as a police officer, before that a professional boxer. I'm sure both of those professions have stood you in good stead, but that's not the normal root of a comedian, is it?

(Soundbite of laughter) Mr. MEDINA: No, not at all. But, you know, the funny thing is that, I'm like my own job fair. I've had almost every job you could think of. And, you know, the police officer thing, I did that because, you know, I thought women love a man in uniform.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MEDINA: But it depends on what kind of uniform, because when I worked at Domino's that did not work whatsoever.

CONAN: It didn't work so well.

Mr. MEDINA: So there you go.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: And despite all these wonderful career things, you've now sunk so low as to take up a career in radio.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MEDINA: Yeah, there you go. I used to - I had a morning radio show in Los Angeles on a station called Latino 96.3. And the - you know, the format was reggaeton music and hip hop, which was pretty good. But the funny thing is it was a morning show. And everyone knows Latin people don't wake up that early. So, I don't - our show should have started like in the afternoon, I think.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Well, not only Latin people. That's for you to say, but nevertheless, comedians don't wake up that early.

MEDINA: Yeah. It was really hard because I still was working at night. I was doing the shows and literally going to bed probably about midnight almost every single night and then waking up at four in the morning. So it was pretty difficult.

CONAN: And you must have been on tour part of that time as well.

Mr. MEDINA: Yeah. And I was on tour. So I was - I didn't even have the weekends off. But I - they paid me so much money that I said yes.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Let me advice listeners that it does not apply to all friends of radio. Anyway, 800-989-8255, email us talk@npr.org.

We'll start with Robert. Robert with us from Modesto in California.

ROBERT (Caller): Hello. How are you guys doing?

CONAN: Very well. Thanks.

ROBERT: I just wanted to ask him what are the biggest changes that he's seen and experienced in the industry now that there's a lot of prominent Latino comedians.

Mr. MEDINA: You know, it's funny I just had this conversation with a buddy of mine, Rudy Moreno who's another funny comic. You know, before, to see a Latin comic, you had to go to a special Latin night or Latin comedy show. And even though they still exist, Latino comics are now more mainstream than ever.

You know, there's comedians, obviously, like George Lopez, Paul Rodriguez, who I just worked with, Carlos Mencia, Gabriel Iglesias, myself, Willie Barcena. There's literally - Greg Giraldo, who's on the show this evening. We have so many comedians out there that are so mainstream now that it's not, you know, we're not talking - we're not all talking about tortillas, we're not talking about this, that and the other thing, even though we, you know, a little bit but not too much. And so, we're more mainstream now than I think we ever been.

CONAN: It's interesting you mentioned some of those comedians. I read in an interview where you once said - and I think this was just last year so not all that long ago - that, well, there were the headliners, the George Lopez's, but you consider yourself on the second tier.

Mr. MEDINA: Yeah. The - I think in our industry, there's definitely tiers. And right - you know, the very next tier is guys like myself, you know, Gabriel Iglesias, Willie Barcena. And the big gap there, I think, is probably, you know, the financial gap. It's getting closer and closer to the other guys, but, you know, the better - the more successful that George, Carlos and Paul are, the more it'll help, I think, you know, the rest of the guys behind them.

CONAN: Robert, thanks very much for the phone call.

ROBERT: Thank you.

CONAN: Appreciate it. It's interesting, you talk about the business of comedy. And you have said also talent is not enough. You have to be your own business man too.

Mr. MEDINA: Well, absolutely. Absolutely. You know, especially, now - back in the day when I first started doing comedy, you know, you had to try to get in "The Tonight Show," you try to get to sitcom. Now, things are different.

If you have a hit on YouTube, you've - all of a sudden, you're headlining and you're making $30,000 a week and - from one hit on YouTube, and there are many comics that are like that. So, I think as a businessman, entertainers in general are doing different things. There are so many famous people now that have no talent. They're on YouTube and they're famous just for being on YouTube and it's - you know, God bless them. I mean, I wish I could - had no talent like that and can do that as well. But I'm doing it the old school way, you know?

CONAN: The old school way.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: When you first made that transition to being a standup, where did you start work?

Mr. MEDINA: You know, I started in Tucson, Arizona, a little local club called Laffs Comedy Club. And it was - you know, when I went in there, I knew one day that's what I was going to do. And…

CONAN: Hmm.

Mr. MEDINA: Yeah. It was - you know, the thing was I hit rock bottom. At that time, I really didn't have a job. I'm, like, you know, my wife kicked me out. I was practically homeless. And I remember going to a comedy club to cheer myself up, watching the comedian. And then I realized, you know what, I have nothing to lose. I don't have a family. I don't have a job. I don't have money. I don't have anything. I could literally do anything I want right now and start brand new. And I decided to become a comedian at that moment.

CONAN: Some people would say you still had your dignity, which you presumably lost in the first 30 seconds.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MEDINA: Yes. They're pretty much.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Well, let's get another caller on the line. Lynn(ph) with us from Hendrum in Minnesota.

LIZ(ph) (Caller): Yeah. My name is Liz.

CONAN: Oh, I apologize.

Mr. MEDINA: Hey, Liz. What's up, girl?

LIZ: Hi. Well, as a college student, there's a lot of stereotypes that we're trying to overcome in this society, with Hispanics and Latinos. But I do believe laughter is the best policy. I was just wondering how you can overcome that as a comedian and we can overcome that as a society? And I'll take my answer off line.

CONAN: Thanks, Liz.

LIZ: Thanks.

Mr. MEDINA: Yeah, I think people should just be more, you know - people should go to more comedy clubs and see more comedians. Unfortunately, you know, land of the free and the freedom speech here really doesn't work that well in America. But the things I say on stage, you hear on radio, we'll get in trouble, or people at their local job will get in trouble. And when you will see a comedian - you know, I do a lot of stereotypical joke and a lot of stereotypical humor. But it's all tongue-in-cheek and it's all fun. And like I say - like I tell people, I don't make fun of stereotypes. I mean, I actually celebrate the stereotype…

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Mr. MEDINA: …because there is a difference between people. When you - wait. You know, if you wanted go eat Chinese food, you're driving around, you're not going to go to a place that has a sombrero on it. You're going to go to a place that have some kind of Chinese writing or some kind of Chinese art on it, you know, okay, that must be a Chinese restaurant. Let me go in there. And that's kind of what comedy is. And basically, to tell you the truth, everything I talked about can pretty much cover any kind of stereotype or any kind of, you know, ethnic group.

I remember I did a huge show one time where it was all kind of rednecks, you know? And I remember I did the exact same material I do for all Latino crowds, except I just changed - I changed the word from - I changed the word Latino into redneck and they loved it. It's the same material. It's the same exact material, nothing changed.

CONAN: You know, I've read that, for example, that if you - if I were to tell the same joke you told in front of Latino audience, I'd be ducking - people would be throwing things.

Mr. MEDINA: A little bit.

CONAN: Yeah.

Mr. MEDINA: A little bit. It just depends on how you (inaudible).

CONAN: The same material. But, you know, the fact is because you are who you are, coming from where you, from the Bronx and from Arizona…

Mr. MEDINA: I think it depends, you know - no not necessarily. I think it depends. I did a show called "Latin Palooza," which I executive produced and produced. And I also was the host, which you would find on DVD, by the way, "Latin Palooza" by Joey Medina.

On there, I have a white dining Darren Carter, who does a lot of Latino humor. And nobody got upset. You know, he went on there as a Latino. And I called him a coconut but a reverse coconut because he's brown on the inside and white on the outside.

But the thing is, I think, people understand a joke as a joke.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Mr. MEDINA: And thank God people understand that. And it's okay to laugh at someone else's expense as long as no one really gets hurt and no one's feelings are really hurt.

And when people get upset at comedians or radio hosts that say something that's a little off color, I get so upset. I'm like, this is the land of the free. We have freedom of speech. If you don't like what he said, don't listen to him next time.

CONAN: Let's talk with Chris(ph). Chris with us from Minneapolis.

CHRIS (Caller): Que tal?

Mr. MEDINA: Que pasa?

(Soundbite of laughter)

CHRIS: Yes. Congratulations on getting your movie produced. That's just fantastic. I haven't seen the film yet, but I'm anxious to. And I just want to ask what you thought was the most difficult part on getting it produced?

Mr. MEDINA: Oh, you know, being in a film is very difficult. Money - and the thing in show business is - everyone has a script, everyone has an idea for a movie or a show or what have you. Getting money is the toughest thing. And for anybody out there who's a struggling filmmaker or a beginning filmmaker, the way to make a film is backwards. Get distribution first, then make your film. Don't make your films spend all of your money.

You know, anything I've produced so far has been paid for by the distributors. They basically gave me an advance. I took that money, I put that - I used that money and put it on screen and I made my projects. And that's the best way to make any film or any TV show is sell it first, then make it.

CONAN: That's not how you made "El Matador" though, is it?

Mr. MEDINA: No. "El Matador" I struggled. I used credit cards, I had food stamps, whatever I could find. I remember one of the cameraman I used outside, you know - I used several cameramen He charged me 700 bucks. I don't have it, but I have a credit card. So, I took him to a Costco and I just bought $700 worth of stuff for him.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MEDINA: He bought food, underwear, clothes, shoes, you know? And I'm like, that's how I paid him.

CONAN: Chris, thanks very much for the call.

CHRIS: Thank you.

CONAN: Bye, bye. And let's go now to Jim. And Jim is with us from Des Moines.

JIM: Hi. I have to confess that I - I'm not very conversant with Joey Medina.

Mr. MEDINA: That's okay.

JIM: So I apologize at the front for that. But I can obviously tell that he knows the craft really well. And so, this is kind of a craft question. As I flip through the TV channels and I see comedians on the air today, it seems like there's a lot of acts that can't take place without injecting a lot of pretty bawdy stuff, a lot of four letter words and stuff. And, you know, as a college kid, I enjoyed that. But as a father, it's kind of embarrassing. And I'm worried about how comedians are contributing to the trashing out of our language and stuff. And…

CONAN: I don't mean to cut you out, Jim, but we just have a minute left. I wanted to give Joey a chance to respond.

JIM: Okay, thank you.

Mr. MEDINA: That's actually a great question. You're right that does happen. I think the majority of comedians who do curse on stage, pretty much, that's just the way they speak. They're more casual. And they'd speak to the audience as though they were speaking to a group of their friends at their house.

I myself, believe it or not, I'm trying to cut back on that, because - one, you get more work and you seem a little more intelligent when you don't necessarily have to curse. And so, that's, you know - but I totally understand what you're saying. And I agree with you.

CONAN: Let's get this one last email in. And thanks, Jim, for your call. This from Jodie(ph) in Louisiana. You spoke of tiers in Latin comedy. I wonder where you would place Carlos Mencia in his tier system, and or, do you think he is negatively impacted the development of Latin comedy industry as a result over accusations of his plagiarism?

Mr. MEDINA: Well, of course, you know, everyone knows about, you know, he's been accused of that. I - he's actually on the top tier. He's one of the top guys. He makes a lot of money. He's very successful. And regardless of what you want to think of him, he's successful. And that in itself is a positive thing.

And so, regardless of what you want to think of Carlos Mencia or any other comedian, he is a role model in that way. You know, he's not my particular style of comedy, but it's okay, it doesn't have to be. This is an art. I mean, he has the right to do what, you know, he feels is right.

CONAN: Joey Medina, good luck tonight.

Mr. MEDINA: Thank you so much. Appreciate it.

CONAN: Joey Medina joined us in Studio 3A. He performs here in Washington tonight, part of the Reyes of Comedy organized by the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute.

You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

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