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Exclusive interview: Nostalgia trippin’ with Laff Tracks’ Mark Viera

A still from Laff Mob's Laff Tracks
A still from Laff Mob’s Laff Tracks. Pic credit: truTV

On tonight’s truTV late night comedy Laff Mobb’s Laff Tracks, the show closes with the star and comedian Mark Viera, a Nuyorican (Puerto Rican from New York City) who dips frequently into nostalgia for big gut-busting effect.

Viera relies upon hilarious past conversations had with his grandmother who he lived with growing up in the Bronx.

Sadly, we found out today speaking with Mark that he recently lost his comedic muse and beloved grandma. But her gift to him was an endless well of anecdotes that he weaves into stories told on truTV’s wonderful whip-fast series that reenacts comedic yarns.

On tonight’s Laff Mobb’s Laff Tracks, Viera’s co-star Tony Baker dishes up observational laughs and memories of cafeteria food and playground death traps, while Davell Taylor has a few issues with his “hood” pastor, and Shatara Curry talks about ebony and ivory lust in the workplace while keeping her hair in place when it’s “go time”.

But Viera uses his moment to reminisce about the low-tech beeper days where coin was king (spare change, that is) and telephone booth usage had to be planned out in the “Joke of the Night”.

Fans can expect to see more of Mark in the Kings of Comedy Tour that’s criss-crossing the country and heading overseas. His sitcom is in development and his future, mija, looks muy brillante

Monsters and Critics: Puerto Rican comics, I have a fondness! Monique Marvez, Kiki Melendez…

Mark Viera: Everybody knows Kiki! For many, many, many years it’s like I stay in her house when I’m in LA. I literally have watched her daughters grow over the last 12 years into shining little teenagers, and so yeah, we’re very close.

I’ve worked with Monique Marvez through Kiki, but every time I’m in town I know Monique has a radio show on KFI AM. Looks like she’s doing really well.

It’s a small community in comedy, and then even smaller when you’re Latino, because everybody either knows you or wants to know you, so it’s pretty cool.

M&C: In the past, you have really struggled. You took that chance on working in comedy when you were in “a real job” with benefits…

MV: Yeah.

M&C: And then to take that leap into comedy, could talk about that moment when you realized you could make a really good living doing this?

MV: I don’t know if I ever, or even still ever think I’ll make a good living at it. It’s so hot and cold, you know? It’s like one of those things where when you start to make money you’re like, “Oh, wow. I’m paying my bills, and I have a little extra,” and all that other stuff. You really believe that it’s gonna run out, so you never stop working super hard at this, but that’s just … I guess that’s the way I think, but it’s the struggle at that time was so … I guess I’ve known nothing but struggle, so this was really no different.

Yeah, I had a really, really good job. What really happened was my day job started to go sour, so I would have actually stayed at a day job longer if it would have stayed the same, but there was like a changing of the guard, and the guy who was leading the charge was a real jerk to me, especially because he knew I was a comedian, and so he was always making these little snide remarks at me like, “Oh, so you think you’re funny?” You know, like that kind of stuff.

I was just like, “No dude. I don’t think I’m funny. I’m actually on the show ’30 Rock.’ Turn your TV on.”

He was just always belittling, and our relationship went really sour really fast, and it helped me to say, “Look, I would rather spend a lifetime struggling at comedy than spend another day with that jerk.” He was making my life very, very miserable, so everyone has a place in your journey, and his place was to torment me to the point where comedy was really my only out.

That’s what I did. Honestly, I said, “To hell with it. I’m gonna go chase this thing because at least my moments of happiness will come when I’m on stage, and I’ll just have to fight more for that.”

Like you said, I’m absolutely grateful that for the last 10 years this is really all I’ve done. I’ve just made people laugh, and I’m so grateful, though, that I am making money. That gratefulness will never go away. I’m like, “Holy crap. I’m ahead of the game. Woohoo!” That’s just always good. That’s always good.

M&C: I love that you honor the memory of Bernie Mac, who was one of my favorites. I was wondering if you could talk about the ones we lost too early, those original kings of comedy, and now you’re following in their footsteps, in a way, with the New York kings of comedy.

MV:  The ones that I miss are the ones that have had that incredible influence. Bernie Mac really shines to me, because Bernie and I …

I was kind of getting into comedy right after that “Kings” made that big debut, came out in the movie theaters, and I watched that entire movie, and then when Bernie got onstage my mouth was just agape. I was just like, “How can someone be that funny talking about something so hurtful?”

I didn’t even hear the jokes. I heard his hurt. His hurt that his sister was on drugs. That’s not easy. That’s not easy to talk about, and so Bernie shines, to me, in that way.

But the person that seems to get away from everyone is like a Robin Williams, who I miss all the time because I really do feel like even one up on Bernie [was] that Robin Williams did something so incredibly different as a comedian. He was so physical. He was so incredibly talented with that part of his standup because if you really look at it, he was funny without it, but he was incredible with it.

I look back at when Robin Williams was on television every week with his sitcom Mork and Mindy. I was growing up, just a kid at that time, I just loved everything about that guy, and again, he’s the comedian that I look at and go, “I don’t want to fall like that.” I want to stay on top of my emotions because I do talk about stuff that’s very, very emotional to me.

I talk about my grandmother, who I recently lost to Alzheimer’s, and I talk about her onstage and sometimes I’m fighting my emotions to be funny, and I go, “Wow. A comedian really has to be careful.” When you get into the realm of being personal, you have to be very, very careful, because it can get dark…and your talent is to bring light to that.

But there are moments, even when I’m onstage, and I go, “Oh my god. I wish she was just here watching this one bit.” You know, this one bit about her and I…

Robin Williams, Bernie Mac. Those two are the leaders, for me, of comedians that went way too soon, and we both know that. I think the world knows that [they were] just gone way too soon, but they left such an incredible mark with their genius that I will continue to represent them every time I hit the stage. I really will.

M&C: So true. Tonight you riff on beepers, I never had one…

MV:  Oh my god. You missed it. How could you miss that time, man?

M&C: No, I didn’t miss that time. I wouldn’t get one. I didn’t need to be reached.

MV: Yeah, right? If I didn’t call you, I didn’t want to call you. That’s funny. That’s actually really funny. I do a lot of those callbacks to my own life because I find …that one, particularly, because times have changed so much. I do tweet and talk a lot about on social media, on how we’re becoming disconnected human beings to each other, to be more connected through our cell phones, and that really is the driving force behind that whole joke.

That whole premise is put your cell phone down and look outward. There’s a whole world waiting for you to see it, but you really won’t see it if you continue to look at your phone. Put it down.

I’m like, “I want my beeper back.” I only looked at my beeper when it was beeping. I didn’t spend the whole day staring at it, like I do with my phone. I get mad at myself sometimes because I’m like, “Wow. I was an almost an hour on Facebook doing what?”

I love that premise of like, “Man, just give me … Take my phone. Leave it in the house, and just carry my beeper.”

Wouldn’t that be awesome? The subtle differences that I talk about are that back then when we had beepers, we also had house speakers, so speakers that were like…beautiful. You know? They were like pieces of furniture. Those big wooden speakers with the big subwoofer… but when you start thinking about those moments, it really is kind of a callback, but it really is funny.

We’re like, ‘oh my god, everything now is small slender. TVs are now paper thin and 97 inches big, and whatever,’ so I go, “Man, I kind of liked that life when it was just simpler.” You know?

M&C: I know you love the TV shows of yore. All these remakes now, like Murphy Brown. Who wants to see Murphy Brown again? 

MV: Look, I’m just gonna say this for the sake of saying it. I don’t want to see any of those shows come back. None of them. Not Will and Grace, not any of … They were fantastic at the moment. I believe that there are fresh and new ideas, I just … I’m really stuck with Hollywood going, “Why won’t you just take a risk?”

Are you saying that Will and Grace is funny because there’s no risk there? Because people hear the name and go, “Oh, it must be good,” but it isn’t!  Because it’s not what it was. We had surprises then. I don’t want to see a remake of The Golden Girls. I wouldn’t watch that. I just wouldn’t.

I watched it when it was on, and so I’m like you. I grew up [watching] Three’s Company, Happy Days, and Welcome Back Kotter. Are you kidding? Those are my shows. Laverne and Shirley. All those shows. I wouldn’t want to watch them on the remake because the first time around was so incredible. Why would we want to try to remake them?

I get it. A half of what they did back then is still good television, but why would we mess up that memory, you know what I mean? By trying to kind of overshadow it with something that just doesn’t resonate like it did.

When I watched Sanford and Son, me and my brother watched that and we used to cry. We laughed so much at those fights between him and Esther, and it’s just, you can’t touch those moments. I love them. I loved that time of television.

M&C: Yeah, me too. Hey, for your fans, you’re still touring with the Kings of Comedy? 

MV: Yes. I’m still touring with the New York Kings. We have dates right now set up in New York, up in Albany, New York, down in the city, down in New York City, and we’re waiting for more dates abroad, so yes.

M&C: Very cool, and you’re sticking with Laff Mobb’s Laff Tracks?

MV: Yes. We are hoping and praying that season two comes up, and that’s when I’ll get on with people and tell them what my plans are with the new season because I have all these stories that I want to tell. If there is a season two, they’ll definitely get to see more craziness from Mark Viera.

Laff Mobb’s Laff Tracks airs Wednesdays at 11pm ET/PT on truTV

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April is an accredited entertainment writer, interviewer and television critic. She is a current member of the Television Critics Association (TCA), Gay and Lesbian Entertainment... read more
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