Jay Mendoza is Lifting Latino Comedy to New Heights
On a recent, unseasonably warm day in Los Angeles, Jay Mendoza went to work.
He threw on a cowboy hat, applied an obviously fake mustache to his upper lip and tossed on a shirt that can best be described as what a charro might wear on a vacation to Cancun.
He wasn’t done. A hard day’s work meant grabbing an obscene amount of horchata and sipping on it gleefully as he rode down a local street lip-syncing to “Dreams” by Fleetwood Mac.
It all makes a bit more sense if you just take a look at yourself.
The 31-year-old father of two is hopping on the goodwill train, following the lead of Nathan Apodaca who earlier this month shot to fame when his social media accounts showcased his ability to bring an entire nation suffering from anxiety a moment of calm.
Apodaca, doggface208 on Instagram, rode down a street on a skateboard while drinking cranberry juice and singing to Fleetwood Mac. It was a rare moment of bliss during an otherwise stressful year, a moment that resonated with, well, millions.
Mendoza has been spreading the goodwill for years, initially breaking into the content production game with Peter “Nice Peter” Shukoff of “Epic Rap Battles of History” fame. He then went on to procure a following on Vine and has steadily risen as one of the more beloved comedic content creators out there.
“I've always been the class clown,” Mendoza tells En Fuego. “And for some reason, I was never shy. I have five brothers, so I was the middle child who always got beat up by my brothers…And for some reason, I never let that get to me. And I just always try to entertain people. I like making people laugh.”
It’s a testament to his hard work, creativity and infectious personality. And if you want to see how far he’s come, just raid his closet.
Growing Up Dreaming
Mendoza has about 80 pairs of shoes, a bona fide sneakerhead living out his childhood fantasy of having a pair for any occasion. From Jordans to Yeezys to Balenciaga, it’s a treasure trove, an indulgence for an adult living a kid’s dream.
He remembers growing up and only able to flip through ads in Slam Magazine or the Eastbay catalogs back in the day. References that should have so many flooded with a rush of nostalgia, poring over your own pop culture touchstones years prior.
“All I could do is window shop because my parents couldn't afford that,” Mendoza said. “The closest I could get to a real Jordan shoe was getting a smaller size.”
He was so happy to have the shoes he wouldn’t mind curling up his toes and walking around with what I would have to imagine was a very proud but very uncomfortable limp.
“I remember when I was like a size seven, I used to wear a size six because once it got to size seven, the price went up and my parents couldn't afford that,” Mendoza recalled.
“I did what I had to do. So now that I'm older, I've worked hard to get where I'm at and now I’m living a dream and I buy shoes. I love shoes.”
It takes a special kind of person to devote the kind of time to command the many social media platforms prevalent these days. It takes a relentless personality to come up with the insane number of bits that will keep his brand relevant. It’s fun. It’s a dream lived out in real-time. It’s also very much a grind.
Mendoza is a product of his upbringing, a positive soul who saw hard work as a birthright, something you just take as a given.
Mendoza’s father passed away five years ago, a gardener who worked for a landscaping company and someone who instilled an unrelenting work ethic in his children.
He recalls with a laugh a father who didn’t care if his kids were on summer vacation, that just meant they had more time to help the family out.
And his mother is still out there doing her thing as he puts it. “My mom is a housekeeper to this day,” he said.
“She was also an entrepreneur. She used to do yard sales for every, every, every Valentine's Day, she used to make her little fake flowers or real flowers so she could sell at the corner at the gas station.”
Mom and dad did everything they could to make money, grinders and hustlers as their son remembers fondly.
“They worked and they never complained,” Mendoza said. “We always had clean clothes; we had shoes on our feet…They taught me my work ethic. To this day, I still cut my own grass at my house, and it brings me happiness and joy because this is what my dad taught me how to do.”
Mendoza’s comedy is character-driven, bigger than life people that we’ve all met at some point or another. They’re familia. Parents, cousins, that dude down the street who moonlights as a mariachi.
Mendoza brings them to life with a camera and his own creativity. He recalls a conversation with his mom about the kind of kid he was growing up. “You were always a kid,” he recalled her saying. “That was a little bit outside the box.”
In hindsight, he had the perfect make-up of confidence and eccentricity that was made for short-form hilarity.
“I just never had fears and I always wanted to make people laugh. So, to this day, I just make people laugh.”
Mendoza has always loved sports. Growing up in Venice he played Pop Warner and went as high as junior college before realizing that perhaps he wouldn’t be one of the few Hispanic NFL superstars to grace the gridiron.
“I wasn't dunking, and I wasn't running a 4.3 (40-yard dash), I was running a forever, you know, so I just came to the realization that it was time to hang them up.”
When one door closes another opens, and Mendoza met Peter Shukoff, a friend who would become a mentor.
Shukoff is the mastermind behind the beloved YouTube series, “Epic Rap Battles of History,” pitting one historical figure against another like some sort of “8 Mile” on ayahuasca tea. Its hilarity immediately resonated with a budding YouTube audience. Many of the channel’s videos have views in the tens of millions. Basically, you’ve heard of it.
And if you look at the credits, you’ll see Jose Mendoza listed as a production assistant; he was a jack-of-all-trade for Shukoff who took him under his wing and had him do a little bit of everything.
“When he hired me, he was like, ‘Hey, man. I don't like to run my social media. I don't like to run my errands. I don't like to pay my bills. I like to create videos,’” Mendoza recalled. “And he hired me, and I did that for four years. And in those four years I started developing more as far as he taught me how to edit. He taught me what was good content versus bad content. He taught me how to be picky and pick and choose what I should post.”
Mendoza started a Vine account that quickly became a popular destination for users drawn to Mendoza’s bigger than life humor.
Shukoff continued to be a tremendous influence and one day called Mendoza over and gave him a check for $5,000. He told him it was time to kick off his own content for real. A sign of affection and confidence in what Shukoff saw as a legitimate comedian on the rise.
“He literally pushed me out of the bird’s nest, and to this day, man, I've been able to create content.”
For Mendoza, his commitment to his craft is also a commitment to his people. Representation is hard to come by in this line of work.
To move the needle, it’s going to take a lot more people like Mendoza who look at the comedic landscape and decide to be authentic even if that means creating first for the Hispanic community.
Mendoza remembers when he was initially started out. He believed there was something so obviously missing from the unrelenting stream of content hitting social media.
“And I was like, there’s no Hispanic person doing this,” he recalled. “To this day, there's not many Hispanic people creating content on the Internet. There's very few and it changed my life.”
It was a realization that seems so obvious to countless Latinos who crave to see a bit of themselves on screens big and small.
“There's such a larger audience within the Hispanic community. And when I used to tell people about this, I was like, Man, I want to create content for the Hispanic community. And people used to tell me, ‘Why do you want to create just Hispanic?’”
They couldn’t fathom why you would do what they consider an unnecessary constraint to comedy rather than a freedom to be yourself and garner the laughter of so many people who are being ignored by the industry.
Thankfully, things are changing. And when it comes to offering some wisdom to up-and-coming comedians of color, Mendoza hammers home the notion that you just got to keep at it.
“It took me two years just to get paid from any type of company,” Mendoza said. “Two years. When I first started, the Hispanic market was the lowest paid. First it was the general. Then it was the African American (content creators) and then it was Hispanic creators. We got paid last. And their budgets were literally the dead bottom.”
Several years later Mendoza is doing his thing. He’s had the likes of Gabby Douglas comment on his comedy. He’s met with Yasiel Puig and considers him a friend. He’s thrown out the first pitch at a Dodger game and has so many memories that will fuel his smiles for a lifetime.
And it’s all because he believed in himself, his humor and the character his parents built over his formative years.
There are hard times. People will doubt and, of course, that doubt can be contagious and turn into self-defeating negativity. But Mendoza is just a different dude. It’s what makes his content such a joy. There is an undeniable innocence and confidence to it all.
“I just kept going,” he said. “And all you could truly do, if you truly believe in what you really love, all you can do is keep going.”