Gabriel “Fluffy” Iglesias can remember the exact date and moment he made his stand-up comedy debut, even though it wasn’t planned. It was April 10, 1997, at the Golden Sails Hotel in his hometown of Long Beach, Calif. There was a bar with a stage that welcomed artists on a regular basis, but that particular night the emcee failed to show up.
“My buddy said to me, ‘Dude, you always talk about wanting to do stand-up. Just get up there and emcee,’” Iglesias says.
More from Variety
The 20-year-old cellphone salesman resisted at first, but destiny would not be denied — eventually he jumped up and spoke for what he believes was three or four minutes, though Iglesias admits, “It felt like an eternity.”
But the crowd laughed. And Iglesias was hooked.
It would take some time for Iglesias to fully transform into his “Fluffy” persona, perhaps best exemplified by his broad smile, bold Hawaiian shirts and unique passions — including for his 40-plus Volkswagen buses and two pet Chihuahuas that are always by his side. But it was a start.
“That was the first little spark,” Iglesias says, even though he was just riffing off the top of his head. “Then there was somebody in the crowd who put on a comedy show in that same room on Wednesdays. This was a Monday and he came up to me and said, ‘Hey, do you want to come back on Wednesday? I’ll pay you 20 bucks. So my second time on stage, I had a paying gig.”
It sounds like something out of “A Star Is Born,” almost too good to be true. But in many ways it also feels inevitable. Growing up a latchkey kid in Southern California and the youngest of six children, Iglesias has lost track of how many times he watched the VHS tape of “Eddie Murphy’s Raw,” along with concert tapes of comics such as Robin Williams and Sam Kinison.
He was never a class clown, but that’s because he was observing and listening to others. “I’m never trying to be the loudest person in the room,” he notes. “There’s something going on there. I’d rather be the person who sits back and analyzes.”
He was always affable and good with people, something that he carries into his life today. He was also a born storyteller. All of which were tools he felt he could utilize towards his one, simple goal as he began his career in comedy: “I just wanted to be funny enough that I could pay my rent.”
Even those who were clued into Iglesias’ natural talent early on probably couldn’t have predicted how high his career would climb over the next few years. One of America’s top comedians, Iglesias’ YouTube videos count almost a billion views, with more than 25 million fans across social-media platforms. As an actor, he’s lent his voice to several distinctive projects, starred in the Netflix series “Mr. Iglesias” and recently shot the NBC pilot “Heavy.”
Not content to simply sell out regular venues, Iglesias chose to become the first comedian to perform at Dodger Stadium with his “Fluffy on the Field” show, a part of Netflix Is a Joke: The Festival. His May 6 show sold out so fast, he actually added a second show on May 7, which sold out as well.
Rawlings has made a baseball with his logo (an outline of Iglesias with a microphone hoisted in the air) and there are special Stadium Edition Funko Pops figurines of him in either a white or blue Dodgers jersey.
It’s a milestone that Iglesias has yet to wrap his mind around. “I still can’t believe it,” he says with a laugh. “I think I’ve been disappointed too many times over my life where I don’t allow myself to get excited over things until they happen. Once the show is over, I’m probably going to cry. And take a week to digest it.”
Iglesias’ agent, Matt Blake of CAA, understands the significance. “Before we confirmed the date, I looked up who has played there in the past,” says Blake, who has been working with the comic since 2003. “The Beatles were first in 1966, then Elton John, Beyoncé, Billy Joel and many other iconic artists. I couldn’t be prouder to have done my part in adding Gabriel Iglesias to that list.”
Asked how long this has been in the works and Iglesias’ manager, Joe Meloche of Arsonhouse, says, “As a team we have been collectively talking and strategizing about playing Dodger Stadium for a while now, but I think Gabriel has been preparing for this moment his whole career.”
Meloche was a promoter when he encountered Iglesias for the first time in 2003; they have been working together in some capacity since then.
“From the very first time I saw him onstage, he knew how to capture his audience and command the stage.”
Though Iglesias may have gotten some positive reinforcement right off the bat, it wasn’t necessarily an easy journey to selling out stadiums. It helped that at the start, he kept his overhead low and his goals simple.
“My rent was $350 a month and a car note … we were stealing cable so I saved money there,” he recalls. “I just needed a few bucks to be able to go to Costco and get some food for the week. I didn’t need much.”
But after he started comedy, Iglesias was desperate to give up his day job selling cell phones where, working on commission, he could make as much as $5,000 a month. When he finally quit, his roommate evicted him. He slept on his brother’s balcony and his sister’s couch or even in his car, but remained committed to comedy. A contractor he had met while selling phones set him up with a job digging ditches, and even offered to send him to school and put him on the track to being a contractor.
“I said, ‘No, no, I’m really trying to make this comedy thing happen!’”
Guest spots on the Nickelodeon kids’ show “All That” and regular stand-up dates helped, and Iglesias estimates it took about three years to reach the point where he was able to support himself as a comedian. He landed his first stand-up special on “Comedy Central Presents” in 2003 and did a stint on “Last Comic Standing” in 2006, where he was disqualified for sneaking in a cell phone — a touch ironic considering how badly he wanted to get away from cell phones with his past employment. His popularity increased as he continued to put out more comedy specials and sharing clips on social media became more common.
From the start, Iglesias employed a simple comedy mantra that he holds onto today. “I just want everybody to have fun,” he says. “That’s why I don’t talk about religion, politics or sports, because all those things will divide people. That’s why I talk about food, because food brings people together.” Iglesias pauses for a split second before he can’t resist joking, “Unless you’re vegan, in which case I don’t care if you leave.”
Meloche credits Iglesias’ broad appeal to his “reliable and colorful storytelling style.” He adds: “He’s all about bringing people together as there is unity through laughter.”
Iglesias excels at storytelling, complete with an array of voices and expressions that often convey a contagious, childlike (not childish) charm. Race is something he’ll discuss — his story about putting together a “racist gift basket” for a friend in his 2013 special “Aloha Fluffy” has gone viral — and Iglesias often discusses his Mexican heritage.
But he urges for civility on all points of view — most recently on display in his 2019 special “One Show Fits All” when discussing Dave, his longtime tour bus driver, whom Iglesias describes as looking like the word “’Murica!” After telling a story in which Dave closed a divider between him and the rest of the bus and joked: “I’m building a wall!” he says Dave followed it up with a text saying: “And you’re paying for it!”
But Iglesias closes with loving praise for Dave — and a punchline. “I trust that man with my life every single night of my life. I know where his heart’s at,” he notes. “At the end of the day, he still has to drive around the king of the Mexicans!”
Another aspect of Iglesias’ comedy is that he’s more likely to make himself the butt of the joke than anyone else. Self-effacing to a fault, he teases the person handling the spotlight at the taping of “One Size Fits All” for losing him before turning it around on himself: “How slow are you if you can’t keep up with me?”
In fact, his nickname “Fluffy” derived from an early bit about his weight in which he said, “I’m not fat, I’m fluffy.” (He adds that there are different levels of fatness: big, healthy, husky, fluffy, “DAMN!!!” and “Oh, hell no!”) While he resisted the nickname at first, he soon realized what a catchy branding opportunity it was and leaned into it.
To hear others tells it, the good-natured persona extends off stage as well. “His heart is in what he does,” says Blake. “He has always truly cared about his fans and he is in this for the long term. Gabriel is not afraid of taking chances and because he works as hard as he does, his chances almost always pay off immensely.”
Before she was a host on “The View,” Sherri Shepherd met Iglesias when they were both struggling comics in the late 1990s. “He gave me a ride home because my car had been repossessed — although his car sounded like people were shooting at us,” Shepherd recalls. “Gabe was always really funny and so kind. Especially to ladies whose cars had been repo’ed.”
Years later, Shepherd was touched when Iglesias asked her to open for him in Hawaii. “I couldn’t stop crying because I had never played a crowd that large,” she says. He also invited her to be a part of his sitcom “Mr. Iglesias,” in which he played the principal to his high school history teacher.
“Working with Gabe was heaven. The tone of the show is always set by the star, and Gabe had a set that was just like family. Gabe made sure everyone was taken care of. It was definitely a joy going to work every day. He would always want his castmates to shine, so I had punchlines galore.”
Iglesias regularly interacts with his fans on social media and at shows. Alfred Robles regularly opens for Iglesias, including the Dodger Stadium shows, and met the comic for the first time in 2003 when he was working at a bar in Montebello, Calif.
“I was the photographer/security,” Robles says. “I would take pictures of Gabriel and his fans for his meet and greets and line up over 4,000 people in a hallway that held 300 people.”
All these years later, Robles says the work ethic hasn’t changed. “He is a man of his words and one of the hardest-working comedians out there right now — he works like a comic that can’t pack out a comedy club. But that’s the work ethic you need to be that successful.”
Robles says despite the large crowds, Iglesias never loses the personal touch. “If someone stands up at the Dodger Stadium show where this is going to be over 50,000 people, Gabriel will spot you.”
To hear Iglesias tell it, extending kindness and support isn’t part of a master plan — it’s just in his nature. He is endlessly grateful to the people who helped him out in his career. “You don’t just go from a comedy club to Dodger Stadium,” he notes.
“There’s all these moments in between. And it wasn’t just me who did it. There were many moments and people along the way who helped me to get here. I just think there’s a lot of talent out there, and there’s not as many opportunities. And I think I’ve paved a nice little way for myself, where I could probably help out a lot of people.”
Iglesias is thrilled to be back on the road after the COVID pandemic brought his tour to a halt. He is awaiting word on “Heavy,” the ensemble comedy for NBC executive-produced by Demi Lovato about a group of friends from a food-issues group. And he continues to be a sought-after voice actor, voicing a cat in Paramount’s animated feature “Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank,” hitting theaters in July.
He’s also excited about his upcoming project for Netflix, “I, Chihuahua,” which combines several of his loves — including animation, dogs and wrestling. In the story of a dog who becomes a Lucha Libre wrestler, Iglesias not only voices the main character, but also serves as a producer and co-writer on the film. The director is Jorge Gutiérrez, who gave Iglesias some of his first voice-over work after discovering him on YouTube back in 2003.
“I was blown away with his one-of-a-kind comedy and charm,” says Gutiérrez. “And he was so good at doing characters and accents.”
Gutiérrez cast Iglesias in a Disney TV Animation pilot then wrote characters with him in mind for his acclaimed film “Book of Life” and Netflix series “Maya and the Three.”
Due to the nature of animation, it will be a while before “I, Chihuahua” hits screens, but Iglesias doesn’t mind — he says he’s had the idea for more than 10 years already. And while the film will be funny, expect it to also come with a lot of humanity — not unlike his stand-up.
Says Gutiérrez, “Gabe is incredibly thoughtful and very soulful. He’s lived a very unique multicultural life and his comedy reflects that in very surprising ways. His giant heart is his most powerful muscle!”
Best of Variety