Interview: Gabriel Iglesias reflects on 20 years in stand-up comedy
29 Jun 2017
American comedian Gabriel Iglesiasbrings his storytelling talents to bear on British audiences with the Fluffymania World Tour. He tells Brian Donaldson what we can expect.
The numbers which revolve around hugely successful comedian Gabriel Iglesias are nothing short of mind-boggling: his social media presence can be felt by more than 12 million people, he has no fewer than six comedy specials on Netflix and he was the eighth highest-earning comedian in the world last year.
His global pull is truly impressive, having played sold-out shows everywhere from Singapore to Scandinavia and Canada to Qatar. Not bad for a boy who grew up as the youngest of six children, raised by a single mum in a particularly poor part of Long Beach in California.
Hard to believe, then, that his debut trip to perform in the UK was less than spectacular. “You know, the first time I went there, I want to say that I didn’t have the greatest experience,” he recalls. “It was promoted badly, and the venue I was in held about a thousand but there was probably 80 people in. Those 80 people got a great show, though. The promoters I have now are great, and the last time I was in Britain it went very well. Those two experiences were like night and day and now we’re at the point of talking about adding shows.”
The chances of Gabriel playing in front of less than a hundred people these days are as remote as the prospect of him getting nervous before those multitudes who flock to see him do stand-up across the planet. His affable and relaxed demeanour on stage is far from being an act: this is how he is. “I’m actually very comfortable before a show; I’ll have conversations with whoever is backstage before I go on, whether it’s the support acts or the production crew. Whoever’s back there, they’re getting talked to. There’s no major preparation: I don’t have to light a candle, and you don’t have to leave me alone so I can meditate. I just make sure my buttons are buttoned all the way up and my zipper is fine.”
Talking about matters sartorial, as well as his big shorts, Gabriel is well-known for wearing some very colourful Hawaiian shirts. But does he have a lucky shirt that he might throw on for British audiences? “Whichever shirt fits today is the lucky shirt. My diet fluctuates, so some fit tighter than others, but no, there’s no lucky shirt, there’s no lucky microphone. If it goes good I take the credit for it; if it goes bad I’ll take the blame.”
While the chances of things going sour for him in Britain appear distant, he won’t need to pander too much to the UK crowd with the material he’s doing. “I’ve been travelling the world long enough to know not to make reference to Joe’s Taco Truck on the corner of 5th and Elm St: there are no regional jokes. But thanks to the internet, the world now is a very small place, and I found it was better to do a show that everyone could relate to. Everyone gets the references to Hollywood or television or the Kardashians: whatever is popular on YouTube is popular everywhere.”
As tempting as it must be for a US comic of Mexican descent to make some comedy hay over the orange man in the White House, Gabriel feels it’s not his place to take a swipe at the current American administration. “I basically sidestep all politics because no matter what you say on stage about it, you will divide the room in half. I will point out certain things, but there aren’t any big political statements. It’s more fun to throw in a tiny something in there and let people fill in the blanks than try to hit them over the head: the point is to entertain people. So for this show, there will be a lot of memories about things that have happened in the 20 years of me being a stand-up. It’s a kind of reflection of my career in meeting certain celebrities, having certain experiences and all that travelling. I’m not smart enough to talk about politics but I am smart enough to sidestep it.”
One opportunity which Gabriel was certainly clever enough to grasp with both hands was working on male-stripper movie Magic Mike, which became one of the most talked-about films of 2012 (he reprised his role of Tobias in the 2015 sequel). Just don’t expect Gabriel to be quickly filling up his IMDB page with anything other than stand-up comedy specials. “It was a bucket list thing to say you’ve been in a film with a major director like Steven Soderbergh and working with actors like Matthew McConaughey and Channing Tatum; it was a great experience and it’s cool to have said you were on a movie set, but those are long days and to be in one city for weeks on end is not what I’m used to. Don’t get me wrong, if there’s a great opportunity, I’ll go for it, but it’s not something I’m chasing after. I got into comedy to be a comedian; everything else is just icing on the cake.”