Gabriel Iglesias is huge.
I mean “huge” in the business-of-comedy sense.
The Southern California native is the six highest-paid comedian in the United States. He has had his own Comedy Central show. He has been on the cast of a network sitcom. He has lent his voice to a character in a Disney movie. On January 29, Netflix rolled out yet another Iglesias comedy special. Fluffy —as he’s popularly known— attracts audiences of all backgrounds with his family-friendly tales of raising his son, Frankie, drinking after gigs and hanging out with his buddy, Martin.
But the funny part is, at least from the standpoint of the U.S. Latino market, Iglesias can sell out venues in Brooklyn, NY, and in Bethlehem, PA, just as he would in Brownsville, TX, and in Bakersfield, CA.
According to tour data from Pollstar, a leading concert industry publication, Iglesias has most frequently performed in California, visiting the Improv comedy clubs in Brea, Ontario and San Jose the most. However, Fluffy’s most visited venues also include The Borgata in Atlantic City, N.J. (eight times since 2009), the Sands Casino in Bethlehem (five times since 2012) and the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark. (four visits for six performances since 2013).
About 20 percent of his currently scheduled 2019 tour stops in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Florida—states with large Caribbean Latino populations. Last year, he took part in the New York Comedy Festival, packing houses in Manhattan and Brooklyn.
So how does Fluffy do it?
First off, Iglesias always keeps the tone of his material inclusive and pleasant. His “Racist Gift Basket” skit shows how he can talk about what could be a touchy subject and keep it light-hearted.
His stories frequently focus on his family, which resonates with all of us. In his recent Netflix special, he jokes about helping his son find work and taking his late mother to a Vicente Fernandez meet-and-greet event.
Iglesias also makes his performances as “local” as possible. Comedians I spoke to know to change the material a little to play to the local audience. Bronx native Mark Viera said when playing Los Angeles, for instance, he “will change the latin slang words (for Mexican American crowds) so that the punchline has a bigger effect.” Iglesias certainly adjusts similarly—like dropping an Airline Boulevard reference while in Houston during his latest special. A bit Iglesias did on Puerto Ricans and their love of their flag also shows his skill at drawing a relatable laugh from a specific audience.
Also, it is not a coincidence Iglesias comes from a long line of Mexican and Mexican American comedians who reach superstardom. Your abuelita would know the legendary Cantinflas, whose movies dominated all over Latin America in the 1940s and 1950s. Generations of kids grew up giggling to Chespirito. In the 1970s, Cheech and Chong packed theaters and sold millions of records. In the 1980s, Paul Rodriguez appeared on The Tonight Show and starred in an HBO comedy special.
Today, Iglesias and stand-up standouts like George Lopez, Anjelah Johnson and Felipe Esparza carry on this tradition of success. With the exception of the Hungar-Rican Freddie Prinze in the 1970s, the list of widely popular Caribbean Latino comics isn’t as robust.
Joey Vega, the veteran Nuyorican comedian who has been salsero Marc Anthony’s concert tour opening act for almost 20 years, argues Mexican American comedians have a built-in advantage that helps build an early audience.
“The Caribbean people —the Cubans, Dominicans and Puerto Ricans— they would rather go out dancing than to a comedy show, unless you are already known,” reasoned Vega. “So it’s harder for us to get a following… Mexican comedians, [close to] 65 percent of all [U.S.] Latinos is Mexican so by numbers already they have an advantage.”
Vega also acknowledges Iglesias’ embrace of social media helped skyrocket his career. Iglesias —like his contemporary Kevin Hart— has effectively used various digital platforms to grow his fanbase to what it is today.
“I would not have the career I have without social media, I wouldn’t have even a piece of it,” Iglesias told The Los Angeles Times in 2014. “Back in the day, the biggest comics that were out there were a Richard Pryor or an Eddie Murphy who got a concert film, but that was only played in the U.S. Whereas now, I can take a 10-minute stand-up comedy clip, I put it online, I send it out through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and I could have 5 million views in probably a week.”
Despite all the success, Iglesias certainly isn’t everybody’s favorite stand-up comic. For those who enjoy comedians with more adult, more philosophical material, Fluffy isn’t their cup of café. You take your younger son or your grandmother to a Gabriel Iglesias show. He is a lovable guy. He won’t say anything too off-color. He is safe. And there is nothing wrong with that.
Knowing all the success Iglesias has had, Latino audiences of all backgrounds are saying that pleasant, safe comedy is huge for them.
Michael Collazo is CEO of @DahdayCom, a ticket brokerage. A veteran of the sports and entertainment industry, he has worked for the Cleveland Cavaliers, the former Newark Bears (minor league baseball) and Prudential Center. Follow him on twitter @Mcollazo215.