Although Gabriel Iglesias is a hugely popular comic with Mexican-American ethnic background, he makes it clear that he’s not into being labeled merely as a “Latino” comic. He can expertly play to all types of audiences, thank you very much. He’s proven years ago he is by no means a niche act. And while the world may know Iglesias from his many appearances on Comedy Central, the Tonight Show with Jay Leno, the Tonight Show with Conan, Conan, the Late Late Show, Jimmy Kimmel Live, and his wide-selling latest DVD I’m not Fat, I’m Fluffy, starting today, the comedy world will get a weekly dose of the man.
His new show, Gabriel Iglesias Presents Stand-Up Revolution — Gabe hosts a showcase of hand-picked stand-up comedians — premieres on Comedy Central tonight at 10 pm ET. I chatted with Gabriel recently to discuss how his new show is different than all the others on TV right now, how he’s been fighting the label of “Latino” comic, how the way he addresses his weight onstage has changed over time and the challenges he faced breaking into the world of comedy.
So, how is Stand-up Revolution different from the other shows that have showcased stand-up comedy throughout the years?
The biggest difference in the show versus all the shows that are out there on TV right now as far as stand-up goes, is I think it’s the first show in a long time that’s actually booked by another comedian. The network had nothing to do with the booking of the show, none of the talent, none of the extras like the band or the production value of it. It was all done first then the network said, ‘We want it.’
When you get a show where you decide what comics make it, does your phone start blowing up?
The phone did start ringing a lot, but at that point I already had the whole show booked. So it wasn’t like I could put anybody else on it. If we do a season two, I’ve got a list of guys that are ready, willing and able to do it.
How did you get the idea for the show?
Ah man, it was always something I wanted to do. I always wanted to have my own comedy show, because for the most part I enjoyed all the stand-up that’s on TV, but I wish certain things would have been different. A lot of the shows seem generic. A lot of times they have celebrity guest hosts. Even I did an episode of one of the shows where I guest hosted, but I didn’t know anybody on the show. The introduction was very generic, I read it off a cue card. I always thought it would be cool to have a show that was real. A show that has somebody on it that has somewhat of a name that was driving it, and would put real people on it, and have cool intros. Not like, ‘Hey, you might have seen this next guy on the Tonight Show…” versus, ‘Hey, this guy owes me a hundred bucks, and after the show he’s paying up,’ or ‘I’ve slept on that guy’s couch,’ or ‘I threw up in this guy’s back seat.’ Personal stuff. So everybody on the show I know first hand.
The previews of the show I saw reminds me of a late night talk show without the guests, who can often be boring. Is that the feel you were going for?
Exactly. I wanted to have a late night feel to it. That’s why I got my buddy Martin (Moreno) to be the co-host and the announcer. Instead of having a DJ or generic music like most shows, I wanted to have a live band, and when I approached Ozomatli about it, they were excited, and they were happy to do the show.
What’s it like when Ozomatli plays during the show?
They get a great energy going. And the cool part is that we’re planning on using them for the live tour. So once we start touring and doing all these different places all around the country, they’re going to be on board. So I’m going to take the actual TV show on the road.
Who are some of the comics you’re going to have on this season?
We’re going to have on Thea Vidale; she’s a veteran, been around a long time, Maz Jobrani, also a vet, he’s in a number of movies. Cristela Alonzo, she’s up and coming; she’s done Live at Gotham and a couple other projects. Alfred Robles was actually going to be on the first episode; he’s a comic who’s been traveling with me on the road for like the last four years and this is his first TV experience so I’m pretty pumped up that I got him on TV first.
You shot the show in Arizona, how were the crowds there?
The crowds were great. The response from the crowds have always been great every time I go to Arizona. You know there’s a lot of stuff going on over there because of the laws and a lot of people have moved. I used to own a house there so I know because I had some family living in it. I know first hand about some of the stuff that was going on. So the whole idea behind going there was to turn something positive out of something negative that happened to my ass which was — I talk about it in the first episode — how I got pulled off of a tour bus and they basically ransacked the bus, so I wanted to go back and do something positive in spite. I could have shot it in LA and saved a lot of money, but I wanted to go back over there.
Is there a stigma that exists that when a Latino comic gets a break? Do people say it’s just because he’s Latino? Is that something you’ve dealt with?
I think that’s been the case a few times in the past. I can honestly say though (laughing) that with me, I don’t think they would have put me on TV just for the sake of affirmative action. I think my sets spoke for themselves and that’s why I managed to get in there. I know in the past, there’s been a couple times where the race card got used and I know I got a little break or two here and there along the way. So it is still out there, but I think I’ve stepped out of that box.
Do you develop a chin for negative comments like that early on?
Yeah, and I’ve always made it clear that I didn’t like the whole title of “Latino Comic” and I’ve tried to break away from that. I still maintain a certain level of my roots. I tell people, ‘Listen, the reason I have a problem with that title is because I think a Latino Comic is only a comic that plays to a Latino audience.’ With my material, it’s not just south of the boarder; I can play here. I can play Australia; I can play the Middle East, Canada, and none of the material changes. I keep it the same. With a comic, you categorize them that way and you keep them in that box. When you talk about Seinfeld, no one says, ‘Jewish comedian Seinfeld,’ if you talk about Cedric the Entertainer you don’t say ‘African American comedian Cedric the Entertainer.’ We’re the last ones people say that about.
What’s been the coolest moment of your career so far?
There’s been quite a few. When I was filming my first one-hour special, it was cool having my mom there; she was kind of sick at the time. She was there to see that and it did very, very well. The first time I got a chance to perform outside the Southwest and sold out a show was cool, too. I did a concert In Minneapolis and the only Latinos there were me and the guys on the bus, and it sold out. That basically was the first show we did that told us, ‘Okay, I think we can go anywhere now.’ My promoter, he had taken a chance on me going out there, but he said he had a good vibe, and he was right. After that, we started trying to perform anywhere and everywhere that we could that we had never been. Now it’s gotten to the point where we’ll throw a dart at the map, just to break a new market. We recently went to Fargo, North Dakota; we did two shows there. It was just like, ‘Really? Fargo, North Dakota?’ We were just floored by it. It was like 3,300 seats, a huge theater. We’re happy to go anywhere, everywhere. A lot of these shows that we’ve done, like going to the Middle East, performing for royalty, we got a chance to perform for the King of Jordan and we got to perform for a prince in Saudia Arabia. That was like, ‘Oh my God,’ you know. Performing in Australia was amazing as well. A lot of traveling. It’s a really cool job.
You’ve talked a lot about being a bigger guy in your act. Was that ever difficult for you to talk about?
I think early on when I started talking about my weight, it was self-deprecating; everything was a joke. Like, ‘Man this is a strong stage,’ and ‘I wish somebody would help me off this thing,’ and ‘Hope I don’t float away.’ I was taking every low road you can imagine. I mean now when I go up onstage I’ll address the fact that I’m a big guy, but now it’s about diabetes and about how I’m working out more, how I’m trying to eat better. So I’m approaching it from a little bit of a different angle now instead of just taking the low roads. It wasn’t until I had other big people telling me, ‘You know, you kind of made me feel a little sorry for you,’ and I was like, ‘I don’t want nobody feeling sorry for me.’ That happened a couple times and I started waking up. I just started trying to address it a little bit differently. You can’t just go up and ignore it because then people go, ‘What the hell?’ More or less I tell stories and obviously if I tell a story about me traveling, I bring up some of the difficulties I’ve had with that– whether it’s a plane seat or riding around in small cars in a country that doesn’t have an SUV. I make light of it, but at the same time I’m still talking about it without sounding all ‘woe is me.’
You’ve done Conan, Leno, and Kimmel; when you do a set on TV versus a show at a theater or a club, is there more pressure?
Oh yeah. The main reason is because I don’t know how to time myself. My material never comes out verbatim every time. I always tweak in a line, or tweak away a line, gain a couple tags or lose a couple tags. The timing is always off. With Leno and Conan, if they say four and a half minutes, you have to be off in four and a half minutes. If you come up 30 to 40 seconds short, it screws things up for them. There’s the pressure of that. I wish I had stronger sets on those shows. I got to say that my shows have been okay. I won’t say they’ve been the greatest, but people say they were pretty good, I’m really hard on myself. I just think it’s because of the timing. Granted, now when I show up they cut me some slack. The last time I did Conan he was like, ‘Dude, just have fun.’ So I didn’t have that pressure, which was very nice.
Who were the comics that influenced you?
Early on, it was Eddie Murphy, Paul Rodriguez, Robin Williams; those are the main ones. A little bit of Cosby here and there. Robin Williams was probably one of the bigger ones; Robin Williams’ Live at the Met and then Eddie Murphy’s Raw.
Gabriel Iglesias Presents Stand-Up Revolution
What were the biggest challenges you faced when you started doing stand-up?
Finding places to go up onstage. Because when I was new I couldn’t get into any of the comedy clubs. They had the Laugh Factories, the Improvs, places like that. They had open mic night, but you have to show up at 11 in the morning to sign up and then wait in this big ass line. I had a job at the time; there was no way I could do that. So it was very challenging finding alternative places, not comedy clubs, but serious open mic nights, just hole in the walls. For about three years I was performing at this one bar in East Los Angeles that was like a mean dive bar. You’re in there performing for drunks or bikers, not the most flattering people. I think it helped build my confidence, because you have to get their attention, then make them laugh. It was a comedy boot camp for a while. So when I got to a club, I was like, ‘Oh my God, these people are listening. I don’t even have to work on that!’
Finding places to perform was definitely the biggest challenge. Trying to find my voice over the years was a big thing because when I started I was just doing characters and impressions and that was it. I was very dirty; I was a very dirty comic. There was no way I would have gotten on TV with the act I had when I first started. It was all cartoons having sex; it’s funny at a bar, but you can’t do it on Leno. When I got to the point when I cleaned it up, it took off from there. How crazy is that? I had gotten advice from one of the dirtiest comics that I knew to work clean, Joey Medina. He goes, ‘You know what dude, you’re really likeable, it would help you so much if you didn’t curse so much, maybe one or two here and there, but you don’t need it. People already like you.’ I’m hearing him say this and I’m like, ‘Dude, I just heard you set a record for the word ‘fuck.’
Gabriel Iglesias Presents Stand-Up Revolution premieres tonight, Oct. 6 at 10 pm ET on Comedy Central. For more info on Iglesias, check out his official site at FluffyGuy.com.