There’s never a convenient time to get COVID-19. For Gabriel Iglesias, a case of COVID last summer forced him to spend his 45th birthday at home eating cereal he couldn’t taste. The comedian was supposed to be wrapping a nearly month-long residency at San Antonio, Texas’ Tobin Center for the Performing Arts with the last shows of the run filmed for his next Netflix special. On the bright side, the cancellation ended up inspiring a switch of plans that would instead document a milestone moment in his career.
Iglesias, aka “Fluffy,” explains that while he was in San Antonio he had been discussing an idea for something big with Robbie Praw, Netflix’s vice president of standup and comedy formats, for the streaming service’s “Netflix Is A Joke” festival. Iglesias recalls, “I’m like, ‘Well, are we going to come back and do Staples?’ And he’s like ‘We’re thinking bigger.’ As soon as he said Dodger Stadium, I’m like ‘Absolutely. … I’ve been out of the market forever, people are excited about going back to shows … L.A. is my biggest market; we thought it was a very calculated risk.”
After being forced to pull the plug on filming the special in San Antonio, Iglesias notes he was in the red, having spent “all kinds of money to fly people out.” He adds, “We’re like, what the hell are we going to do? And that’s when we said, hey, get Robbie on the phone: ‘Look, I know we’re supposed to record the special now, but what do you think if we do this for Dodger Stadium?’ They got excited, but then they’re like, ‘Gabe, what if it doesn’t sell the way you want it to sell?’ I’m like, Well, I’ll try harder than I’ve ever tried before. Fortunately, it went so well. … People say things happen for a reason. … So Dodger Stadium was a hell of a plan B.”
Not only was Dodger Stadium the biggest show Iglesias ever played, but Fluffy made history as the first comedian to headline the venue – with Iglesias joining the ranks of previous acts to top the marquee including Elton John, Madonna and Elvis Presley. And after selling out the May 7 show – which featured regular seating for concerts with a capacity a little north of 50,000 – a second show, “Fluffy On The Field,” was added May 6 with seating limited to the field for an intimate experience.
The shows, which grossed nearly $3.6 million, were really about 25 years in the making. Since betting on himself to quit his day job to pursue comedy full time, Iglesias has put in the work on stage to continue expanding his fanbase as he’s made the move from clubs to theaters to arenas worldwide. And he’s had his team by his side since the early days.
In addition to thanking Praw and Netflix for their support (the special is set to premiere on the streaming service Oct. 18), Iglesias made sure to shout out his team when talking to Pollstar – including manager Joe Meloche of Arsonhouse Entertainment, agent Matt Blake of CAA and promoter Paul Meloche of Icon Concerts.
“Dodger Stadium was like a trophy for all of us. It didn’t feel as much like I did it – it felt like we did it. It was like, man, this is nuts, this is huge. We’re part of something that’s never been done before,” Iglesias says.
Joe Meloche has worked with Iglesias for more than 20 years in different capacities, starting as a concert promoter when he first saw Iglesias perform at a Latino comedy jam festival in Bakersfield, California.
“He just stood out above all the [other] comics. He was a young aspiring comic at the time, but you can tell when someone is at an advanced level like his; he really commanded an audience,” Joe Meloche says. “And I asked him to come back and do his own show, which we ended up selling out at the Fox Theater. … We ended up doing Bakersfield, Fresno and Salinas … I wrote him a check and he was like, ‘Whoa! OK! How do we do this again?’”
Blake has been with Fluffy since just about day 1, having signed the comedian after catching one of his shows at The Improv in Hollywood.
“When I saw Gabriel Iglesias and his charisma on stage … I knew I had to represent him,” Blake says. “He’s spectacular at painting a picture in your mind so you see exactly what he is talking about. Gabriel tells stories based on his life experience and I believe that since he is such a genuinely good person who is really down to earth, it’s easy for so many people to relate to what he is saying. He steers away from religion, politics and sports so everyone can enjoy exactly what he is talking about.”
After Joe Meloche transitioned to become manager, his brother Paul became Iglesias’ promoter. Iglesias notes, “We’re really close in age. It’s awesome I’ve had these relationships for so many years. I tell Paul, remember when we had hair and hope? … It’s a very tight group. … Everyone has grown [together].”
And then there’s his bus driver, Dave, who Iglesias has worked with for more than 10 years. One of the most hilarious and yet heartwarming sections of Iglesias’ 2019 Netflix special, “Gabriel Iglesias: One Show Fits All,” is the part where Fluffy talks about his relationship with Dave, who the comedian describes as one of the most hardworking people he knows and “painfully, no filter honest.” Fluffy adds, “Dave looks like the word ’Merica. Not America. ’Merica!”
Often sporting a trademark Hawaiian shirt and shorts, Iglesias has made a name for himself with his own take on clean comedy, highlighted by his self-deprecating humor poking fun at his weight (“I’m not fat, I’m fluffy”) and love of doughnuts and Red Lobster Cheddar Bay Biscuits, along with a skill for sharing stories about the friends and family in his life – enhanced with sound effects, quirky voices and celebrity impressions.
While Iglesias often throws in a few words of Spanish into his set, Joe Meloche notes that it was important to Fluffy that he wouldn’t get pigeonholed as a Latino comedian who just plays to Latino audiences.
“When Gabe came to me and said that, I kind of understood that because no one ever thinks about Chris Rock as Black comedian Chris Rock. He wanted to have that same kind of reputation. And so we really did a good job in branding him as relatable and that he could play to everybody. He crosses all genders, creeds, races in terms of relatability,” Meloche says.
Iglesias’ appeal crosses borders, too, with his fanbase continuing to grow overseas since his 2012 tour which included his Middle East debut, with a gig in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, along with performances at Singapore’s Kallang Theatre, two shows at the Sydney Opera House and several stops in Norway.
Iglesias landed at No. 2 on Pollstar’s Top 25 Comedy Tours Chart based on 82 shows, totalling 435,243 tickets sold and a gross of nearly $26 million between Sept. 16, 2021 and Sept. 15, 2022. Highlights include Iglesias breaking into new markets internationally with performances in Athens, Greece (grossing $107,755 at Faliro Sports Pavilion Arena) and Barcelona, Spain.
Over the years Iglesias has made a number of film and TV appearances from playing a strip club DJ and drug dealer in the 2012 film “Magic Mike” to voicing Speedy Gonzalez in 2021’s “Space Jam: A New Legacy” and a cat named Chuck in 2022’s “Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank.” He’s set to star in the animated Netflix film “I, Chihuahua” about an underdog Luchador Chihuahua. Joe Meloche notes that Iglesias enjoys participating in opportunities that are organic to his brand, but Fluffy’s “true love is stand-up comedy, being on that stage and connecting with fans.”
As for what’s next for Iglesias, CAA’s Matt Blake says, “We have a policy of not talking about things until the agreements are signed but the name of his last tour was ‘Go Big or Go Home,’ so you just know what’s next is going to be spectacular!”
Pollstar caught up with Iglesias to learn more about his journey to the top of the comedy world.
Pollstar: What were the early days like playing clubs?
When I first started in 1997, social media was not a thing. So in order to promote yourself, you actually had to either be on a talk show or go on the radio in order to to get the word out that you were performing. Everybody’s big goal was to get on “The Tonight Show” or to get on morning radio. You had to make fliers … and go put the fliers on cars.
The topics and the vibe and the things that you were talking about in the ’90s versus now, it’s definitely night and day. There was no restriction on what you could or couldn’t say. It was just viewed as comedy. If you said something that was a little off color, it wasn’t taken seriously unless you said something that was just blatantly hateful or something that came across very just like, “Whoa, wow.” That’s the only time that was ever an issue. It’s a catch 22. So now social media is huge, time’s are different – the internet can make you [or] break you. Back then, you were a little bit freer to explore and try to find your voice.
I remember just trying to find stage time. It was hard because there were only a couple of clubs. And so you had to find people that would create their own shows, whether it was at a bar or a coffee shop. You had to know somebody and they put you in touch with somebody, so-and-so knows about a gig. You had to be good about being social before social media. You had to know how to return a call and talk to people and engage that way. Being in the clubs, I loved it. I don’t want to sound like a cliché, but the beginning is always the best because you have to look forward to the dream. Now it’s (laughs) a little different because I’m like how do I keep it?
What’s stuck with you from that time?
You’re always trying to find your way. … At the end of the day, did you get one step closer? Did you do something to grow, get better? Rough times, like getting my car repoed or getting evicted … for a while I was sleeping on couches – at the time it was like, “Oh, this is horrible, this sucks.” I thought about going back to my day job, but I didn’t want to; I saw that as going backward. Now I see those times on the couch, or not having certain things, was helpful because by knowing what struggle is like, I appreciate where I’m at now so much more.
I think that’s what the new generation is missing, that fight and that struggle, because everybody wants everything right now. They’re not willing to be patient and make a plan, have goals that require time and investment, sacrifice. … If something comes easy to you, you’re not going to respect it. You’re not going to cherish it.
That philosophy could apply to other things in life too, like relationships.
Yeah, you’ve got to date a few cray-crays before you appreciate someone who’s level headed, got their act together and doesn’t set your car on fire.
What was it like taking the stage at Dodger Stadium?
I was nervous. Not for my set. I was nervous for the production of it. Is the lighting good? What is the sound like? Especially the sound. Anytime you do something that big, there’s always an echo. I’ve thrown out a few first pitches at Dodger Stadium and I’ve been on the microphone to say it’s now time for Dodger baseball. And it’s like in the movies: “Now, now, now, batter, batter, batter.” That’s exactly what it sounds like. We brought in a really good sound company and delay towers. I’ve been to concerts that big and it’s different when it’s music because even if the music has a little delay, it’s still going to sound right. Talking, it’s very different. I already saw the special, the audio sounded great.
You tour with a pretty impressive stage production.
When we’re at full production, it’s four tour buses and five semi trucks. I tell people it’s like WWE meets the Food Network. We bring all our own production, all our own speakers so that the shows are consistent. We’ve got giant screens. It’s not just a microphone and a curtain. There’s really cool, elaborate videos and a light show that happens so that it’s bigger than just a night at the Improv.
For the special at Dodger Stadium, the amount of gear just to fill up a stage that big required a lot. Plus, we had a car on stage.
One of these trucks is dedicated to merchandise. I got a pretty solid merch game … merchandise is definitely something if done right, it can be very, very lucrative.
And you had speciality merch for the Dodger Stadium shows.
Yeah, we made it all custom. And we had a few different companies on board – the Tapatío hot sauce company made a special bottle for the event, and the people at Funko made me two special [figurines] for that night.
What’s your relationship like with your fans?
I have a really good relationship with my fans. I’m always on social media, I’m always engaging with people. Any time I get recognized somewhere, it’s the funniest thing because I don’t think they see me as a celebrity as much as it’s like when you run into a family member at some random location. Like, oh, shoot, there’s my aunt, what’s she doing at Ralphs?! So when people come up to me, there’s no hesitation.
Whereas, I think if you saw Leonardo DiCaprio at a freakin’ Whole Foods, I think you would approach him a little bit [differently] like “Uh, I don’t want to [bother] him.”
With me, they want to hug me, [ask], how are you? It feels like you’re seeing a relative, someone you haven’t seen in a long time.