When he finished his birthday dinner at Lucille’s Smokehouse Bar-B-Que, where he is a well-known regular, Gabriel Iglesias went over to another one of his local hangouts, a theater on Carson Street in Long Beach.
As he approached the Edwards theater, the 300 or so people who had been waiting for him starting chanting.
“Fluffy, Fluffy, Fluffy,” the crowd repeated the comedian’s nickname as he grew closer.
It was a big night for Iglesias, not just because it was his birthday, but because of a preview screening of “The Fluffy Movie,” which opens in theaters July 25.
It’s the first comedy concert film for the 38-year-old, but he’s no up-and-comer. Iglesias is a top-grossing comedian with a busy slate of projects and live gigs who still lives and hangs out in his hometown, where it all started on a small elementary school stage.
“I love that I still live here, this is my hometown. I could live anywhere in the world at this point, but I chose to stay here, this is my roots,” said Iglesias during the July 15 sneak-peek screening of his film, which was recorded during two shows in San Jose on Feb. 28 and March 1.
Dressed in his typical casual attire — jean shorts and a black T-shirt that read “I’m Sorry for What I Said When I Was Hungry” — Iglesias was visibly slimmer than what most of his fans are used to, since he recently has lost about 100 pounds after a diagnosis of diabetes.
But he was as approachable as many expected and he tightly hugged several fans before heading to a small red carpet where he stood in front of large posters adorned with his picture and near a large cake decorated with an image of him in a Hawaiian shirt.
“I’m a big fan of his because he’s obviously funny and he’s humble and down-to-earth,” said Alex Cervantes, a Wilmington resident in line for the screening. “I think this movie is going to boost his career a lot, but he’s still going to be the same humble, nice guy.”
Iglesias, who mixes very personal stories on stage with impressions, sound effects and voices, was born in San Diego but moved to Long Beach as a young boy.
He was the youngest of six children and lived in government-subsidized housing on Henderson Avenue.
“We spent 10 years living on that street,” Iglesias said. “I would walk to Edison Elementary School from my apartment and I would catch a bus to Tincher Elementary School on the other side of town. It was very important for my mom to get me to a school that was out of a rough area.”
Inspired by Eddie Murphy’s concert film “Raw,” which is depicted at the beginning of “The Fluffy Movie,” Iglesias first decided to try stand-up during a fifth-grade talent show at Tincher Preparatory School in Long Beach.
“When I saw ‘Raw’ I got really excited,” he said. “Everyone was chanting for him, it’s exciting, he had full control of the crowd and I loved that. I loved the acceptance, the love he was getting.”
His elementary school routine was a clean version of Murphy’s stand-up style with a few impressions of Ronald Reagan, Yogi Bear and Pee Wee Herman.
“I was mimicking him and the reason I knew I loved it was because of how scared and excited I was about the idea of getting up on stage. It’s the only thing that had ever given me that rush,” Iglesias said.
After graduating from Wilson High School in 1994, he began performing in Long Beach during open-mic nights at the Best Western Golden Sails Hotel on Pacific Coast Highway. He decided to be a full-time comic in April 1997.
Since then, his comedy has taken him on tours across the nation and internationally. He has appeared on “The Arsenio Hall Show,” “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno,” “Conan,” “Jimmy Kimmel Live,” “The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson” and “Good Morning America.”
His first two DVDs, “Hot & Fluffy” and “I’m Not Fat … I’m Fluffy,” have sold more than 1 million copies, and his third DVD, “Aloha Fluffy,” premiered in a two-night Comedy Central special that totaled more than 15 million viewers last year.
He was also behind “Gabriel Iglesias Presents Stand-Up Revolution,” which premiered on Comedy Central in 2011. It features Iglesias as the host and a performer with performances by other comedians, like Shaun Latham, who recently launched his own comedy series in Long Beach at Harvelle’s on Tuesday nights.
“He is so humble, so likable, he’s not trying to force an agenda. He’s just doing fun relatable stories and he captures characters and he’s so sincere,” Latham said of Iglesias.
Season three of “Stand-Up Revolution” will be released on DVD in October.
Iglesias’ first Hollywood role was as a drug-dealing disc jockey at a male strip club in the 2012 film “Magic Mike.” Iglesias is coming back in his role as Tobias for the sequel, “Magic Mike XXL,” which will be released next summer.
But his real bread and butter is comedy. In 2013, Forbes ranked him as the No. 9 Top Earning Comedian with $11 million in earnings that year. And his new film is likely to increase his popularity and likability.
“If nothing else, it’s going to let people know who I am as a person,” he said. “It’s a movie about me and how I came to be and why I’m doing what I’m doing.”
“The Fluffy Movie” begins like a scripted film, with actors depicting the first meeting of his parents in Tijuana, Mexico, at a mariachi bar in the mid-1970s. It later shows a young, chubby Iglesias picking up a copy of the Eddie Murphy “Raw” tape at a video rental store. Comedian Tommy Chong makes an appearance as the store clerk.
Then, as young Iglesias is watching Murphy on TV, daydreaming about being a comic, it fades into the present day with Iglesias taking the stage before a cheering audience in San Jose.
The stand-up show begins with a very personal and, of course, funny story about his weight loss.
“I thought it was important to let people know what I’m doing because I don’t want people to get the wrong idea, that I’m losing weight because of the entertainment business,” he said.
At his heaviest, Iglesias said he weighed well over 400 pounds.
“Ultimately, I want to be around,” he said.
And although he’s now recognized at most places he goes, Iglesias still hangs around his city.
He lives in Signal Hill, which he refers to as “Long Beach Heights,” and said having the screening in Long Beach was important for him.
He also would like to reconnect with some old friends since it’s been 20 years since his high school graduation. But Iglesias lamented that no one has called him about a reunion.
“It’s the 20-year reunion, people, and no one has called me,” he said. “Isn’t that the whole purpose for going back is to say ‘Look what I did?’ All those girls that didn’t want to go out with me. Ha!”
About the Author
Richard Guzman covers Arts and Entertainment for the Long Beach Press-Telegram, where he writes about art, theater, music and food. He is a graduate of CSU Northridge with a degree in journalism. Richard grew up in Los Angeles and has written about food, pop culture and art in the area. He has two young children and in his spare time enjoys riding his motorcycle and hiking. Reach the author at Richard.Guzman@presstelegram.com or follow Richard on Twitter: @Richword.Tags: actor, concert, film, movie, music, release, tour, tv