VIVIANA HURTADO, HOST:
This is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Viviana Hurtado. Michel Martin is away. All summer long, we're talking to some of the country's most popular entertainers who are funny, really funny. They have brought their unique comedy styles to film, TV standup and more. It's our Make Me Laugh summer series.
Today's funny man is Gabriel Iglesias. You may know him from his appearances on Comedy Central or his most recent project, Stand Up Revolution. He's also one of the most watched comedians on YouTube, so what's his M.O.? Jokes about weight and what happens to him every day. There's also a good dose of voices and impressions, and we want to warn you that some of his jokes can be a little racy, so they might not be appropriate for all listeners.
Here's a clip from his Hot and Fluffy tour. You'll hear one of Gabriel's many voices.
GABRIEL IGLESIAS: When I go to drive-throughs and they screw up my order, oh, I'm evil. I go back around and I start ordering, but I throw them off by doing this. Right? They'll come on the speaker. Welcome to Fantastic Burger. How can I help you? I'll do this. Hello, sir?
IGLESIAS: Can I please have a double cheeseburger, an order of fries and a shake?
IGLESIAS: That was a double cheeseburger, a fries and a shake? Oh, my God, yes. Take it through to the window. Then I pull up. Oh, they're not expecting me. They come back with a bag of food, you know. Would you like ketchup? That's where I let them have it. Oh, my God, yes.
HURTADO: And Gabriel Iglesias and his many voices are here with us. Welcome to the program.
IGLESIAS: Thank you so much. I knew there was a catch with why I was on the air today. It threw me off because when they said they wanted me to do an interview with NPR, I'm like, I hope they know I didn't - you know, I barely graduated high school.
HURTADO: Right, right. Well, actually, we're kind of a funny bunch over here and so are our listeners. And so I have to say that as I was listening to this clip, I don't know what made me laugh more. Your voice or your sound effects with, you know, pulling up to the - you know, to the window to grab your order.
But you have to tell me, speaking about voices, so where do you get your inspiration from all of these voices? And if you can tell us which is your favorite one - is the drive-up one of your favorite ones?
IGLESIAS: Oh, the girl voice definitely is the favorite voice because it's the one that people are freaked out about the most. You know, you see a 300-plus pound guy, you know, dark-skinned and all of a sudden this white girl voice comes out of him, and they're like, whoa.
HURTADO: It's a total Valley girl voice.
IGLESIAS: Yeah, right. Oh, my God. Yeah. That always throws people off.
HURTADO: So you've been on the mainstream comedy scene for more than 10 years, so can you tell us how you got your start? Because I was reading somewhere that you had sold cell phones in a Wal-Mart before.
IGLESIAS: Yeah. That's actually where I got my start, in the Wal-Marts. Believe it or not, I actually had a friend - still have a friend - who had told me that there was a place to do comedy in East Los Angeles at the time I was selling cell phones at the Wal-Mart and my buddy was there working with me, and he said he'd seen these comics performing and I should go check it out. And, sure enough, it was a rough place, a lot of bottles being thrown all over the place and comics getting booed off the stage.
And I went up there and luckily I survived it and they asked me to come back and that's when I started meeting other guys and next thing I know, I was on the road, within a month.
HURTADO: Did you get a chance to practice any of your voices on your unsuspecting customers?
IGLESIAS: I would only mess with people when they would call by phone because then I could say, oh, you know, well, Gabriel's not available right now, but if you'd like to - oh, wait. Here he comes. Hello. You know what I mean? I'd mess with them and go back and forth and stuff like that, so that was pretty cool.
HURTADO: OK. So you're talking about how you got your start in this East L.A. venue. What made you want to become a professional funny guy, a comedian?
IGLESIAS: I love the attention. Trust me, you guys. That's...
HURTADO: So where did that come from though?
IGLESIAS: I don't know. Maybe...
HURTADO: Are you, like, one of a lot of kids or the middle child?
IGLESIAS: I'm the last of six, but you know what? Everybody else was already grown up and out of the house. There's about 14 years between my sister and myself, so basically it was like growing up an only child, but you know, people would visit. Hey, I'm your brother. Oh, really? I met you twice.
HURTADO: So what kind of attention? You said you wanted to get attention when you were a kid, so what kind of attention would you get?
IGLESIAS: I was not the popular kid in school.
HURTADO: Because you could also be - you know, that could be interpreted as being a smart aleck and sometimes people don't like smart alecks.
IGLESIAS: No. I would not say I was - I was never a smart aleck. I was always a shy, quiet kid in school, and I'm not going to lie. I wasn't funny in school at all. I was not funny. I had really bad teeth. You know, being an overweight kid for all these years is just - you know, I wanted to come out of my shell, basically, and when I got into comedy, it was nice. There wasn't people laughing. Oh, fat guy. It was just like, oh, my God, this guy's hysterical.
HURTADO: This guy's funny.
IGLESIAS: Yeah. I found that laughter was a form of acceptance and I really enjoyed that and I just - I crave it.
HURTADO: So who are some of your influences? Some of the people, some of the comics, and sometimes, our funny influences don't necessarily have to be comics. It could maybe be, you know, like the dynamic between our parents or, you know, like our grandparents, you know, los abuelos or something like that.
IGLESIAS: Oh, yeah. Well, definitely my mom was, she was very inspirational in the beginning just because she was a character. And you know, when she found out this is what I wanted to do she's like, as long as you graduate. (Foreign language spoken), OK? As long as you bring home a diploma.
IGLESIAS: And, you know, it took me an additional summer to bring home that diploma but I did it. And you know, her and obviously, you know, comedic influences like Eddie Murphy and Robin Williams and Cosby, all great influences.
HURTADO: And you were just talking about being very shy, really quiet when you were young, and that that was kind of, that you were overweight as well, and that being funny was a way of coping with that. And your weight is a big part of your comedy.
IGLESIAS: I'm quite offended.
HURTADO: You call - OK, I don't want to offend. I'm just saying.
IGLESIAS: You're not. Don't worry.
HURTADO: But actually, along those lines of offending or not offending, you call yourself Fluffy. So I just want to play a clip from your "I'm Not Fat, I'm Fluffy" tour. And I love this because you explain the levels of fat. Let's hear the clip.
(SOUNDBITE OF CLIP, "I'M NOT FAT, I'M FLUFFY")
IGLESIAS: And I say fluffy because that is the politically correct term. For those of you who don't remember I used to say that there were five levels of fatness. Reason why I say used to say is because now there are six.
IGLESIAS: Uh-huh, I met the new one in Las Cruces.
IGLESIAS: The original five levels are big, healthy, husky, fluffy, and damn.
IGLESIAS: People ask, what could be bigger than damn. The new level's called oh hell no.
HURTADO: And so hell no came from Las Cruces? Like how did that happen? I would've thought, you know, I don't know, (foreign language spoken) or something like that.
IGLESIAS: There was a really, really, really big guy and I was at a show and he was walking towards me and he waved and then he walked into the restroom and there was two women behind him having a full-blown conversation and I didn't hear them until he turned to walk into the restroom. That's how big he was. He was blocking sound.
HURTADO: Oh no. So OK, so is joking something, because you were talking about this a little bit earlier, about being overweight, is it something that you've always done? Is it a way that you've been able to cope with being quote/unquote "fluffy?"
IGLESIAS: Absolutely. You know, definitely in my first special I really talked about it a lot and recently I tried getting away from it a little bit more just to, you know, just to show people that it is possible for me to be funny and not talk about that I'm a big guy. Obviously, I've capitalized on the whole fluffy thing and I did that early on more, I guess more so for branding. I mean I've done it so much, with the DVDs, the "I'm Not Fat, I'm Fluffy," "The Hot and Fluffy," all the CDs and things that I put out there have the word fluffy attached to it. And...
HURTADO: How did you come up with that term, fluffy?
IGLESIAS: Oh it was, oh man, it happened so long ago. It was like a little nickname that my mom gave me. And, you know, you're not fat, you're fluffy and come to find out it was like a Garfield cartoon reference or something...
IGLESIAS: ...from back in the day. But I ran with it and I've done it so much where if you Google the word fluffy idea everything. I'm number one. I beat out by bunnies, cotton candy, comforters, you name it. Anything fluffy is second to me.
HURTADO: if you're just joining us, you're listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm speaking with comedian and actor Gabriel Iglesias for our summer series Make Me Laugh.
For some minority comedians Gabriel, ethnicity and culture, and even race, is kind of a really big part of their acts. I mean I'm thinking about like Margaret Cho jokes a lot about her mom and her grandmother, David Chappelle, certainly. But your heritage does come up in some jokes, it just doesn't seem to be your primary focus. You even joked about not being a Latino comedian. Let's listen to a clip of that.
(SOUNDBITE OF STAND-UP ROUTINE)
IGLESIAS: That's why it kind of bothers me, whenever people go, you know, what is it like being a Latino comedian? I go, I don't know. I'm a comedian who happens to be Latino. What's the difference? The difference is, my special will air on Comedy Central, not Telemundo.
HURTADO: So OK. Gabriel, I will...
IGLESIAS: He's so angry.
HURTADO: But no. Yeah, look, and I will submit to you some of these, you know, Nielsen would say that Telemundo certainly Univision's ratings are completely taking over. But you bring up a really good point and it's one that actually I thought about a lot as a journalist. I want to be known as a journalist. I don't want to be known as a Latina journalist. So why is it that it's been so important for you to be seen as a comedian...
HURTADO: ...who just what is happens to be Latino, you know, a funny guy who just happens to be Latino?
IGLESIAS: I think because we're the only ones that are really called out about it. You know, if you talk about Jerry Seinfeld you just say Jerry Seinfeld. You don't say Jewish comedian Jerry Seinfeld. That's not to say that I don't, you know, where I come from. I know exactly where I come from and I'm very proud of it but I don't want that to be reason for people to want to like me or dislike me..
HURTADO: So what advice do you have for other comedians that are starting out or they're trying to break into your level circuit of comedy?
IGLESIAS: I think a big reason for my success has been first of all, keeping the show very friendly. You know, I keep it very - no pun intended - I keep the show very fluffy.
IGLESIAS: You know, I don't get political on my show. I don't get controversial. I don't get in people's faces. I don't try to tell people how to think or what they should do. It's a very fun show. It's just like hey, check it out. I've got some stories and I'll make it a little bit silly. And it's just a fun, friendly show, everybody can enjoy it and when you make a show that everybody can enjoy, you know, you broadening your audience, your fan base. I get people that bring their kids to the show sometimes, the grand parents - and don't get me wrong, my show is not squeaky clean. It's not squeaky clean but it's not filthy either.
HURTADO: Tell us what you're working on.
IGLESIAS: Well, I got this movie coming out this Friday called "Magic Mike." It's with Channing Tatum and Matthew McConaughey and it's going to be a big, big movie. Oh my God, there's all these other, you know, I guess hunky stars in it. It's a stripper movie.
IGLESIAS: Yeah. Before you...
HURTADO: I was going to say look at the company you're keeping and then you throw strippers in there.
IGLESIAS: Yeah. It's a stripper movie. Trust me. It's funny because on Facebook there's women complaining that the movie is not in IMAX 3-D. And I'm like really, you want it that close, huh?
IGLESIAS: You know, and it's a cool movie. It's kind of like a "Boogie Nights" flavor and I play a DJ, his name is Tobias. And he's a cool DJ at the club but he's also a guy that kind of deal the little bit of stuff on the side, you know, to make ends meet and he's got kind of a dark side, which is cool because I get to play a character that's a little bit outside of, you know, my norm.
HURTADO: I like that. You're kind of going, you're pushing yourself. You're going past an edge.
IGLESIAS: Yeah. I know. It's great. That's where the acting part comes in so hopefully it comes out looking nice. And if I get a chance to do another movie and the circumstances are right then I'll go for it. But comedy is my passion. I'm going to do this until I drop.
HURTADO: Gabriele Iglesias is a comedian, actor and producer. His latest TV series "Stand-Up Revolution" can be found on Comedy Central . He was kind enough to join us from our NPR West studios in Culver City, California.
IGLESIAS: West side.
HURTADO: Thank you, Gabriel.
IGLESIAS: I'm sorry.
HURTADO: Thank you.
IGLESIAS: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.