For a modern stand-up comedian, the biggest commercial achievement is the stand-up concert film -- not just an hour-long special, but a feature-length film released in movie theaters. They are rare, because few stand-ups have the right mix of ability and marketability to compete with spaceships and superheroes.
But Gabriel Iglesias has the chops. The Fluffy Movie, his addition to the stand-up concert film oeuvre, opens this Friday, July 25. He spoke with New Times about his process for the film, expanding his horizons, and teaching Hollywood that although comedians can become movie stars, the story continues after the credits roll.
"This feels amazing. As a comic, usually the dream is to get a special on HBO or Comedy Central. Back in the day, HBO was the holy grail of comedy -- George Carlin, Robin Williams, Chris Rock. That was the goal," Iglesias remembers. "And then Comedy Central comes along and you get the chance to do a half hour. I had done Last Comic Standing, and Comedy Central was like 'you got some good face time on that, would you be interested in doing a full hour?' And I'm like, HBO isn't calling, let's give it a shot."
There was one drawback, though: "I just didn't like the fact that there were going to be commercials during it, and that they would censor you. Now I'm not saying I'm the filthiest comic, but certain words they didn't like me using. Especially Spanish, anything in Spanish they wanted to cut out even if it was just a punch that would have subtitles to explain what it was. So a lot of back and forth."
A then-younger Fluffy was approached by Levity Entertainment to produce an hour-long special. Now, having a clearer idea of what he wanted, he opted to do it his way at his cost. He found a venue in Bakersfield he knew he could sell out, and "the ball just started rolling. Next thing you know, we do Hot and Fluffy, then two years later I'm Not Fat... I'm Fluffy, then three years later the Aloha Fluffy special. Two weeks before I taped Aloha Fluffy, I got approached by a film company."
The company compared Iglesias' numbers and social media presence with Kevin Hart's, one of the only other comics on the scene currently making concert films. It appears Hollywood sees stand-up films the way TV sees reality programs -- as cheap content that can earn bank. So why aren't there more stand-up films in theaters? Stand-up comedy doesn't easily fit into genres, nor does it have the same disposable quality, and is often more challenging to the viewer than a blockbuster escape. Perhaps that's why a comedy recording is called a special -- because it should be, well, special.
And Fluffy's movie was crafted to take his act to the next level. "Basically I recorded Aloha Fluffy, and then had to crank out a brand new -- not hour -- 90 minutes in under a year. And so all the material I put in the special is stories that I've sat on over the years, but I was saving it for the film. The stuff I put out there is super personal, deep. There's a strong message behind it. If someone's never met me, and they see the film, they'll have a really good idea of the type of person I am."
He means it. The first half of The Fluffy Movie is Iglesias' solid headlining set. He's polished and poised, and his jokes are conversational, like you're watching the funniest guy at the party. His delivery is animated and relatable from a lifetime of storytelling on the road. But as the party goes on, the mood takes a turn. Iglesias switches gears to tell the very real story of reuniting with his estranged father. The rawness and vulnerability pours through. He exchanges the quick punchy laughs for slower, more thoughtful conclusions. He takes you somewhere most comics don't, which is exactly what you should get out of a comedy concert film.
Even so, Iglesias had difficulties adjusting to Hollywood's style. For the film's poster, the marketers wanted him in his trademark Hawaiian shirt, bright red with selling psychology. The issue was that he wore a red Hawaiian shirt during his last special, and he didn't want to confuse people or seem redundant. They butted heads.
"Look, at the end of the day I'm still going to be this comic," he argued. "You guys are going to move on to the next project, and I'm still going to be this guy."
So he mobilized his loyal fan base. "All I did, I sent out a tweet with the [Aloha Fluffy] poster and asked what special I wore this shirt in, and I put the president of marketing's e-mail address on the tweet. Basically I shut down his e-mail account for about three hours because he got flooded with responses."
In the end, the shirt was photoshopped orange.
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The Fluffy Movie opens in theaters this Friday.
Follow Daniel Reskin on Twitter @DanielReskin.
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