Gabriel Iglesias vividly remembers his last visit to Dodger Stadium.
The Dodgers were battling the Boston Red Sox in the 2018 World Series. Iglesias doesn’t remember if there were any home runs, any amazing plays on the field or even who won.
But he does remember what he ate.
“They had these nachos that they served in a helmet,” Iglesias said, the recollection sparking an instant smile. “Of all the things going on, I was really excited about the nachos in the helmet.”
When the comic, 45, returns to the ballpark May 6 and 7 to perform his comedy show, he’ll likely have a lot more to remember than nachos, or any other treats from the snack bar, because he’ll be making history.
Iglesias, or Fluffy, as he’s more commonly known, will be the first comedian to perform at Dodger Stadium. His sold-out stand, which is being tapped for a special, is one of numerous highlights of Netflix Is a Joke: The Festival, a star-studded, citywide cavalcade of comedy that launches Thursday, with a preview night Wednesday. The 12-day festival is a presentation by the streaming giant, which in recent years has become a dominant force in the comedy universe.
The sprawling lineup is crammed with elite entertainers, including Dave Chappelle, Kevin Hart, Amy Schumer, Hasan Minhaj, Amy Poehler, Larry David, Lil Rel Howery, Seth Rogen, Bill Burr, Patton Oswalt, Pete Davidson, Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin. The Hollywood Bowl, Crypto.com Arena, the Kia Forum, the Hollywood Palladium, the Wiltern and the Laugh Factory are among the venues.
It’s an even larger realization of the event first planned for 2020 but postponed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We had worked with so much amazing talent, and we wanted to have a celebration of comedy,” said Robbie Praw, vice president of stand-up and comedy formats for Netflix. “Two years later, this thing has taken on a different meaning. Now it’s about people in Los Angeles finally getting out and being able to laugh and have a good time together. It’s also the first time in a long time that these comedians will be together.”
Alongside all the A-listers, the appearance by Southern California native Iglesias stands out as a milestone, both for him and for Dodger Stadium.
Primarily, it’s been iconic artists such as Elton John, Paul McCartney, Billy Joel, the Three Tenors and Simon & Garfunkel who have played (and easily filled) the 56,000-seat ballpark. And even for a comedian who’s drawn capacity crowds at Madison Square Garden and the Sydney Opera House, the idea of playing the LA landmark is a bit daunting.
“It’s still not real,” Iglesias said as he sat high up in the stadium near the press box in late March, accompanied by an entourage and his two chihuahua pups, Vinnie and Risa. He was in Fluffy garb — a beret, spacious Hawaiian shirt, shorts and sneakers.
“This was a huge gamble — it’s the biggest place ever I’ve performed,” he added. “I’m usually very comfortable onstage, but I know this will have a bit of a different element to it. This will give me chills. But I’m not really scared of the performance. I’ve been doing this a long time.”
He also feels it’s an appropriate setting to mark his 25th year in show business. He started out playing dives and garages in his home base of Long Beach. “Five years ago, I played Staples Center, and I thought at that time, where do I go from here?” Iglesias said. “Dodger Stadium is a great way to celebrate 25 years. A good, solid number.”
After selling out the May 7 date, Iglesias added a May 6 show titled “Fluffy on the Field,” which will be a bit more intimate, with seating only on the field.
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Said Praw: “We really were looking to make the festival a huge LA civic event and thought, wouldn’t it be great to do something at Dodger Stadium? There’s a very small list of comedians that could pull that off, since it’s never been done before. The first person we called was Gabe. He has roots in the community, and we think of this as a real homecoming. There’s something innate about his energy and the energy he brings out in his crowds that makes it a perfect fit for this historical moment in comedy.
“I’ve been working in this business for about 18 years,” Praw added, “and I’ve thrown a lot of shows. I once worked with Gabe at the Sydney Opera House. To this day, it was the loudest I’ve ever heard a crowd be for a comedy show. To pull off a show at Dodger Stadium, you need to be an artist that can marshal that kind of energy and excitement.”
No one keeping tabs on Iglesias’ momentum would be surprised that he’s reached superstar status. Among Twitter, Instagram and YouTube, he’s amassed 9.2 million followers. Forbes placed him sixth — the most recent figures available — on its 2019 list of highest-earning comedians, with $22 million. When he occasions a familiar bit at his concerts, fans will chime in with the punchline. Chris Rock has called him the “King of the Mexicans.”
Iglesias’ popularity has been fueled by YouTube videos and voice performances in animated films such as “Coco” and “Space Jam: A New Legacy,” along with his projects on Netflix: “Mr. Iglesias,” a sitcom in which he plays a high school teacher, and particularly his stand-up specials, “One Show Fits All” and “I’m Sorry for What I Said When I Was Hungry.”
Those specials showcase his down-to-earth persona, with Iglesias bantering with folks in the audience as if they were old friends. Topics are wide-ranging — his love for Red Lobster biscuits, debating whether Marvel superheroes are better than DC superheroes and what it’s like to smoke a huge blunt with Snoop Dogg. Family members are also a key focus, especially his girlfriend and his young son, Frankie.
He can also earn a tear or two. A key portion of “One Show Fits All” features his hilarious yet poignant account of his mother meeting Mexican singing legend Vicente Fernández backstage at a concert.
Asked about his connection to fans, Iglesias paused for a moment. It was a few days after the Oscars, when Will Smith’s attack on Chris Rock during the ceremony ignited a massive uproar.
“It’s being vulnerable,” he finally said. “I let the audience know, Yes, this is working, but I’m not above you. I realize this can go away with one bad tweet, one bad comment, or if you slap someone’s face. People appreciate it when you take the time to tell them you appreciate them being there. It doesn’t take a lot to acknowledge that you’re grateful.”
He also addressed the outsize impact of comedy in the current charged political and social environments.
“Comedy has become a double-edged sword,” Iglesias said. “It’s bigger than it’s ever been, but at the same time, you’re limited in what you can say. Go back and look at those comedians in the TV specials in the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s. There was nothing that could not be said onstage. There was no social media, no internet. Now, you can blast everything to an entire planet. I know without that, my career would not be where it’s at.
“I made a decision early on that I would do a show that you could bring your family to. People can bring their children, their grandparents. No ruffling of feathers. Have an opinion, but keep it light. Keep it friendly. Keep it fluffy.”
As he preps for the big night, Iglesias is ecstatic just to be able to get back onstage and in front of his adoring fans.
“To have a whole year off — I’m not going to lie — I started to get nervous because I started to get comfortable,” he said. “It was the longest break I’ve ever taken. I don’t take vacations. I’m always on the road. Then it became, I love sleeping in, the dogs are happy, I can eat what I want. And that was scary.”
His show will have all-new material. But newcomers to the Fluffyverse may want to do a little homework first.
“My running joke is that if you’ve never seen my shows before, go back and watch my specials, because they’re all connected,” Iglesias said. “It’s like the ghetto version of ‘The Avengers.’ It’s a continuation of what’s going on with my family, my friends. Some stuff about COVID—the pros and cons. More cons than pros.”
Iglesias has a few more things in the works, including an animated project and a pilot with NBC, but Dodger Stadium is a clear high point. The question has been broached on how to top it.
“Well, the word ‘retirement’ actually came up at one point,” Iglesias said. “If this special is the greatest thing ever, maybe we’ll do another one. Perhaps a tour of football stadiums. Who knows? Maybe Elon Musk will call and say, ‘You want to go to space and tell some jokes?’”