The first indication that you’re at a good show is the show’s turnout. When I arrived at Gabriel Iglesias’s recent performance at the State Theater, I was packed into a large theater that had rows numbering up to double Bs (apparently, the single letter alphabet was not enough to satiate the needs of the Theatre’s seating). And despite the large amount of seats, there was hardly an empty seat in the house.
Before Gabriel Iglesias actually appeared, however, two openers came in to warm up the crowd. I’m convinced that they were chosen to keep with the themes most often touched upon by Iglesias himself: being overweight and Hispanic. Of course, Iglesias is not actually fat — his motto is “I’m not fat. I’m fluffy.” But you’ll see him sporting XXXXXXL shirts (that’s six X’s). The openers, however, did not measure up.
The first was Martin Moreno, and he managed to get a few laughs out of the crowd, speaking largely about contemporary issues such as Osama Bin Laden’s death, Jesse James cheating on Sandra Bullock and the transition between Myspace and Facebook. To be honest, I hadn’t been keeping up with celeb gossip so I was a little bit lost during some of his jokes. The audience clearly showed similar reservations in their laughter.
Moreno was a blessing compared to the next act, Alfred Robles, who seemed slightly inebriated. Not that I’m blaming him for it, as I’d be nervous doing standup too. But whether it was because of this or because of his comedic talents, his act was merely a series of slightly disjointed punch lines. They held no uniting themes and elicited minimal laughter.
Essentially, Iglesias’s openers served only to show how funny he was in comparison. And boy, did the crowd go wild for Iglesias when he finally came on.
So, what’s so good about Iglesias anyways?
Well, for one thing, his jokes are simultaneously personal and universal. His act is somewhat literary, mainly consisting of personal experiences that jab at something more universal — racism, the assumptions we’ll make about certain social classes, fear of commitment, etc. And I never would have discovered this if the acts before him hadn’t been such a stark contrast.
Iglesias did not try to shock us with the minutiae of his life, which is most definitely quite different from our everyday lives, the big celebrity that he is (zing!). Rather, he speaks to familiar universals, and even said so in his act, “[All my stories] are all real.” And indeed, his stories are not only real, but about real things and themes. They beckon the audience to invest in his stories, much like the best movies do. In this way, I began to recognize standup as an art rather than a piece of entertainment as I watched his act.
Because as harsh as I was about the first comedians, Moreno and Robles, I’ll now admit that I still laughed a little bit during their performances. But the difference between Iglesias and them? It’s the difference between entertainment and art.
Where Moreno and Robles largely tried to shock with crudeness, Iglesias engrossed the audience in the intricacies and realities of surprisingly clean content. The stories that Moreno and Robles exploited for quick laughs, were told by Iglesias with the utmost care and attention. He never misses a beat when it comes to his stories, embellishing on certain details like the types of animals he witnessed at the Saudi Arabian prince’s palace.
It’s not that Iglesias has led a more relatable life than the other comedians. But he manages to find something relatable within his spectacular life whereas Moreno and Robles try to fill their relatively mundane lives with absurdities.
The other thing that makes Iglesias such an engrossing storyteller, and the thing that makes him truly inimitable, is his ability to impersonate. He has a voice for everything he wishes to speak about (including inanimate objects): he has his black voice, his white voice, his Hispanic voice, his girl voice, his upper-class British voice and (my personal favorite) the airplane stewardess voice.
These skills make small happenings of believable substance engrossing. Where Robles was somewhat rushed to arrive at the crazy conclusion to his jokes, Iglesias took his time, extrapolating on certain details, imitating the noises and making impersonations.
And once we’re engrossed in Iglesias’s story, making us laugh is actually very easy. It doesn’t require a punch line. It doesn’t require a constant crudeness. It doesn’t require anything really. His stories are just funny stories in themselves, with unexpected laughs coming from every turn of phrase. And, as an audience, we can’t help but laugh at every word he says because he puts us in such a real and relatable setting.
Lastly, Iglesias seemed to have fun doing standup, actually laughing along with the audience and also allowing for his performance to last thirty minutes longer than planned. Good thing too, because the audience loved every minute of it.