I realize I'm stating the obvious here but stand up comedians have two main elements by which their acts succeed or fail: their material and their on-stage persona. It's the rare comedian who manages to deliver both elements in equal measures. Gabriel Iglesias is not one of those comedians. His material is fairly average but he delivers it with an energetic, mischievous persona that elevates his act and makes it more entertaining than you would imagine.
This release captures Gabriel's performance at the Plaza Theatre in El Paso, Texas before a full audience of adoring fans. After a few establishing shots of the theatre, we go right into the show as Gabriel practically bounds out onto the stage in shorts and one of his signature Hawaiian shirts. The stage is brightly lit and is set against a background of the El Paso cityscape. Of course none of that matters because my eyes were immediately locked on the endless ball of energy that is Gabriel. Before I go any further, let me address the, ahem, elephant in the room. Based on the title and cover image of the release, you can see that Gabriel is a guy whose words carry some weight. He casts a large shadow. He could never vanish into thin air. I guess what I'm driving at is that he's a big guy. However, I would never dare call him fat because according to his own rating scale, he's fluffy (more on that later). For the sensitive folks in the room, if you thought my previous unfunny fat jokes were in poor taste, rest easy knowing that I'm no beanpole myself and Gabriel definitely owns his girth pushing it front and center into his act.
I just mentioned Gabriel's fatness rating scale and it's worth explaining because it happens to be his signature routine. In earlier specials, Gabriel mentioned that there were in fact 5 levels of fatness: Big, Healthy, Husky, Fluffy and Damn. In the interest of furthering the routine, Gabriel introduces a 6th level called Oh Hell No! He mines comedy gold from drawing the line that somebody has to cross before exiting Damn territory and entering Oh Hell No! land. It's no surprise that this bit is as successful as it is considering he's had some time to hone it. Besides this bit, a large number of Gabriel's stories make reference to his size either directly or peripherally. The operative word in that sentence is 'stories'. Unlike a lot of comedians, Gabriel likes to develop his bits, slowly spinning them into humorous yarns. The effect of this approach is that there are fewer guffaws but plenty of chuckles along the way. This isn't really a cause for concern because Gabriel never lets the act slip into tedium. With an expressively cherubic face, a surprising physicality and an array of funny vocal impressions, he ensures that even the weaker material brings a smile to your face.
I've already alluded to the weakness of some of Gabriel's material but it's worth expanding on. A number of his bits revolve around subjects that are well worn targets in this day and age. He cycles through topics like drinking, puberty, junk food, relationship foibles and of course poop jokes. No single bit was unfunny enough to sink the show for me but I look forward to Gabriel working with fresher material in the future. Far more bothersome for me were the moments of earnest hero worship and Gabriel's insistence on approachability that threatened to occasionally derail the show. Early in the show, Gabriel's fondness for Paul Rodriguez becomes quite apparent. He tells a number of stories of them hanging out together. At first it seems adorable but pretty soon it turns into an exercise in name-dropping. Later, he mentions to the crowd how they should never hesitate to stop him in public, insisting that he's the same guy offstage as he is during his act. I was expecting him to undercut this pandering with a joke but it never really came. I can see what he's trying to do. He's trying to be a populist comic by being best friends with his fans. Perhaps I'm too much of a cynical bastard but I find excessive earnestness cloying and think that it can cause a comic to lose his edge.