Clad in a Captain America T-shirt, comedian Gabriel "Fluffy" Iglesias nurses an all-nighter with a dairy-free, gluten-free, vanilla bean milkshake at a vegan restaurant in the Cahuenga Pass.
It's a departure from the Iglesias many fans have seen on his Comedy Central specials, DVD concerts and YouTube clips. One: because he's not wearing his signature Hawaiian shirt. And two: He's lost about 100 pounds since a diabetes-related health scare in 2012.
He reaches for a sample of another vegan shake on the table: "I heard it was going to taste like vanilla and something else." He tried to go vegan for a month last year to improve his health. A sip later: "Still tastes like grass. But if I can do tequila, I can do that."
The 38-year-old Latino Long Beach native — known for his personal storytelling and animated voices in his stand-up acts — comes to viewers in another form in "The Fluffy Movie," a concert film that opened Friday in roughly 400 theaters and hopes to follow in the footsteps of Kevin Hart's "Kevin Hart: Let Me Explain" 2013 concert movie, which grossed more than $32 million. ("Fluffy" took in $1.3 million in its opening weekend.)
"The Fluffy Movie," which borrows the moniker Iglesias gained through his trademark joke, "I'm not fat, I'm fluffy," showcases Iglesias in his element: commanding the stage at the SAP center in San Jose in front of a crowd of 18,000, a giant replica of the Golden Gate Bridge behind him.
"I can't remember the last time I played for 75 people. What a problem to have," Iglesias says between sips of his shake, referencing his intimate concert the previous night at the Westside Comedy Theater in Santa Monica. "Poor guy," he adds in the high-pitched voice he uses frequently on stage when telling stories.
Iglesias' ability to draw a crowd to his shows — which typically open with a crowd chorus of "Fluffy! Fluffy!" — stems not only from his performance on stage but what might be known as his "digital comedic presence." He attributes his career to YouTube, as well as his personal addiction to Twitter, Facebook and other social platforms, where he regularly interacts with his more than half a million followers. That's helped him bring in $11 million in 2013 and tie with Daniel Tosh — who's had his own show "Tosh.0" on Comedy Central for five years — for the No. 9 spot on Forbes' list of top-earning comedians.
"I would not have the career I have without social media, I wouldn't have even a piece of it," Iglesias said. "Back in the day, the biggest comics that were out there were a Richard Pryor or an Eddie Murphy who got a concert film, but that was only played in the U.S. Whereas now, I can take a 10-minute stand-up comedy clip, I put it online, I send it out through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and I could have 5 million views in probably a week."
Iglesias is one of a new generation of comedians building stardom through the Internet, including such comedy superstars as Louis C.K. and Jeff Dunham. But adding a traditional concert movie to his résumé allows him to join the legends that inspired his work, as well as, he hopes, enter a "new category" by bringing his comedy to a wider audience.
Iglesias discovered stand-up at the age of 10 thanks to Eddie Murphy's 1987 film "Raw," which he rented while his mom was at work. "I must have watched it, like, 30 times," Iglesias said.
After working in telemarketing — where he practiced his accents — and as a cellphone salesman, Iglesias first took to the stand-up stage in 1997 at a club in Long Beach, filling in for an absent MC and booking a paid gig at the club's comedy night the next week.
A 2006 stint on NBC's competition show "Last Comic Standing" turned into two DVD specials as well as his own two-season show on Comedy Central, "Stand-Up Revolution," starting in 2011. But he still says it's YouTube that gained him his real career.
Unlike many in the stand-up world, Iglesias' wide-appealing comedy stays mostly clean, featuring extended vignettes from his life. The name "Fluffy" transcends his appearance, describing also his gentle voice and calm demeanor. His non-threatening material and sweet persona appeals to audiences of all ages and seems genuine.
"Look at those cute dogs," he exclaims like an excited fourth grader as a woman pushes a stroller into SunCafe with tiny Chihuahuas peeking their heads out. He's quick to flash a photo on his phone of the three dogs he owns.
His on-stage tales alternate between hilarious and difficult moments: managing his diabetes, raising a teenage stepson, getting drunk with his friend Martin and reuniting with his father, who left his family when he was a child.
"In the beginning, I didn't put much of my personal life into it. I was just trying to do voices and characters, and little by little I just started putting a little bit of my personality into it," Iglesias said. "I can probably vent better on stage than I can offstage."
His fans partake in his confessional style too, often revealing their own struggles to the comedian after shows. He'll often stay long after his performances to talk to them, staying at the Santa Monica venue until 2 a.m.
"Experiences might be difficult as you go through them, but Gabriel might bring some levity to it, which is really a great experience for an audience," "Fluffy Movie" director Manny Rodriguez said in a phone interview.
Iglesias has taken to the big screen before this with films including a bit part in "Magic Mike" as the club's DJ, a role that he will reprise in the coming sequel. But Iglesias says he isn't looking for a scripted career.
"I've had the opportunity to do sitcoms, I've been offered deals, but it's not as fun and it's not as fulfilling. Comics want to do sitcoms and they want to do movies so that when they go somewhere they sell tickets," Iglesias said. "Through social media, I've managed to bypass the Hollywood part where I don't have to do that."
After draining his milkshake, he's ready to bypass the untouched vegan fare on the table too. He looks to his publicist with puppy-dog eyes.