Comedian Gabriel Iglesias Tours Like a Rock Star

in Production Profile

Comedian Gabriel Iglesias Tours Like a Rock Star. Photos by Anthony NunezComedian Gabriel Iglesias is living large. In a 17-year career, his popular stage act, based largely on largeness and Chicano culture, has taken him all over the U.S. and to 20 foreign countries as diverse as Saudi Arabia, Norway, Dubai, Greenland, Australia and Singapore. Having graduated from 200-seat clubs, he routinely sells out venues ranging from 2,500 to 12,000 seats, often adding extra shows to appease the demand.

Comedian Gabriel Iglesias Tours Like a Rock Star. Photos by Anthony NunezThe abundant Iglesias, nicknamed “Fluffy” for his size (“fluffy” is fourth on his six-level weight index that tops out with “oh, hell no!”), has released popular DVDs, appeared in movies, TV specials and commercials, and done voices for animated Disney and Fox features. He produced and hosted the series Stand Up Revolution on Comedy Central and was called a “comedy genius” by the San Antonio Express News. With more than 100 million hits, Iglesias is among the most popular comedian on YouTube. His own movie, The Fluffy Movie: Unity Through Laughter, filmed by Open Road Productions at a San Jose performance, will screen in theaters July 11. All this, plus savvy marketing and social media virtuosity (see fluffyguy.com) has made him un queso grande in the comedy world.

Comedian Gabriel Iglesias Tours Like a Rock Star. Photos by Anthony NunezShining a New Light on Comedy

One contributor to Iglesias’s success has been his innovative approach to lighting a comedy show. He’s come a long way from having a few spots and a wireless mic. Explains tour and production manager Ryan Cornelius, “The concept for the show for the past five years has been to give the audience more than just a run-of-the-mill comedy show with a guy standing in front of a curtain or a brick wall. It should be an experience. We’ve given it a mini rock show feel. We incorporate live Twitter feeds, videos and lighting to bring the audience into our world for a couple of hours. We use two Saturas to rear-project ‘graffiti’ on the brick scrims below the video screens. Four more are placed on the downstage edge, left and right, to project logos, posters and social media tags onto the ceiling and walls of the venue. The last two are hung mid-stage for a ‘painted floor’ effect.” Elation’s Platinum ZFX Pro LED Washes are used for area lighting, with Elation’s Design LED Strip RGBAWs and ELAR 72UV pars for soft goods lighting and Proton strobes for the comedian’s entrance on stage.

Comedian Gabriel Iglesias Tours Like a Rock Star. Photos by Anthony NunezCornelius, whose career has included stints with acts like Peter White, Kirk Whalum, Gerald Albright, Mindi Abair and Anita Baker, has been with Iglesias since 2010. He tries to keep load-ins to four hours with six people. Except for a month off in July, there are shows nearly every Thursday through Sunday, almost always in the evening, followed by load-outs and overnight drives to the next gig. The star, his staff, support acts and the permanent crew of four travel by tour bus, with the gear transported in a 53-foot truck.

Dion Cook, CEO of Sacramento Production & Lighting, is the lighting vendor and designer for the tour. “Our company had done the lighting for Carlos Mencia’s Mind of Mencia tour,” he said. “Gabe’s promoters called up to hire us and get our recommendation for a production manager. We naturally thought of Ryan. As the tour with Carlos was ending, we had just started to try some things with lighting effects,” Cook continues, echoing Cornelius’ observations. “We’d been getting tired of seeing comedians just standing in front of a curtain with a microphone. When Gabe came along, we decided to give it a little bit more. We wanted something that would complement Gabe’s big personality and stage presence and thought a more ‘rock star’ approach would work.”

Comedian Gabriel Iglesias Tours Like a Rock Star. Photos by Anthony NunezHumble Beginnings

Cornelius recalls that the comedian was hesitant about it at first and that the first show with the new look was a disaster. “We didn’t have a clear vision of what, exactly, we were doing,” he explained. “We did two shows that night—the first was a mess and the second was flawless. In fact, Gabriel picked up a microphone on the dark stage and joked that ‘the crew is working on the lights and it might be their last night.’”

“It was a video problem,” Cook added. “We’d been programming files all day, up until when the doors opened. So we made some mistakes, forgot to reboot some things and videos ended up in the wrong places. It was one of those days—a new setup, a new client, programming files on the day of the show, people handing us files up to the last minute, But we got it sorted out by the second show that night, and Gabriel has been very happy with it ever since. He’s even on film saying about Ryan, ‘The first time I met him, he was messing up my show, and now I can’t live without him!’”

Comedian Gabriel Iglesias Tours Like a Rock Star. Photos by Anthony NunezOne factor in the comic’s acceptance of the production design has been that he’s a big fan of Wrestlemania and RAW, even routing his itinerary so he can attend wrestling events in different cities. “He likes the theatrics and show aspects of it,” says Cornelius. “He wants us to incorporate that larger-than-life impression. But there’s a fine line there. We don’t want to go so over-the-top that it takes away from him. In a rock ‘n’ roll show, you want the beams, flares and fog to add to the show and the songs. For a comedian, it’s more like a theatrical set for a play. You can’t have much movement, except for when he’s coming on or off. Gabe’s such a kinetic performer that follow spots are enough, with occasional images or videos inserted on the screens to support something he’s talking about.”

Does the crew end up having to sit through the same jokes every night? “Actually, no,” says Cornelius. “Gabe is constantly working on new material and tweaking things. His humor comes from events in his life or on the road. He reviews tapes of the shows and moves things around, adds new bits and takes others out, sometimes even a couple of minutes right before going on stage. He’s like a quarterback calling audibles to the crew. He doesn’t work from a written script; instead, he’s more like a reporter telling up-to-the-minute stories. It’s always fresh. That’s why people come to his shows over and over. We should call them Fluffyheads!”

Comedian Jerry Rocha on tour with Gabriel IglesiasA Typical Show

As the audience arrives for a Gabriel Iglesias show, the set is lit but dimmed. Elation Saturas with custom gobos impart a “street art” ambience to the venue by putting posters, tour logos and graffiti on the walls. Live Twitter and Instagram feeds run on the screens, along with “Do You Know” slides with fun facts about Iglesias. Then the house lights are cut in half so a video can run, showing a movie trailer (it had been for A Haunted House II with Marlon Wayans, which Iglesias appeared in, but will be replaced by The Fluffy Movie). Following that, the video gives a light-hearted public service announcement about locating the exits, finding the restrooms, being respectful of other audience members, not recording and the like.

Lighting and Set Designer Dion Cook from Sacramento Production & LightingNext, the video introduces Gabriel’s longtime emcee, Martin Moreno. The set lights up, spotlights flash and pan, and the show begins. Moreno does his set and introduces the individual warm-up acts (usually three or four), each of whom gets a fanfare of lights and his own color palette and slides on the set. Moreno returns and does a humorous pitch for Iglesias merchandise, followed by intermission and dimming of the stage. Music plays, a visual countdown timer starts and a video highlights and bloopers reel plays, showing the comedian in action at various locales around the world. Moreno returns to the stage and runs a contest with audience members to give away tee shirts (available in sizes up to 10X) and other swag. This acts as a buffer to settle the audience for the arrival of the star. The house goes dark, the crowd begins chanting “Fluffy! Fluffy!”, build-up video and music rolls, strobes flash, the set lights up and moves into place, the kabuki drops, the backlight hits and Iglesias bounds onto the stage. He dashes from side to side, slapping hands with the lucky fans in the front row, then establishes himself at center stage. The set behind him remains relatively static, with the original brick alley look, his logo in UV paint, graffiti, and Twitter and Instagram hash tags that the audience can use. The overall impact is stunning. After three hours, replete with impressive set design and lighting effects, video, music, and very funny comedy, the audience has not just seen a show, it has had an experience.

From left, Nick Robledo, Geoff Hidden, Ryan Cornelius and Hunter PipesEverything is controlled in real time on a Mac mini running QLab, which handles all the video and audio playback and sends MIDI cues to the Hog console to trigger the lights. This way, programmer/operator Hunter Pipes only has to handle a stack of cues and sync lights without video cues. Further, the order of events in the show can be changed on the fly in QLab and the Hog will automatically follow.

Iglesias himself sums it up best: “It takes me from doing an ordinary comedy set to feeling like a comedy rock star. The audience gets that ‘OMG, I wasn’t expecting this!’ feeling. I walk out to cheers and a standing ovation, whereas, in the old days, I was lucky if they pronounced my name right. This lighting crew is great. I couldn’t go back to regular lighting now—it’d be like working with a flashlight!”

Gear

1         HES HedgeHog 4 Console

1         HES Midi LTC Hog Widget

1         Elation eNode 4

1         Elation eNode 8

1         Elation EWDMXT transmitter

8         Elation Satura LED Spots with 48 custom high-res glass gobos

6         Elation ZFX PRO LED Wash fixtures

12          Elation Design LED Strip RGBAW fixtures

2         Elation Proton strobes

2         Elation ELAR 72UV Pars

12         Elation SPL LED Flat Pars

4         Custom-built LED “Barn light” set practicals

4         90W LED CI 90 Beams

Crew

Lighting & Set Designer: Dion Cook

Production/Tour Manager: Ryan Cornelius

Production Supervisor/FOH Engineer: Geoff Hidden

Programmer: Hunter Pipes

Production Assistant: Nick Robledo

Lighting Provider: Sacramento Production & Lighting (sacproduction.com)


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