Gabriel Iglesias doesn’t so much tell jokes as act them out like classic radio plays, inhabiting various characters with a snappy, head-spinning precision that would make most vocal actors jealous. It tends to render the physical side of his shows less essential than his rubbery, high-pitched voice, but his on-camera persona at least adds a certain sports-mascot joviality to the proceedings. His latest special, Aloha Fluffy, refines that colorful persona while building on the mountainous inventory of stories that have made him a touring gold mine.
Like Dane Cook, there’s an aesthetic unity to Iglesias’s work that positions him as a marketing department’s wet dream. He’s got a logo, a theme song and a catchphrase (“I’m not fat; I’m fluffy!”). He usually appears on camera in Hawaiian shirts, and his overweight silhouette is applicable to all manner of merchandise (talking dolls, children’s apparel, etc.). It makes him seem light and accessible, like a plastic toy that pays for itself a hundred times over, but it’s not exactly the built-to-last stuff of Carlin or Pryor.
Still, it’s a masterstroke for Iglesias to record his latest special at Honolulu’s Hawaii Theatre Center, since the laidback, tropical context meshes beautifully with his existing brand. And because Aloha Fluffy is being released at the height of Iglesias’s popularity, Comedy Central has taken the rare step of premiering it in two parts, while the DVD/Blu-ray offers a two-and-a-half-hour version that includes the opening set, an encore and behind-the-scenes footage.
Iglesias begins by playing to the locals and eviscerating clueless Hawaiian tourists, giving him a chance to explore his vast vocal range. While his “regular” speaking voice sounds like a stereotypical SoCal Latino, Iglesias can switch to a teenage white girl, gay dude, Singapore police officer or British newscaster in a millisecond. Whether he’s recounting tales of his world travels, mocking/praising his Mexican heritage or describing a “racist gift basket,” it’s easily his strongest attribute.
His setups stray into insider references, but it’s overall justified considering the broad fan base he’s cultivated. No one would mistake Aloha Fluffy for the work of anyone other than Iglesias, where darkness is in short supply and tense moments always end amicably. When he tells the story of introducing his white-looking girlfriend to his Mexican mother, he lays out her tirade like a Devo keyboard riff: quick, stabbing and implicitly bug-eyed. When he talks about raising his deodorant-averse stepson, or being pigeonholed as a fat, “Southwest” comedian during his early touring days, he does so with a directness that defuses the pain he likely felt in being judged for his weight and race.
As Iglesias proved with his surprisingly solid turn in Steven Soderbergh’s Magic Mike, there’s a lot of range under those giant floral-print shirts. It’s just not always on display in Aloha, which ultimately reveals Iglesias’s biggest limitation: despite the virtuoso voice work and slick packaging, the ideas don’t stick around long after the set has ended.