Four years ago, comedian Gabriel Iglesias played Houston, filling a comedy club with an audience of just a few hundred people. This week, Iglesias is back in town and he's playing the Toyota Center with more than 10,000 tickets already sold. What happened in those four years? "I learned how to use Twitter," Iglesias tells us with a laugh. "It sounds like a joke, but it's true. The biggest change has been staying in touch with everybody through Twitter and Facebook."
Iglesias, who has almost 400,000 followers on Twitter, says that while he has some help working with social media, he does the bulk of the tweeting and posting. "I do have somebody that helps me with the social network stuff, as far as what's new and what's hot, but all of the messages and updates, all of that is me.The only way to stay in touch with the people is to talk to them one-on-one."
Iglesias has seen his crowds grow not only in size but in diversity. "At the beginning, the crowds were very much Latin. These days it's half-and-half, half Latin and half everything else. Also, I see lots of ages; I see people bringing their 12-year-olds and other people bringing their grandparents."
Part of Iglesias's universal appeal is the fact that he purposefully steers away from politics and race issues. "I have a clean show; I don't use a lot of profanity. I don't get political, I don't get controversial, I don't come up with any radical statements."
He also doesn't come up with many Spanish-language jokes. "Don't get me wrong," he says, "I acknowledge who I am and where I came from, but that's not my focus. I want to do a show that everybody can relate to. I want to make sure that not just my core audience, but everybody can enjoy the show. If I do use some Spanish, I always follow it up with a quick translation."
This stop in Houston is set to be the largest show Iglesias has ever done. "My record is 10,000 people at the Alamodome. We're hoping that this will break that record. Last time we checked, there were 9,000 tickets sold for the Toyota Center."
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Moving into arenas such as the Toyota Center means Iglesias is physically a little further away from his audiences. It's especially noticeable during the after-show meet-and-greet. "It used to be that I would do a meet-and-greet with the entire theater, but I'm not able to do that anymore. I try to make myself accessible, but I can't shake hands with thousands of people. It's impossible. It's one thing to do a meet-and-greet in a comedy club that only holds 250 people, as opposed to an arena.
"In Houston, there's no way I could meet with the entire arena. We're expecting more than 10,000 people. Sometimes when I'm in town for a few days, I set up a special Fluffy Fan Appreciation Day," Iglesias says, referring to the nickname fans use for him. "Through my social media, I tell all my fans that I'm going to be at a particular restaurant at a particular time. I tell them, 'Anybody that shows up, I'm going to buy you breakfast.' People come out, we take pictures and everybody gets a free breakfast. I call that an eat-and-greet."
Since as many as 300 or more fans sometimes show up at such events, Iglesias ends up with a hefty tab. "It's a drop in the bucket in terms of what it does, keeping me connected to my fans. It goes a long way."
See Iglesias at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the Toyota Center, 1510 Polk. For information, visit the Toyota Center Web site or call 713-758-7200. $29.50 to $67.50.