In reality, Gabriel Iglesias has had a very successful entertainment career: he's led numerous stand-up comedy specials, delivered scene-stealing performances in Magic Mike and Narcos, and voiced characters in major animated films like Coco and UglyDolls. But if he'd chosen a different route, life could have been very different for him. His new Netflix show, Mr. Iglesias, isn't based on a true story, but as the comedian revealed in a behind-the-scenes featurette, he once dreamt of being a teacher when he was a kid. So in a way, the project is kind of like an alternate reality for Iglesias, exploring what might have happened if the famously "fluffy" comedian used his talents to educate in a classroom, rather than making people laugh onstage.
In the show, Iglesias reimagines himself as a history teacher at Woodrow Wilson High School, trying to do the best by his students while working under an indifferent and seemingly inept administrative staff. Of course, the comedian doesn't have any actual teaching experience, but Woodrow Wilson High School in Long Beach, California is a real school, and one that happens to be Iglesias' alma mater. He also told Entertainment Weekly that while Mr. Iglesias isn't an exaggerated version of his life — like Crashing was for Pete Holmes, or Hulu's Ramy is for Ramy Youssef — he did want Mr. Iglesias to look and feel realistic, and for the stories to feel real, too.
"It was important to me that the show be funny but also have substance," Iglesias told the outlet, "My producer Kevin Hench told me in the beginning, 'I really want this show to have corazon [Spanish for 'heart'].' We didn't want this to be a wacky show, but for it to also have feelings."
That heart comes across in the relationship Iglesias' character has with his class, a group of "smart but underperforming" students who've all been written off by Woodrow's bully assistant principal Carlos (The Office's Oscar Nunez). In the classroom, Mr. Iglesias is goofy and fun, but outside of school, he's a fervent advocate for his students — just as a very important teacher was for Iglesias IRL. According to EW, the end of the show's pilot episode includes a message from Iglesias to his former teacher. "This show is dedicated to my high school speech teacher, June Garner," he says. "Thank you for believing in me when I didn't want to believe in myself."
So though Mr. Iglesias and its characters are fictional, the series comes from a very real, emotional place. Yes, the comedian has been telling stories about his life onstage for well over a decade, but Mr. Iglesias allows him to flex his creative muscles in a different, yet still just as personal way. "My character has a lot of emotional and personal baggage that he's working through. Some of it was very personal to me and some of it was Hollywood," Iglesias continued to EW. "But know that I put a lot of things out there. I think people will be surprised about how far we go."