Before Netflix And Stand-Up Specials, Gabriel Iglesias Was A Student In This Long Beach Teacher's Class
By Carla Javier and Chava Sanchez
Comedian Gabriel Iglesias is currently working on the second season of his Netflix show, Mr. Iglesias. In the series, he plays a high school teacher who fights for struggling kids, even as the school tries to kick them out. It's set at Wilson High in Long Beach — which happens to be where Iglesias attended high school in the '90s.
And at the end of the first episode, a dedication to his real-life high school speech teacher, June Garner, appears on the screen. Iglesias writes, "Thank you for believing in me when I didn't believe in myself."
As part of our ongoing series featuring artists and the teachers who changed their lives, LAist tagged along as Garner and Iglesias reunited last month. You can watch a video of their conversation below. In it, Iglesias notices Garner is wearing a Hawaiian shirt, which has become a staple in Iglesias' wardrobe.
"Why are you more dressed like Gabe than Gabe is dressed like Gabe?" Iglesias asks Garner.
"I always get dressed like this," she reminds him.
"Ah," he exclaims. "Now we know where I got the style."
After we turned the cameras off, though, Iglesias produced something he wanted to show Garner; a fifth-place trophy from his high school speech competition. When Garner saw it, she smiled.
Their conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
WHY IGLESIAS WAS IN JUNE GARNER'S SPEECH CLASS IN THE FIRST PLACE
Iglesias: I had gotten kicked off of the football team for being a little too vocal ... and then, next thing I know, I'm looking to see, 'Well, what could I get into? Speech? Well, I got kicked out for talking too much, maybe I will be celebrated in this area.'
Garner: And you were.
Iglesias: And I was. And we had a [speech competition] event tailor made for you where you could write your own stuff.
WHAT IGLESIAS LEARNED FROM GARNER
Garner: When you first started, though, in class you spoke like a rocket. You would do it all really fast, and we had to work on you slowing down.
Iglesias: Slowing down.
Garner: But I'll tell ya, you are the most successful person I can think of that ever came out of the California High School Speech Association. And you were cutting edge because you were one of the very first people to incorporate Spanish and English, and I was so proud of you for that, because that wasn't done.
And, you really started the trend of doing total humor in that event.
Iglesias: It was a routine - a bunch of characters thrown into a blender. A lot of the characters and stuff is what I used the very first time I went on stage and called myself a comic. You gotta figure, from the time I finished high school - '94 - I went up on stage April 10 of '97.
Iglesias: My act was my speech from high school. And I'd only go up there for five minutes, five minutes at a time, until I'd build it up, build it up, build it up. And I was fast then, too. People would always tell me, 'Dude. Just slow down.' It was all nervous energy.
Garner: Do you remember what I used to say about nervousness? Nervousness is just excitement misunderstood.
Iglesias: You're probably the only class that I focused and paid attention in, and not that I was a difficult student, but I was easily distracted or annoyed by most teachers. You were fearless as far as people walking in. You had no problem calling it like you saw it, and just saying, 'Hey, this is what we're going to do. And if you're into it, you're into it.'
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WHAT GARNER THINKS OF IGLESIAS' SHOW
Garner: And then this Netflix thing: I've only watched your first season probably about 12 times. I needed something to give me joy at this point - I'm not gonna cry - but watching you, I don't know. I'm just so proud of you. I'm so proud of you.
Iglesias: Thank you.
WHY IGLESIAS DEDICATED THE SHOW TO GARNER
Iglesias: Believe it or not, this is not the first time I dedicated something to you. My first Comedy Central half-hour special that I did in New York, I had written a dedication to you on it. I know it's there, and if you pause it, you can catch it.
Garner: Aw, that's so sweet.
Iglesias: Yeah, we had lost touch and that was my only way of - it was the least I could do, to at least acknowledge the fact that you were that influential.
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WHAT GARNER THINKS OF IGLESIAS' SUCCESS
Garner: At your [Netflix] premiere [of Mr. Iglesias], this one man came up to me and he said, 'I just want to thank you for giving Gabriel to the world... I saw the dedication.' And I said, 'He would've done it whether I was there, or someone else was lucky enough to walk into that classroom.' I just always felt so lucky to work with you. I feel that way about a lot of people, but it's just so extraordinary. I mean, you're known around the whole world.
Garner: I think it's awesome.
WHAT IGLESIAS' LIFE IS LIKE NOW
Iglesias: Once you get over there to the studio, your name's on everything. There's a parking spot as soon as you pull in. It's got my name on it. It's all cool.
Garner: Oh, that's so cool!
Iglesias: There's a security officer there to tow someone ... you go to craft services. Your name is on everything. 'What do you want? Whatever you need. If we don't have it, we'll get it.' The dressing room - everything's really nice.
Garner: It's so fun to hear about all this, because I'm just your regular run-of-the-mill retired teacher, but to see all the success -
Iglesias: Well, now you've got free time to come to the tapings [of Mr. Iglesias] then, right?
Garner: I would love... I would kill to do that.
Iglesias: You don't have to kill - she don't have to kill. I know a guy.
Garner: (laughing) You know a guy? Oh, okay.
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Comedian Gabriel Iglesias will be performing in Southern California later next month.
This story was produced with help from intern Stephanie Aceves.
Read our other stories in this series:
- Feminist Rock Musician Reunites With The LAUSD Teacher Who Changed Her Life
- He Graduated In '91 And Still Hangs Out With The Art Teacher Who 'Changed My Path'
- Your Art Teacher Deserves Some Love. Nominate Them For A Story
- 'Art Saved Me': Your Stories About The Art Teachers That Changed Your Lives
Or you can listen to the radio versions (yes, we do that too!) on KPCC.org:
- We're Sharing Stories of Artists and the Teachers Who Changed Their Lives
- Why Illustrator Rhode Montijo Still Visits His Art Teacher, 28 Years After High School
- We Reunited A Musician With The High School Teacher Who Introduced Her To Patti Smith's Music
Do you have a teacher who changed your life? Tell us about them using the form below.