One on One with Julio Torres

One on One with Julio Torres

VMAN speaks to stylish comedian Julio Torres about his ascent from open mics to his own Comedy Central special, debuting October 6.

VMAN speaks to stylish comedian Julio Torres about his ascent from open mics to his own Comedy Central special, debuting October 6.

Photography: Danielle Combs

Text: Christina Cacouris

Julio Torres has been making his mark in the comedy scene, rising from up the ranks from open mics to the prestigious writers room at Saturday Night Live. A transplant from El Salvador, Torres studied English at the New School, and spent time moonlighting as an art archivist to stay in the country while navigating the comedy world. VMAN spoke to Torres about his path in comedy and about his upcoming Comedy Central special, debuting October 6.

Did you always want to be in comedy?

No, I wanted to write film and television and theater and it seemed like New York was the right place to do those things. An English degree felt appropriate and I feel like I was giving myself a bridge to figure out what the next move was going to be. When I graduated, I had knowledge but I had no skills. I had to find a way to stay in the States, and get sponsored for a work visa, so I got a job as an art archivist and I did that for maybe three years, and while I was doing that the standup scene was a logical vehicle to showcase my writing and not need anyone else and not spend any money and do it on my own time.

What were those first shows like?

I first started doing open mics, which is the traditional path of a standup. Those are notoriously terrible always, because you’re performing to an empty room that just has a few people who are comedians waiting to go up and perform. It’s sort of like a communal rehearsal space where no one is paying attention to anyone else. But I felt the rush to succeed in that environment. And also I had the ticking time clock of my work visa as an archivist expiring soon at some point, and the next step I want to take is to be here as a comedian, so I need to get good or acceptable fast so I can get a visa. And that’s what ended up happening.

How did you know that you reached that point that you felt you were really good? Was it based on audience reaction, or your personal satisfaction? 

A little bit of both I guess, it was very rewarding to feel like people were finally listening to me, and the people that I’m meeting are not like me but they are appreciative of what I bring. Through different showcases I ended up meeting a manager and agents, and things picked up from there.

Do you think humor is innate or studied?

No, it’s definitely not studied, because there’s plenty of people who know more about comedy than most comedians. But I think it’s like with everything else, your instincts have to be right and that I think is innate.

You learn how to work with what you have, which is a big lesson. The first time I ever performed standup, it was sort of my impression of how I thought a standup should behave and sound, to the point where I was like leaning in certain ways that I observed standups leaning, and using the cadence that I heard other standups using, and just masquerading as what I thought was the correct way of doing it. And then it wasn’t until I was comfortable in my limitations that I learned how to use those.

And now you have a Comedy Central special.

I’m really excited about it. I feel like that special is a tribute to most of the material that helped me at the beginning, it’s almost like a retrospective of the funny sentences that got me jobs. It’s sort of like a note of thanks to those, to that material. This is the material that suffered at open mics, and is now going to be on TV which is exciting. And then because the material felt a little old to me, I decided that for no reason other than for myself, I wanted to perform alongside a giant glowing crystal, so a friend of mine made this giant crystal that glows when my friend behind the curtain, Lena Einbinder, speaks. The crystal is just sort of my buddy there, as act breaks.

You’ve put a lot of thought into visuals, both for the stage and your personal appearance. 

I’ve always been a very visual person. My mom is an architect and she was a fashion designer in El Salvador for a while. My sister Marta [Torres] is now also a designer, and we always grew up around a really definite aesthetic voice. I remember we had this little apartment that was my first home, and it was a house that was converted with the bottom floor as my mom’s shop and the top floor was where we lived. Everything mattered by the millimeter. She had measured and made furniture where you couldn’t bring anything else to it or it just wouldn’t fit. It looked perfectly beautiful. It was black, white, and touches of red. It was like '80s deco. At the time my mother had a bob and wore bustiers. She’s so cool and my sister has inherited a lot of it.

I grew up always thinking I could do something visual, because I was a visual learner and very into drawing and designing as a little kid. It never had occurred to me that writing or performing or doing comedy was an option. In my school there was no theater club. Since I’ve started doing comedy, I’ve noticed how much humor comes from visuals, so now I’m marrying the two. I’m going into this territory where the comedy is not only verbal but also visual. Coming here and having to use a pay phone and not know what cash back was and all these little things sort of exacerbated a feeling that I’ve had anywhere, which is I am 'other' in some way. I am foreign. I am different, which sometimes has to do with having a foreign passport; sometimes it just has to do with feeling different. So I feel like the appearance component of it is magnifying that I am not from here. That’s how I see it. To the point where when I file my taxes, I’m like “well, the hair is a business expense.” It is! The earring is a business expense. The crystals are business expenses.

I remember someone asked you about the earring, and you said someone once asked if it was an homage to Harry Potter.  

Yes! I was so mad! There’s something that I hate is subscribing to a world that isn’t mine, or just playing by the rules of another creator. For me to be interpreted as “oh because I love Harry Potter” is just… someone once sent me someone’s joke that was about David Lynch and they said “oh this feels like the type of work you would do, except you never mention David Lynch” and I felt like yeah, because I don’t, I like creating my own little universe, and not being, not setting something in Hogwarts or the black lodge. What is the giant talking crystal? Is it a reference to something? No, it’s a reference to something that I came up with.

You’re working at Saturday Night Live, which is a dream job for so many; what else are you looking forward to in the future? Do you think you’ll stay in comedy forever?

Regardless of the medium, it’ll be humorous, in some capacity. I’m at the point where I want to experiment more with my performance. I finally am getting around to starting to write a movie. Check back with me in 10 years when I’m still sort of maybe starting to do that!

BAG DESIGNED BY MARTA TORRES

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