VMAN Exclusive: Julio Torres Shifts Shape

VMAN Exclusive: Julio Torres Shifts Shape

Fresh off "My Favorite Shapes," comedy's alt-prince rocks his boldest silhouettes yet.

Fresh off "My Favorite Shapes," comedy's alt-prince rocks his boldest silhouettes yet.

Photography: Augusto Silva Alliegro

Styling: ANGEL EMMANUEL

Text: SAMUEL ANDERSON

Julio Torres's now-streaming HBO special, My Favorite Shapes, is a comedy show crossed with a postmodern penthouse tour. From a lucite dais, Torres presides over a literal conveyor belt of curiosities, starting with shapes canon (a square) and building toward the esoteric (the letter “E”), carefully attending to each with an oddball backstory. 

At one point, Torres, dressed in a custom metallic jumpsuit, suggests he has no control over the order in which his mildly haunted show-and-tell unfolds. In a routine that also includes recasting a plastic ski-slope as an allegory for the middle class, it’s Torres’s least believable claim; as the dark prince of queer-leaning melo-dramedy, the El Salvador-born writer and comic is assuredly the mastermind of his domain. 

Elsewhere, Torres reckons with a label commonly ascribed to his space-prince schtick: that of being “too niche.” But his A24-produced HBO special, a badge of quasi-mainstream success in itself, offers further evidence of so-called alt-comedy’s expanding sphere of influence: Lending their voices to a few of Torres’s most crucial “shapes” are Lin-Manuel Miranda, as Cactus, Ryan Gosling, as Blue Penguin, and Emma Stone as Shoe—decidedly non-niche allies he’s met through his day job writing on SNL.  

All this is not to mention Torres’s recently-renewed HBO comedy series Los Espookys. Before starting work on season two next week, Torres sat down VMAN, reflecting on anti-logo fashion, how immigration woes influenced his style, and satirizing gay porn tropes with Emma Stone.

VMAN Congrats on the special! What has your experience of receiving feedback been like?

Julio Torres It’s been exciting to see that, as oblique as the special might come across, it’s resonating with people. I just read someone saying she went through a similar thing as I did with the letter E, in learning how to write it. And that makes me very happy. It's moving to see how what [might have once] felt hyper-niche or hyper-specific to me are actually not. My way of presenting them may be a little different, but at the core of it, it’s something people can engage with. 

[The weird part] is commuting and seeing my face on the subway, and then just having to quickly walk away from it, so it doesn’t seem like I am just hanging out, [staring at myself]!

VMAN Do you like being in front of the camera? You’re not an on-camera personality on SNL, but your sketches tend to have a very distinct point of view, so your essence is kind of there…

JT It doesn’t not feel uncomfortable to be on camera, having been a standup for a while. I don't see the special as an unveiling of my physical manifestation… But I’ve never thought that the only way I could contribute to the world is by necessarily physically being on camera. I think about scenes in Los Espookys in which I feel very present but I am nowhere to be seen. Sometimes that you can see me, and sometimes you just feel what I want to say. And that is every bit as satisfying. 

VMAN My Favorite Shapes hinges on you being someone who has pretty strong opinions about the aesthetic world around them. Does that extend to you and your self-presentation? 

JT Yeah! I think that, because my mom is an architect and used to make clothes, [I grew up in] a very visually driven [environment]. Everything around us was very purposeful. And so I have never felt passive about what I wear, or been a passive consumer of fashion. I don’t like labels, I don’t like wearing anything that [makes me feel like] an ad… In fact, I think that a t-shirt [with a logo] might be my least favorite thing to wear. Not that I own any… [Instead] I sketch [an idea] and my tailor makes it and that is what I wear when I’m performing. 

VMAN So, you have go-to a tailor? 

JT Yeah! I have tailor in El Salvador who makes a lot of what I wear, once me, my mom, or my sister designs it. I like that I’ve developed this network of people who can help bring [my ideas] to reality. As I speak to you I am resting on a couch that my friend made for me… I hate the lifestyle of wearing the latest “whatever,” or worse, the latest “status symbol.” The clothes that I wear happen to be cheap; the fabrics are all very accessible. I feel the same way about my veganism: I am vegan, but I hate how utterly impossible it is for most people to be vegan, because of how expensive it is.

VMAN How long have you been a vegan? 

JT Since 2013. Which was actually around the same time that I started doing comedy. I was like, "I am going to be a vegan, I am going to wear all black, and I am going to do comedy." 

VMAN Really! Was there a single event that spurred those decisions? 

JT Yeah, Definitely. I was at the tail-end of my student visa here in New York and I was scrambling to find a work visa. And that limbo [forced me] to become just this purposeful robot; “I have to become a writer by yesterday.” And standup seemed like the quickest way to do that. And I didn't want to be distracted by anything, so I would wear all black. Now, of course, I have come to completely embrace clothes and colors, because now I feel I can afford the time to do it.

VMAN You’re also seemingly totally self-possessed in your comedic choices. One example that comes to mind is your SNL sketch, “The Actress,” in which Emma Stone plays an extra who’s “cheated on” in a gay porn, and takes the role incredibly seriously. What was it like to pitch and execute that idea?   

JT The trope of a woman being cheated on in a gay porn had been in my head for a while—for almost a year, I think—but I never really knew what to do with it. When we heard Emma was coming back to host the show, [SNL co-writer] Bowen Yang and I were like, “What about this?” She was really into the idea, and the show really liked it, so it just fell into place. I’m [also] very proud that we cast [actual adult performers] as well. One was a friend of mine, from the same sort of Brooklyn community as me, who just so happens to be a funny person. I think that’s why it worked. 

VMAN Did you have a similar experiences writing for Ryan Gosling and Lin-Manuel Miranda? That they got your humor off the bat?

JT Yeah, absolutely! It was very collaborative in that way, where they each not only [understood the characters] but also brought something new [to flush them out] in a way that only they could. Not just doing the thing they were supposed to do, but also making it so much better.

VMAN Have you always been a decisive person? Someone who sets goals and finds themself able to achieve them? 

JT I have always been a very stubborn person. You know, being from El Salvador and deciding that you want to immigrate to the hardest place to [do so], which is the U.S., because they have always made it so hard... Then to go to the most expensive city within that country, New York. Those were two very inflexible goals that I had for myself. But along the way I have found people who welcomed and championed me. Be it small scale—a roommate spotting my rent when I am a struggling comedian. Or the grand people in comedy allowing me to exist in their spaces. I have always been lucky in that way.

Top and Pants Telfar   Cape Moschino   Shoes Giuseppe Zanotti   Rings Daniella Kronfle   Bracelet and Necklace (worn as belt) Ippolita  Necklace Queenie Cao Jewelry   Earring Empty Jewels
Credits:
Groomer Melissa Dezarate (The Wall Group)  Photo Assistant Madeleine Thomas  Stylist Assistant Jose Criales-Unzueta  Set Assistant Cameron Cox

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