Best of 2017 (Behind the Scenes): SNL writer Julio Torres breaks down his Avatar sketch, 'Papyrus'
'Was it laziness? Was it cruelty?'
Julio Torres doesn’t appear on Saturday Night Live as a weekly performer, but the writer and comedian is one of the show’s most influential contributors. Ahead, how Torres came up with his breakout viral short about the title font of Avatar.
If you pay attention, you can almost always identify a Julio Torres sketch on Saturday Night Live. Think about 2016’s “Melania Moments,” or Melania’s reappearance in “Customer Service” or the infinitely quotable “Wells For Boys”: They operate by distinct, melancholy dream logic, bittersweet but dotted with spot-on specifics that stick in your head until the next time you see a Torres sketch.
Torres had a massive, viral moment during Ryan Gosling’s SNL episode in September with “Papyrus,” a sketch that centers on a man driven insane by the fact that Avatar, the biggest blockbuster of all-time, used the default font Papyrus for its logo. “He just highlighted ‘Avatar.’ He clicked the drop-down menu, and then he just randomly selected Papyrus,” Gosling’s character laments to his therapist. “Like a thoughtless child, just wandering by a garden, yanking leaves along the way.”
Now, with four Avatar sequels currently in production with a budget of over $1 billion and a theme park in the works at Disney, it feels appropriate for us to revisit the iconic sketch with its creator.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You had actually tweeted about Avatar using Papyrus back in May. Were you thinking of it as a sketch then?
JULIO TORRES: That was actually like a throwaway joke. I was using it in my standup for a couple of weeks, and then when I was talking to Ryan Gosling about what I was thinking about writing for that week, he was like, “Well what about that Papayrus thing?” and I was like, “Well, I don’t think that can be anything beyond a sentence.” But then I just sort of thought about it and I was like, “Oh, I think it can be.”
So Ryan was immediately on board?
Yeah. He was just so committed and finding the intricacies of this man that he developed a whole character around it.
So did you figure out if they actually used Papyrus or not?
It’s not actually Papyrus. And it’s addressed in the video, that the starting point was Papyrus but then they probably modified it.
But they are pretty close. It’s kind of ridiculous when you consider how much money they spent on the rest of this movie.
Yeah! I remember it coming out, and thinking, “This can’t be the movie they’re talking about. This cannot be what this man has been working on for years. This is something else. This can’t possibly be the very, very expensive movie.” And no one else was bothered by it!
How do you feel about all of the sequels happening?
I’m not clear — are they actually making sequels?
They’re making like, four sequels.
I’m assuming the logo is the same. I don’t get it. I don’t really have much of a memory of the movie itself, it’s just the logo was retained in my mind for a while — that that was the choice, a thing that I could buy from my computer. And I have heard rumors — and these are all rumors — that Cameron insisted that it had to be Papyrus, and the designers were like, “Well, what if… here are these other options.” And he was like, “No.” Which might just be a fabrication but I love to imagine this man being like, “Absolutely not. It must be this font.”
What was the schedule like to actually shoot the sketch?
It was shot all in one night. It was shot by Dave McCary, who has directed pretty much everything I’ve written here, and he also does the Kyle Mooney and Beck Bennett videos; he’s friends with them. And he’s great, and very patient. So we shot it all in one night, which is pretty much how it goes here. What was so great was Ryan was so committed to it, and was so adamant about making it the best thing it could be.