Julio Torres, the SNL writer behind 'Papyrus' and 'The Actress,' gets own HBO comedy special
Eddie Murphy. Billy Crystal. Adam Sandler. Chris Rock. Will Ferrell. David Spade. Norm Macdonald. Sarah Silverman. They were all on Saturday Night Live, and they all had their own HBO comedy special.
Now there’s another to add to the list. Julio Torres will headline his first hour-long comedy special on the network this summer, EW can reveal exclusively. Taped this week at Elsewhere in Brooklyn, My Favorite Shapes by Julio Torres is executive-produced by his SNL boss Lorne Michaels and show alum Fred Armisen, who also writes, produces, and stars alongside Torres in his upcoming HBO series Los Espookys.
Technically, Torres isn’t on NBC’s late-night comedy institution, but he’s been a writer there since 2016 and is responsible for some fan-favorite sketches, including the Avatar sketch “Papyrus” (where Ryan Gosling’s character had to seek therapy about his distress over the use of that font for the billion-dollar movie’s logo), “Melania Moments,” “Wells for Boys,” and most recently, “The Actress” (above) starring Emma Stone as, well, an actress trying to find the backstory for character — a woman who’s cheated on in a gay porn.
But you may recognize Torres’ from appearances on Late Night with Seth Meyers, or The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, where has played a holiday correspondent on a few occasions, but also performed his own stand-up comedy. In My Favorite Shapes, described as a “multimedia comedy show,” the El Salvador-born comic “explores his favorite shapes,” per an HBO press release, including a plexiglass square, a triangle, a self-conscious cactus, and a Ferrero Rocher chocolate “that Julio is mad at because she left her little skirt at home” (more from Torres on that below) — all serving as a springboard for jokes, anecdotes, and strangely sensational stories.
“Julio is an incredible talent who challenges comedy conventions with his unique style of humor,” said HBO executive vice president Nina Rosenstein. “My Favorite Shapes is so truly imaginative and one-of-a-kind.”
Right after filming the special, Torres chatted with EW via email to give some more insight into his show, how writers are also becoming SNL stars, and his upcoming series Los Espookys.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Where did your fascination with shapes start?
JULIO TORRES: My mother is an architect, she also designed clothes when I was a kid, so I think I inherited that. We had a small home, so every inch mattered. She designed her own clothes, and a lot of our furniture were her creations too. She’d make fun of bad design, passing judgment on anything that was too ornate, which always made me laugh.
What to you is “funny” about shapes? When and how did you realize this was uncharted territory and a great way “in” for your comedy?
I like that the composition of something can be funny by itself. My favorite moments of this show are when an object is funny and my commentary just reinforces it. I enjoy when something is funny but we don’t fully understand why. Like in the case of a single Ferrero Rocher being delicately placed on a surface by a tender hand (mine).
The first time I did this… “object comedy” it felt organic and easy in the way that storytelling feels organic to other comedians. Plus, I’m coziest when nested in metaphor.
Some of your stories and anecdotes are rather unique in nature, while others are more personal. What comes first – the shape or the joke? Does the shape inspire the story, or do you choose your shapes after crafting the jokes and stories you want to tell?
Sometimes a shape was cast to play a part that was written, but sometimes I met very talented shapes and just gave them the space to tell their stories.
Many would say getting an HBO stand-up special is a rite of passage for comics – how did this happen? Did you pitch it? Did HBO offer? Did Lorne Michaels ask if you wanted to do it? Take us through that, and your emotions upon finding out it was actually going to happen.
I’m afraid it’s not a fascinating Hollywood tale! I had the show, I liked it, and so did HBO. I’m very excited to be doing it, and over the moon that Dave McCary (an SNL segment director who collaborated with Torres on his popular sketches “Papyrus” and “Wells for Boys) is directing, that my mother and sister co-designed the set, and that my friend Sophie Parker made the many gorgeous dioramas you’ll see.
How was the night of the taping? Did you experience more nerves than usual? Anything in particular that you won’t ever forget?
Same amount of nerves. A healthy amount I think? Seeing the chair my mom designed on stage was a beautiful moment. I thought, oh wow, now that chair is a star.
There is a growing fandom around SNL writers – you are, of course, known for “Wells for Boys,” “Papyrus,” “Melania Moments,” “The Actress,” and more. As someone who is funny both in front of and behind the camera, is it a dream to hopefully make the leap to SNL cast member or do you feel your specific talents are best served behind the scenes there?
I am so happy I’ve gotten to do those pieces. I think I’m at my happiest when creating (or co-creating!) something. Sometimes that something benefits from my physical manifestation, sometimes not.
It’s worth noting that Dave [McCary] has been a close and dream collaborator.
“The Actress” was set around gay porn (though, of course, it was so much more than that) … “Wells for Boys” has a humorous take on perceptions of masculinity. Were you surprised that either got through and appeared in the live show? How do you feel representation has changed in recent years, and how does that inspire and encourage your own comedy?
I do what I do and sometimes that matches with what people want to see. I’ve been very encouraged to do work that feels true to me there. That has been invaluable. A couple of those pieces were done with queer friends at the show too!
What are you most excited for audiences to see with the premiere of your HBO series Los Espookys?
Ana Fabrega playing Tati! And gorgeous shots of a pool and some very glossy lips.
We’re seeing non-Spanish-speaking audiences embrace that programming – what are the stories you’re telling and who do you hope to reach? (Also – what’s the best way to watch? Are there subtitles? Will it also be available dubbed into English? If dubbed, are you and the other actors doing all of that?
Los Espookys is for anyone willing to hold and inspect a curious, warm show. There are subtitles, yes. That’s an important part of our editing process right now. Ana lost a couple of capital letter T’s from the box HBO gave us for the whole season so there won’t be any T’s in the finale. (That’s not true — I think that would work if you’d hear me say it.)
No dubbing! We’re inviting audiences into this world we’ve created, which is both familiar and foreign to both English- and Spanish-speaking audiences.
My Favorite Shapes by Julio Torres will premiere this summer on HBO; Los Espookys premieres June 14. Saturday Night Live returns May 4 with first-time host and series alum Adam Sandler and musical guest Shawn Mendes.
The original late-night comedy sketch show from the one and only Lorne Michaels.