Ever since A&O Productions announced Julio Torres would open the group’s second stand-up show, headlined by Michael Che and co-sponsored by NSTV, I’ve struggled to describe Torres’ comedy to my friends. Sometimes I’ll just call Torres’ style “kind of weird,” but that’s not nearly enough to describe the writer-comic who recently started writing for Saturday Night Live.
That’s part of why I wanted to talk with Julio Torres – I wanted to know what he thought of his own style. In a phone conversation Monday, just a few days before his stand-up show in Tech auditorium, I got a response.
“I should know the answer to this by now,” Torres said. “It definitely could be categorized as offbeat, or definitely falling into the ‘alt’ scene category … I think it’s a little more theatrical.”
That’s fair, I thought. A lot of what I’m into is alternative, and I’ve called Torres “alternative” before. But it still didn’t feel complete.
Since he’s started writing for SNL, Torres has become known for a distinct style of sketches. One of his first notable ones, a digital short called “Diego Calls His Mom,” features Lin-Manuel Miranda as an immigrant on the phone with his mother. Mostly in Spanish, he tells her everything he’s seen so far in North Dakota: marshmallow salad and “big mounds of yellow and orange food,” Wal-Marts and 7-Elevens, carpeted everything, the attractive quarterback Preston. It’s not ROFL funny – you’ll definitely laugh, but it’ll also make you think.
“A lot of the things that I think about are, ‘What’s going on inside that brain and what’s going on inside that little page or that little world?’” Torres said. “I like making pieces feel as specific as possible.”
That’s also what sets apart Torres’ political sketches – namely, “Melania’s Moments” and “Through Donald’s Eyes,” about the first lady and president. The former is a series of short vignettes of Melania Trump’s life, like waking up and knowing that “her replacement” was just born in Latvia. In particular, Torres said, he was intrigued by Melania Trump because of “how little we know of her.” And the latter sketch, as the name implies, walks through a day of Donald Trump as president as he sees it. (Of course, Trump is played by John Cena here, not the usual Alec Baldwin.)
Both of these examples keep with a sort of theme in Torres’ sketches of focusing on people – from Diego to the Donald.
“I think I’ve always been interested in an outsider’s point of view, and whenever I comment on someone, I’m stepping into their skin as opposed to, like, pointing at them,” Torres said. “So even with someone I don’t like, like the president, my first idea is always, ‘What’s happening from inside them?’”
And this carries over to Torres’ stand-up routines. (After all, he will be opening for Che, an SNL “Weekend Update” anchor and writer who he called “very sharp” and “very smart.”) While he said he can’t just turn stories about things that happen to him into a stand-up bit, most of his stand-up does focus on the personal: lamentations about losing friends over becoming vegan or figuring out what to buy a straight man as a present, for instance.
“[In stand-up], I can go ahead and make references that are extremely niche and not care,” Torres said. “Also, there’s the key difference of me talking for myself.”
“Talking for myself” – that comes back to the SNL sketch that introduced me to Torres, and perhaps his most acclaimed work with the show so far. It’s called “Wells for Boys,” and at first glance, it’s a satirical ad. What for? A well, for “contemplative boys” to sit by as they “wait for adulthood.” When I asked Torres whether he’d want a well for boys, his answer, as I had guessed, was a confident “absolutely.”
“I consider that one to be a very personal piece,” Torres said.
“Wells for Boys” might encapsulate the most of Torres’ style. That’s why I show it to people when I explain Torres – not only is it my favorite of his work, but it’s also just so … him.
And why? “Wells for Boys” isn’t from “an outsider’s point of view.” Instead, it’s about the outsider. That’s what I came to realize brings together much of Torres’ comedy – what he called “otherness.” Torres calls himself a Space Prince, and to conclude our conversation, I asked one more question that’s been on my mind for a while: Why?
“That just came about by owning my otherness,” Torres said. “I wasn’t born in this country, and then [I’m] different in many other ways, and that I think is just a celebration of that. Which is a lot of where my comedy comes from.”
I finally get the answer I had been searching for: otherness. If we’re not immigrants, then maybe we’re queer or alternative or even vegan. Regardless, Torres’ comedy might help us celebrate that.
Julio Torres will open for Michael Che at a stand-up event presented by A&O Productions and Northwestern Student Television. The event takes place at 8 p.m. on May 24 at Tech auditorium, with doors opening at 7 p.m. Tickets for students are $5.