Trying to describe Julio Torres’s comedy is like trying to capture a shadow. Even if you could do it, it’d be wrong.
The SNL writer and Los Espookys star has developed a voice that’s wistful, melancholic and romantic, and yet strong and confident, with just enough of a pointed bite when needed. Trying to lock his comedy down with words feels like pinning a butterfly inside a frame, as if this almost ineffable beauty is being despoiled by analyzing and categorizing it. Fortunately My Favorite Shapes, Torres’s first comedy special for HBO, defies categorization. It’s nothing like any stand-up special you’ve seen before, but perfectly in keeping with the unique work Torres has created over the last several years.
My Favorite Shapes starts with Torres discussing his favorite shapes. He sits at a conveyor belt that he operates with a foot pedal, presenting different objects and props and describing them in increasingly absurd ways. One is an oval that sadly stares at its reflection wishing it was a circle; another is a random collection of geometric objects that Torres says is an exact scale model of Tilda Swinton’s apartment. At one point we hear excerpts from a cactus’s diary, and anybody who struggles with mental health or self-doubt will relate to it. Most of these descriptions share a tone familiar from Torres’s SNL work, like ”Wells for Boys” and “Diego Calls His Mom”—goofy, sad, and surreal, but a recognizable enough version of real life to make immediate sense.
Torres eventually does stand up and move about the stage, but it never has the energy or pacing of a traditional stand-up set. When he does impressions, they’re not of people but of objects and concepts, like a Britta filter, or the curtain that separates first class from coach. He has a skill for mining the ridiculous out of quotidian objects, almost like he’s updating the bland observation humor of somebody like Jerry Seinfeld into a form of comic magic realism. There’s a bit where he presents shapes of animals he’d like to see at the zoo, and one of them might be the most perfect joke for understanding his point of view: it’s a porcupine who had its quills removed so it wouldn’t injure its lover, and now no longer recognizes itself. Torres loves instilling animals and inanimate objects with the sadness and insecurities of humans, in a way that’s both very specific and yet universal, and also never corny.
Again, if you’ve seen the fantastic Los Espookys or his SNL sketches, you’ll know what to expect from My Favorite Shapes. For anybody else, though, it should be a revelation—the discovery of a fully-formed comic voice that’s utterly of its time and has no clear analogues. Julio Torres might be the funniest person in the world today, and My Favorite Shapes is easily the best stand-up special in recent memory.
My Favorite Shapes by Julio Torres premieres on HBO on Saturday, August 10, at 10:30 p.m. ET.
Senior editor Garrett Martin writes about videogames, comedy, travel, theme parks, wrestling, and anything else that gets in his way. He’s on Twitter @grmartin.