Pop Goes the Comic
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Subversive, deadpan, hipster, artistic — is this the future of millennial comedy?
By Anne Miller
The slim, peroxide-blond man awkwardly steals glances at a notebook in his hand, as if needing a reminder of why he’s there, on stage, before an audience. Julio Torres speaks calmly, with a hint of an accent, like a mysterious stranger dropped into the limelight and unsure how to move. The Brooklyn transplant from El Salvador does bits about hipster artists. “The energy of the neighborhood” inspires him, he says, deadpan. He turned it into poetry.
She’s into fashion
Wants to design jewelry
But like, not even.
He’s surprised that anyone outside of his local borough’s club circuit appreciates his act — expecting the audience to turn on him, and boo him back to Bushwick. But they haven’t turned on him. In fact, he just headlined at Carolines in New York City, about as mainstream as it gets in comedy. And Comedy Central featured him in the first season of its Comics to Watch in November. So how would he describe his appeal? “People who take themselves very seriously, or who would otherwise not have a sense of humor, tend to find me very funny,” he says.
I do really revel in bringing otherness to the table …
Torres grew up the oldest of two kids in San Salvador, the capital city, with a civil engineer dad and a fashion-designer-turned-architect mom. He thought he’d grow up to be an architect, too. Professional funnyman isn’t really a job choice in El Salvador, he says. It seemed like a first-world option that required coming to New York. He followed his Big Apple fantasy to college at the New School, where he studied literature and wrote plays.
“Everything I wrote was always comedic,” he says. He did some not-great video bits. And he came to realize that writing scripts meant relying on other people to carry them off. Why not just rely on himself? So he hit the open mic circuit.
Now 27, he’s lived in Bushwick long enough that the outpost where non-artists once feared to tread now welcomes a serious “bro crowd” to the corner bars (his adjective). He pays the bills by working as an art archivist and designs his own clothes. Every year, on his annual trip back home, he has a tailor create the looks.
On stage his white shirt and expressionless delivery are part of his shtick. Like an Andy Kaufman, in a way — it’s comedy as performance art. Torres says he sees a link between his kind of stage act and pop stardom: a certain look and stage presence. At one recent Manhattan gig, he employed a fog machine.
“I do really revel in bringing otherness to the table and wanting to come across as this holographic creature that comes from who knows where, that has to scan the creatures around him and reveal what’s funny about the world around him.”
“I’m not very interested in being relatable.”
And yet, here he is.
Photography by Mindy Tucker