Julio Torres is apologizing to his fork. Not audibly, no, so the crowd at Sisters bar in Clinton Hill doesn’t hear him. Instead, he gazes at his cutlery, then explains that when he was a boy, he crafted a story about a curvy, feminine spoon running away with a phallic knife. The prickly fork? He served as the cuckolded husband. “I created some narrative that it was some jealous thing,” says Torres with a shrug, “just because the fork was spiky.”
It isn’t just inanimate objects on which the sharp-yet-spacey comic endows an unlikely pathos. The SNL writer is constantly shining an odd light on the ignored or forgotten. Case in point: Los Espookys, which he cocreated with Fred Armisen and Ana Fabrega, another young Brooklyn comedian. Performed in Spanish, with English subtitles, it follows a crew of amateur horror-makeup artists who stage gothic experiences—exorcisms, hauntings—for hire. Despite the blood-soaked packaging, it feels like a workplace comedy.
“It’s almost like he came from another planet,” explains Fabrega of Torres’s studied remove. “But he has such emotional intelligence, too.” Torres chafes when execs separate him from other comics, labeling him a niche act. “A lot of people who make big decisions assume that if something is different, an audience won’t want to consume it,” he says. “My perspective is different, and the way that I say things is different, but there is a humanity there.” Then, with a laugh, he adds: “I think?”
The multihyphenate’s backstory helps to explain some of his proclivities for spotlighting the other. As a queer kid growing up in El Salvador, Torres felt stifled by the strict Catholic culture and was determined to move to NYC. After earning enough scholarship money to attend the New School, he nabbed his work visa. Now classified as an “alien of extraordinary ability,” he breathes easier, but he still echoes the concern of many in the Trump era and wants to do more to help immigrants and people of color break into the industry. As he puts it: “There’s no point in you crossing a door if you don’t hold it open.”
Today, Torres is where he wants to be: juggling jobs, with stars like Ryan Gosling—who encouraged him to write the “Papyrus” sketch when Gosling hosted SNL—who are eager to work with him. So, if he’s lurking in the back of a bar whispering to himself, he’s probably brainstorming. It might be the start of a new bit—or a sexy telenovela that takes place in a silverware drawer and finally gives the fork its long-awaited close-up.
Los Espookys premieres June 14, and Torres’s stand-up special My Favorite Shapes debuts this summer, both on HBO.