In early August, Food Network star Guy Fieri started trending. This wasn’t because the Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives and Guy’s Grocery Games host had done anything in particular, but because of a nearly five-minute bit from comedian Shane Torres’s debut album, Established 1981. “This may be somewhat of a controversial opinion,” the Fort Worth, Texas native warns the audience, “but can someone please explain to me what the fuck Guy Fieri ever did to anyone?” From there, Torres deconstructs the otherwise hilarious hatred so many people have for the celebrity chef — while also adding a few jabs of his own.
“A Man Named Fieri Filled With Fury” is well worth the attention. Even so, it’s not the only thing Torres has to offer on his new album, which drops Friday, September 8th. The culmination of a stand-up career that started in Portland, Oregon with the likes of Ron Funches and made its way across the country to New York, Established 1981 is an hour rife with jokes and bereft of dead air. Torres chatted with Uproxx about the record and his comedic upbringing in Portland.
I’m always pleasantly surprised by just how big Portland’s comedy scene is, especially during the last decade.
Oh yeah, me too. The city is a pretty special place for me. Especially since I moved there from Texas. It was definitely an experience moving from a super conservative place to a very liberal place where everybody has a book in their bag, wherever you go. They’re solving all the world’s problems and they’re just talking about it. They’re not actually doing anything. That kind of stuff. Like, everybody’s got an answer but nobody’s actually gonna drop a load and get shit done. So it’s something like that.
I guess the scene just kind of blew up. I started there. It’ll be ten years in November that I’ve been doing stand-up. And that Portland scene, when I started, was barely there. There weren’t that many mics. I just thought the people who were already doing it there were the funniest fucking thing I’d ever seen in my life. I just kinda fell in love with it and kept going. And everybody was like, “Oh you gotta come in and see Ronny. He’s the funniest person.” And sure enough, he was certainly one of the funniest people I’d ever seen. Still is. Then Ian Karmel came around, and he and I lived together for a while — three or four years, probably.
Sean Jordan showed up, then Amy Miller. There was nothing to be gained at first, it was so small — just people who liked doing stand-up, hanging out in bars, and enjoying one another. Ron was the first person to have some real success. I don’t know if “blaze the trail” is the right way to put it, but he was certainly the first one to have major success. It was like, “Maybe we can do some of this stuff, too.” It just kind of kept growing, and then the addition of the Bridgetown Comedy Festival changed the game for a lot of us. A lot of top tier talent started coming through.
Were you doing comedy before you came to Portland, or was moving there what made it happen?
I started about two years after I got to Portland. I left Texas and was like, “I’m gonna go find my life” or whatever, so I moved to another city and just did the same thing. I worked as a bartender and a busboy for a couple of years. You know, like your buddy who says, “San Diego was fine, but I prefer the leisure of the TGI Fridays in Spring, Texas.” They just kinda move to a place that’s a little more expensive, doing the same jobs they did before. But I always loved comedy. Cosby, Hicks and Carlin were my guys. It wasn’t like a thing you can start doing at full force. I didn’t know how to go about it, and then I walked into a local show and saw this guy there working on his fucking thing.
Originally I thought I would finish my degree or whatever, maybe in San Francisco. I was going have a nice life there, meet a girl and make money. But I didn’t like San Francisco as much as I thought I would. Plus, it was way too expensive. So I moved to Portland instead, before it got crazy expensive, and I started doing my thing. It was perfect.
Now, thanks to your viral Guy Fieri bit, you’re the Food Network’s favorite comedian.
I don’t know if that’s true or not, but it was shared a lot. That went pretty well. It was cool to see it all go down like that. He was such a good sport about it and tweeted that meme of the two of us. I was like, “See? He’s a good person.” It was super cool. I was on a Bolt Bus then, on my way to Outside Lands to perform with my buddy Adam Triplett, who’s like a comic school manager. We were going up there and I was like, “Holy shit dude, they released the track!” Then it just went fucking bananas. I showed him the meme Guy Fieri tweeted out and we started losing our fucking minds in the middle of this Bolt Bus. Everyone else on the bus was just looking at us like we were crazy. It was pretty great. Robert Irvine tweeted at me, too. I was like, “What the fuck is going on here?” Then somebody asked me, “Do you want to do a food show?” What are you talking about? You think I want to start my own cooking show because of a tweet? It’s just a silly and dumb five-minute bit. Come on!
Even so, it’s a wonderful routine.
Thanks, man. I’m excited to see it come out. I hope people actually listen to the whole thing and don’t assume I’m just “The Guy Fieri Comic” or something like that. That worries me a little bit. That’s also me being ridiculous.
That would be an odd niche fall into, “The Guy Fieri Comic.”
Oh God, it would be. I mean, God bless him, but I’m looking to have my own name be the most famous thing associated with me.
Established 1981 is your first album, so there’s probably material on it you’ve been working on for years. How long have you specifically been putting this hour together?
Not everybody, but a lot of people will put out albums and specials very fast. As a result, they come out a little undercooked. You want your first album to be Michael Jackson’s Thriller. I don’t want it to be pretty good. I want it to be really fucking good. I’d rather have one big smashing album that hopefully sets the tone for what’s to come. You only get to make your first impression once with these things. So they might as well be very dense and heavy with jokes all the way through. That’s what I wanted to do, so crafting this record took a while.
I remember having a meeting with my representatives during which they asked me, “What do you want to do?” I was thinking about making an album at the time, so we set up a few meetings and I was lucky enough to bring Comedy Central on board. They’re putting out the album, and they gave me a half-hour special on Comedy Central Stand-Up Presents… that comes out at the end of this month. Doing that and an album together with them just felt like a sweet little pairing, so I was totally on board. We did the special and recorded the album at Madison’s Comedy Club on State, which is a fucking amazing club. It’s so great. They were nice enough to me, and I knew there would be crowds there that hadn’t heard all my jokes. Doing it in Portland for Fort Worth would have been amazing, but also too much of a home crowd. It could come across as disingenuous.
That, and playing to the home crowd probably wouldn’t have produced great moments like your crowd interaction — especially when you pick on the one guy for not answering your question about babies falling out of windows.
I think that’s what stand-up is, and I love it. I have plenty of albums I love, and I love the comics whose albums I’ve listen to, but there’s nothing like seeing it live and having it be so genuine. It was important for me to make this album feel genuine, while the material was also very polished and almost scripted, to a degree. I wanted there to be a bit of levity here and there, and not just performance. I didn’t want people to feel so strict, like the only thing they could do was laugh when the punchline was obvious. It was pretty important to me for it to feel like a real show, as opposed to this flawless diamond that needs to be polished constantly.
I think late night sets are, and should be, polished. They need to be flawless since there’s a time crunch. I enjoy watching it all as a craftsmen, whenever someone I know or like goes on television to do a short set. It’s interesting to see what they’ve done with their five minutes, but you also get to laugh while appreciating the work they’re doing. On the other side of this, an hour special or an album can feel — if there’s not some levity to it — mechanical. Not all the time, but sometimes. That can really affect the way it feels to the audience, more or less.
I’m intrigued by this, especially since one of my favorite bits from Established 1981 concerns crasftsmanship itself. When you say, “So my dad’s dead.” You wait for everyone to nervously react, then say, “Oh yeah, I’m not really great at transitions.” I saw you do it on Funches’s tour, and it felt so organic, but then I heard you do it the exact same way on the album.
Sometimes I’ll write that down, sometimes not. Let’s say I have an idea for a bit. I sit down and write it out, specifically trying to write the direction and come up with a few punchlines. After all that, it still won’t be done. I don’t necessarily like trying impromptu things on stage, but you must try new stuff out just to see what fails and what works. That’s how you discover what’s useless and what needs to be taken further. That’s how you find out what people are responding to. When trying out looser sets in bigger shows, I’ll think something is funny and decide to say it a certain way and at a certain time. Then I’ll flip it and try to find a way to put it into another joke, especially if I think it’s a really good laugh.
It’s a little weird to manipulate spontaneity. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with going off the cuff. People interpret what’s off the cuff and what’s not for themselves. I don’t even know if there’s much you do about that. I would like, when I do those little asides, for them to be recognized as part of the bit and not me manipulating some kind of the idea of improvisation. I’m a terrible improvisor. Some people are incredible at it, but I am not. I just stick to the beats. We should have a lunch pail work ethic about this. Those little asides often come out of a quick thought or spontaneity, sure, but sometimes they don’t. Sometimes you need those little things to just try to carry you through to the next bit punchline, especially if it’s a lengthy bit and folks are growing impatient. Do you know Jackie Kashian?
She’s the fucking best at it. I mean, her act is fucking filled with punchlines. There’s not a lot of dead air in it. That’s something I want to get better at.
Shane Torres: Established 1981 debuts Friday, September 8th.