At the top of HBO’s My Favorite Shapes with Julio Torres, the comedian and Saturday Night Live sketch writer tells his audience, “I have a lot of shapes but not a lot of time, so we have to start immediately.” The performer’s sense of urgency is immediately funny, as he actually has all the time in the world to literally comb through his favorite “shapes” via a decorative conveyor belt that sits on the stage. What’s more, for all this apparent need for speed, Torres spends a good chunk of Shapes saying nothing — pausing to let the room figure out the jokes.
This alone makes the new HBO special an oddity, but when you also consider the props — from the shapes themselves to the conveyor belt, the stairs, the entire set on stage and Torres’ outfit — it becomes something even stranger. Which is good, because Shapes stands out in a way that most comedy specials tend not to. It is, in many ways, a comedy show that shuns formula in favor of Torres’ unique sense of humor, which SNL sketches like “Papyrus” and “The Actress” have proven time and again.
Ahead of Shapes‘ premiere on Saturday, Torres spoke with Uproxx about what makes the show — and himself — tick. That, and how he was able to convince Lin-Manuel Miranda, Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone — all of whom have been featured in his SNL sketches — to lend their vocal talents to the show.
You’ve been performing versions of this show for several years now, right?
It sounds insane, but yes, that’s correct.
How did the concept first come about? What sparked that first idea?
I’ve been wanting to do something like this for a while. I just didn’t know how to do it. Like, how would I show a small object while doing stand-up? And then I realized, “Oh, I can just plug my iPhone into a projector and show the live audience the camera feed.” It literally came down to me using my iPhone as an overhead projector. When I realized I could do that, the show itself just came up so easily because I felt like I had it all in my head already.
Even with the iPhone and the project, I suspect this was more of a barebones show in its early day — especially since you were performing it in and around New York.
Oh yeah. I mean, just commuting with all the objects and making work then — I was using a table and a black tablecloth — was exhausting. Sometimes, I’d be backstage and realize I had to go out and find a CVS to get a couple of things I’d forgotten or didn’t have. But no, it was great to have the extra help on the special so that I wouldn’t have to worry about all that stuff.
What was the response to those first shows like? What did the audiences think?
I think it was positive. I think there was a moment when the audience realized that the show was literally about my favorite shapes. That it wasn’t a smaller thing and that I was actually going to present the objects one by one. I think that’s why when I take the first object out and show it, I usually get that “Oh, wow!” response. They immediately realized what the show was going to be like at that moment. That’s how they came to understand the rules of the show.