Julio Torres and a New Stand Up

In a time where male comedians dedicate their stand up specials to taking down “political correctness” and “cancel culture,” Julio Torres’ new HBO special My Favorite Shapes (dir. Dave McCary) offers a new form of stand up. In the special, Torres, dressed in silver with glitter on his face and hands, talks through his favorite shapes. What may seem like a simple gag at first turns into a special with many sincere moments commenting on childhood, capitalism, and fights against the regularity with which we purge objects we feel are devoid of meaning. For Torres, all objects have meaning. 

The moment you start the special, it is clearly different. Torres is seated behind a conveyor belt that brings the objects to him. Some are simple shapes like a square accompanied by one liners, others are displays that Torres spends longer segments giving an entire backstory. During these backstories, he reads from a tiny notebook, reminding the viewer how intentional this all is. 

Early on, it becomes clear that Torres loved to play as a child, as he talks about sitting alone in his room with his toys, imagining worlds. One particularly interesting bit is when he discussed a McDonald’s toy of the villain Monsignor Claude Frollo from The Hunchback of Notre Dame, which Torres dubs, “…just sort of what we got that year.” Frollo is a horrible man who turns his lust for Esmeralda into violence. He then goes on to joke about the fact that kids were playing with this toy without fully understanding the context of the situation. He combines the innocence of children and their desire to play as what leads them (and himself) to understanding the cruelty of our limited conception of life. My Favorite Shapes reveals the ways in which objects, which we assume are fixed and devoid of meaning, are actually direct reflections of our values. 

The importance of objects and Torres’ own skepticism about our cultural disregard for them invites an interesting marxist critique of his work. As mentioned earlier, the objects are brought to him on a conveyor belt but instead of passing by quickly as they would in a factory (mass production), they are each unique and get their moment to shine, with Torres’ adoration of each one made clear. It is not the labor that puts value in the object, but instead the life attached to each one. Torres creates a different kind of object fetishism. This attitude transfers over to his comments about immigration. An immigrant from El Salvador, Torres jokes throughout about not being able to prove his value to immigration lawyers in a very concrete, capitalist way. These anecdotes reveal the way we expect immigrants to be useful in a mechanic, dehumanized fashion instead of allowing them the vast career options and humanity the American Dream promises. Torres offers his favorite shapes a voice and a life.

Other comedians are putting out bitter specials where they condemn the demand for a comedy that doesn’t punch down at communities that are already suffering from a lack of legal protections and cultural empathy. Torres succeeds in creating a comedy special that not only challenges the style of standup itself, but the content as well. By using shapes as substitutes for humans and their stories, Torres comments on daily life without mocking “political correctness.” Torres makes people laugh, speaks about the realities of daily life, and empathizes with those who struggle to find a place in our narrowly defined world. 

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