Amazed. Astonished. Breathless. Some will reject this person, and others will worship him.
Julio Torres is the David Bowie of comedy. I have no idea if someone of actual critical merit has already made this comparison or not. I’ve been actively avoiding reviews of his new HBO special My Favorite Shapes because I want my opinion of it to remain pure and strictly my own. I didn’t want my thoughts tainted or made biased by the perceptions of people with respected views.
Over the last few weeks, I’ve been listening to an unofficial David Bowie autobiography titled Hero by Lesley-Ann Jones, watched the documentary Finding Fame on Showtime that highlights Bowie’s formative years in music, and played track by track of every album from David Bowie to Diamond Dogs. It’s a lot of Bowie, but could there ever be too much Bowie – that’s a negative.
A few friends had been posting about the special, and I’d seen trailers on Julio’s Instagram feed. Neither spoiled the magic nor artistic brilliance, which is My Favorite Shapes. We’ve been presented with comedy specials that break the format, Hasan Minhaj’s Homecoming King for example. But from the set design to the glitter on Julio’s well-manicured hands sharing his favorite shapes with us all, Torres didn’t just break the mold of comedy – he shattered it and then reassembled the pieces into a gorgeous fountain mosaic at the center of his alternative zoo.
I sat there watching the special, for a second time around, and exclaimed, “this must be how people who saw David Bowie as Ziggy Stardust on Top of the Pops must have felt.” Amazed. Astonished. Breathless. Some will reject this person, and others will worship him. When I was a kid, Earth just happened to be close enough to Saturn that through a telescope I could see the rings around the planet. It was so special, and not something I could replicate a week later. It was the fact that at that moment, on that night, I could see Saturn’s rings. And at this moment in time, on that particular network, Julio Torres’s My Favorite Shapes was contracted into existence without needing the comedian to convince anyone of the concept.
Torres’s past performances can be seen on YouTube. A scavenger hunt of the puzzle pieces that would become his special. In 2016 at a Risk! Live show he discusses that job interview where he blurts out “I love corporations” in more detail. At Paste Studios he goes through impersonations that demonstrates his style which would lead to that bitchy little curtain between first and second class. It was also in 2016 that he had yet to have crafted his sign off, “if there are no further questions,” struggling for a way to end a set. But Julio from the past, you will figure out how to end a set, and it will be perfection. In April of 2017, Daisy Duck makes an appearance in his performance on Late Night with Seth Meyers, and a year later Cinderella’s glass shoe on the Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. My Favorite Shapes isn’t an overnight success, like all great art; it has taken years to craft and refine.
David Bowie’s Space Oddity brought Bowie attention, but not the fame and notoriety that would be his legacy. Bowie put out The Man Who Sold the World and Hunky Dory after Space Oddity, and the albums have excellent songs on them, but it wasn’t till The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust was released that Bowie ripped the veil between fame and icon. Julio Torres ripped through that veil with his special; its uniqueness makes it iconic. And not in the way the word is overused today, but in the most real sense of the word – Julio Torres is worthy of adoration, great respect, and reverence. I can’t wait to see what he comes out with next. My only prayer is that the pressure of the artistic success and achievement of My Favorite Shapes doesn’t get into his head and that he will continue to be fiercely true to himself. Write what makes him laugh because his audience will find him. And as he continues to navigate life, he takes influences from wherever he may roam. I can’t wait to see the Julio Torres spin on all of it.