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'Los Espookys' co-creator Julio Torres hates main character energy

Pablo Arellano Spataro/HBO; Photo Illustration by Kaz Fantone

Spooky season is here — or rather, espooky season. The long-awaited second season of Los Espookys is now out on HBO and its co-creator, star and writer Julio Torres has been busy.

From writing a children's book about a plunger that wants to become a vase, to playing a character on Los Espookys that views grocery stores as "deconstructed food," Torres and his art are anything but conventional.

It's Been A Minute Host Brittany Luse talked with the comedian about the foundations of his craft, his artist parents and his attraction to secondary characters. They also discuss his interest in difficult people, whether his comedy differs in Spanish and English and why he's crowned himself a "space prince" on Instagram.

This are edited excerpts from It's Been A Minute, a podcast that features people in the culture who deserve your attention. Follow us on Apple Podcasts or Spotify, and keep up with us on Twitter.

On whether Torres' humor in Spanish is different from his comedy in English

Julio Torres: I don't think so. What I'm attracted to — which is like these observations and the absurd and the surreal — I think they play in both languages. A lot of the humor of the show is not so much about specific wordplay. With Los Espookys, it's sort of like the visuals, and the situations and the way that people behave. It can be a refreshingly dumb show in a good way. Refreshingly like, "Oh, this is just silly," and it feels like watching a cartoon.

On his appreciation for supporting characters

Brittany Luse: Something that I noticed from watching Los Espookys, and also from watching your stand-up special from 2019, My Favorite Shapes, your hand acting, and also with your children's book —which centers on the inner lives of inanimate objects — I feel like there's this theme of focusing on things that are overlooked in a sense.

Torres: It's not a deliberate choice. As a kid, I was always very into secondary characters — things that weren't supposed to be the focus. The kind of people that I'm attracted to are the kind of people that wouldn't be main characters. I don't like main character energy. So I gravitate towards outsiders and objects are a perfect vessel for that. Because at the end of the day, I'm not I'm not a documentarian, right? I'm a writer. So I am the one putting words in people's mouths. With objects it's easy because it's like they're a perfect canvas. I'm very interested in imbuing meaning, and emotion and thought into things that people might overlook as a way of showing them something that is surprisingly I think familiar.

On how his parents informed his art

Luse: Your mother is an architect and designer. Your father's a civil engineer. Design is definitely a part of their lives and how they see the world. How did your parent's experiences and the way that they sort of see the world — how did that inform your sensibilities with regard to working with objects like that?

Torres: It's hugely influential. Both of my parents have a really sharp eye for reading people through their homes. Reading people through the kind of person that they are based on the kind of furniture that they have. The kind of remodel they want. I remember hearing of this woman who had a backyard and she kept making expansions to her home, to the point where the pool that was in the backyard became an indoor pool because it's like she didn't see value in outdoor space. So it's this mentality of "the bigger my house, the more successful I seem," right? And, yeah, that's such a personality type. And little things like that always stayed with me. That is why I mesh well with wardrobe designers and production designers who are very a-tuned to those sort of sorts of things.

On setting Los Espookys in a non-specific Latin American country

Torres: Well, you know, I really like portraying the way that the things feel, not the way the things are in actuality. So not setting it in a specific country allowed us to come about it through a more abstract, emotional place rather than the needing to have like faithful reproductions or renditions of something. So then it became this playpen for Ana [Fabrega], Fred [Armisen] and I to like bring their own experiences in a way that there's never a wrong answer. There's never a wrong way. There's never a wrong accent. There's never a wrong sidewalk. It's very liberating. And through that sort of like Tower of Babel — Latin American Tower of Babel — we found a commonality that feels universal. I feel like cartoons do it all the time. Springfield is not set anywhere, as in from The Simpsons. But you understand that they are a middle-class American family in a mid-sized city. Sometimes the beach is a drive away. Sometimes it's snowing. Like, who cares? Right. But it's like those details are sort of besides the point. What matters is like showing what it's like to live in that context.

On his otherworldly Instagram handle

Luse: Your name on Instagram is "Space Prince Julio." Space prince of where?

Torres: I think of nowhere. You know what, I think it's sort of like traveling. Like I'm here for a little bit, but I don't know where I'll be next. I like the idea of just...passing through.

Luse: I like that. It makes me think...inter-dimensional, like different realms. As opposed to like, beyond geographical.

Torres: Yeah.

Follow It's Been A Minute on Twitter. Email us at ibam@npr.org.

This 'It's Been a Minute' interview with Julio Torres was produced by Janet Woojeong Lee and Andrea Gutierrez. Engineering support came from Carleigh Strange. It was edited by Jessica Placzek.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Pablo Valdivia
Pablo Valdivia is an Audience Editor at NPR who is focused on elevating and telling Latino stories across digital, radio and podcast. He also develops strategies to help call in the community across the network and works to ensure that Latino voices get the visibility they deserve.
Brittany Luse
Brittany Luse is an award-winning journalist, on-air host, and cultural critic. She is the host of It's Been a Minute and For Colored Nerds. Previously Luse hosted The Nod and Sampler podcasts, and co-hosted and executive produced The Nod with Brittany and Eric, a daily streaming show. She's written for Vulture and Harper's Bazaar, among others, and edited for the podcasts Planet Money and Not Past It. Luse and her work have been profiled by publications like The New York Times, The New Yorker, Vulture, and Teen Vogue.
Janet W. Lee
[Copyright 2024 NPR]
Barton Girdwood
Andrea Gutierrez (she/her) is an assistant producer on It's Been a Minute with Sam Sanders. She's drawn to stories at the intersections of gender, race, class and ability in arts and culture.
Jessica Placzek
Jessica Mendoza
Jessica Mendoza (she/her) is an editor on It's Been a Minute, where she edits stories and interviews for the podcast and for broadcast.
Liam McBain
Liam McBain (he/him) is an associate producer on It's Been a Minute. He's interested in stories at the margins of culture.
Jamila Huxtable
Jamila Huxtable is an assistant producer for NPR's daily economics podcast, The Indicator from Planet Money.

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