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How One Joke Changed the Way the World Saw Guy Fieri

Shane Torres. Photo-Illustration: Vulture and Getty Images

Comedy does have power. But no matter the amount of late-night-show jokes or tweets, it’s not necessarily the power to bring down a president. Yet it can shine light on an issue. It can say, “Hey, look at this thing that’s incorrect.” It can give us the vocabulary necessary to discuss a topic. Over the past decade, at least in my opinion, there has been one shining example of the power of comedy, and no, it’s not political in the least. It’s about Guy Fieri.

In July 2017, for one reason or another (or no reason at all), people hated Guy Fieri. Even beyond that, he was a dyed-hair symbol for a person people hate. But in walked Shane Torres and one of the great jokes of the past ten years. In August 2017, Vulture posted a preview of Torres’s album that included his defense of the “Mayor of Flavortown,” and it went viral. When Torres performed the joke on Conan a few weeks later, it went viral again. By October 2017, the perception of Fieri had forever been changed.

On Vulture’s Good One podcast, Torres discusses the Fieri joke, how often it gets stolen, why he wants his comedy to be seen as art, and more. You can read some excerpts from the transcript or listen to the full episode below. Tune in to Good One every Tuesday on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, Overcast, or wherever you get your podcasts.

Good One

A Podcast About Jokes

On the Origin of His Guy Fieri Joke

First it was just a one-liner, where I would come out and go, “Can someone please explain to me what the fuck Guy Fieri ever did to anyone?” And there was this chuckle. And the line was “As far as I can tell, all he ever did was follow his dreams.” And it got a huge pop. I don’t know if this is true or if I’m blowing smoke up my own ass, but I felt like they wanted more of it so I was like, Okay, I have to go write this joke.

I remember when I was working on it, my buddy was like, “No, he sucks!” I was like, “What do you mean?” He goes, “Have you ever seen that video of him getting in a fight with a guy at the airport?” He showed me this video, and you can’t even see him. Guy is sitting in a car, and someone was attacking him and he’s shoving them off of him. I was like, “Oh, you mean he defended himself?” I didn’t even know it was him. But I was like, This is fucking obscene that people are this ready to not like this guy. 

Being negative, at some point, became a valid opinion without having any support for it. I think I’ve said that before. But culturally, there was this time where it was just fashionable to shit on stuff. And it was weak writing, and it wasn’t even criticism. It was heckling. So I really hated that. And I’m a person who doesn’t like a lot of things, but I don’t like the dismissal of things without any support of it.

On Joke Stealing

I’m very proud of the joke, and I’m happy I wrote it. And I get defensive of it when I see some guy literally steal it and put it on TikTok and get 400,000 views, which is a thing that happened like two weeks ago. He was drunk, laying in a door jamb on the ground. He doesn’t lip-sync it. He does the whole bit, and his friends are laughing, like, “Doug’s the funniest!” And I’m like, Fuck Doug. I think the good thing is that that joke is in the ether so much that no one will think he wrote it. It’s mine. He’s literally doing my shit. And these people are laughing and losing their fucking minds. And I’m like, Goddamn it! I think I kicked my chair over.

On Wanting His Comedy to Be Art

I want to make comedy that people call art. And I want it to elicit laughter, but I want it to be an emotional response that is thoughtful. I think very few comics do that. There’s a few people I could list. I think Chappelle makes art with his comedy. I think Maria [Bamford] does that as well. I really think Louis [C.K.] did it for a while too, despite all the stuff he has done and whatever people think of him. I want to be able to do that too.

There’s some bands that are great, but they’re only a one-hit wonder. Like, “You know who Shane Torres is?” “Yeah, he’s the guy who did the Guy Fieri joke.” I know that’s the first thing. It’s not that I’m not proud of it, but I want you to be like, “His first one was great, but his second one was even better.” There’s more to it. I’m a fan of one-hit-wonder bands who happened to be amazing and they just never made a second splash. I think that’s part of it too.

On Truth in Comedy

Early on in my career, maybe I was trying to be dark. As I’ve moved forward, if it’s funny and it’s dark, I have no problem saying it as long as it’s funny. I really hope it’s seen as not being dark for the sake of being dark, which I think, when I was a much younger comic, it was. Now I hope it’s truthful in a way that’s not cheesy. That’s the thing you always read when someone gets interviewed about a new special or whatever they’re putting out: “This one’s a lot more personal.” Like, fuckin’ here we go. It’s a trope. I think an audience can feel when you’re actually being personal in a bit and truthful and not just putting it out there. I sincerely believe people pick up on that.

Truth is just the thing you did. You might as well just watch a black-and-white video camera’s security footage. It’s not truthful to me if there is no emotional weight in it. Sometimes that can lead to being darker.

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How One Joke Changed the Way the World Saw Guy Fieri