“I don’t believe in myself enough, apparently.”
As Taylor Tomlinson says that, there’s not a trace of any false modesty in her voice. She seems to mean it, as far as I can tell. After 10 years in the business, having first gone up onstage at a church when she was 16, transitioning to clubs before touring with the likes of Brian Regan, Conan O’Brien, and Bert Kreischer, performing on Conan and The Tonight Show, as well as getting her own 15 minute special as part of Netflix’s The Comedy Line Up, it seemed pretty clear to everybody in the business that Taylor Tomlinson was ready for an hour special. She, however, had no idea.
“Almost exactly a year ago in February 2019,” Taylor recalled over the phone to us recently, “my manager said ‘Okay, what’re your goals for the year?’ And I said ‘Well, we did the 15, I’d love to do the half hour this year.’ I could get half an hour on the road. But I was doing an hour on the road. So I could front load everything and just have one of those shows that is lopsided and get the tape for it and fill out the rest of the time with other stuff. But I didn’t want to do that. So I was like ‘Why don’t I just get the hour and we’ll submit that and maybe that will help?’ Because I know people who have submitted for an hour before and Netflix had said ‘How about half an hour?’ I was like ‘Okay, I’ll submit the hour and it’ll show that I am definitely capable of doing half an hour. And hopefully it will lay some ground work for the next couple years for them to go ‘Okay, she’s been headlining for a while. We’ve seen her do a good hour before. She could definitely handle an hour special.’’”
Taylor, by her own admittance, had no idea that Netflix would even be interested in her at this stage for an hour. Her managers remained pretty confident, telling her “We think this is an hour special.” Taylor, however, was justified as convinced that it wouldn’t happen. By June, word came back. She got the hour.
At every open mic to every showcase even to The Comedy Store, they hover in the back. From amateurs to featuring acts to even headliners, every comedian wants to get their own special that cements where they are in that moment with their craft and have it seen by the largest possible audience. To have an hour special on Netflix? That’s a dream. And those who have ventured into that red-and-white-lettered streaming abyss make up a small island of the already small community that is the stand up community. So there’s not a single person who wouldn’t realize how lucky they were.
“I was really excited for like 30 minutes,” she admits, “and then I had about another 30 of ‘Oh man, I don’t deserve it. There are people who deserve it more. I shouldn’t have gotten it this early. I only got it this early because I have a great team. I tricked everyone.’ All that imposter syndrome stuff that happens when you achieve something you weren’t expecting to. And then you just go ‘Okay, well, I got it and it’s quite frankly insulting if I am not just focused on how grateful I am of it and focus on working as hard as I can to be worthy of the opportunity.’”
The next few months for Taylor Tomlinson consisted of consistent touring, to ensure the hour she had spent the last few years putting all her efforts into was rock solid by the time those cameras ever rolled in November in Portland, Oregon. “When people are like ‘It’s coming out so soon,’” she says, “I’m like ‘Kind of, but it’s been a while.’”
As soon as she steps out onstage, you can feel the urge of someone who is definitely excited yet also doing everything in their possible being to keep it cool. You can almost hear the inner-commentary that reads as both someone who remains skeptical, while also trying to live in the moment and enjoy it all. She is seemingly exposing every internal fear, all for the sake of comedy. It’s that confidence that allows her to own the stage and have the audience rating out of the palm of her hand. It’s a balancing act, but as she comfortably owns the stage, making it her own, the excitement eventually can’t help but take over.
“I think I was way more nervous for the 15 minute special,” she confesses. “I was talking to someone about this. They were like ‘Were you so nervous for the hour?’ And I think I had just run that hour so many times for so long, I had one of my best friends opening the show for me, I had friends of mine there, my whole team was there. I had picked everything from the set design to the lighting to my outfits to the theater. And I knew people were specifically coming to see me. So all of that was so much more comforting than like doing 15 minutes in a place I had never performed in before. You just got out there and you adjusted and adapted and you’re not sure who you’re following until you get there. You don’t know what they’re going to do or what they’re going to talk about. I just felt like I had more control over the hour.”
The special, which is titled Quarter-Life Crisis, does have a lot of perspective about Taylor being in her 20’s and everything she wants to say about it. It is something she definitely has experience with, which is why she’s just as eager, it appears, to move onto the next thing.
“I knew I wanted to call it Quarter-Life Crisis and I wanted to kind of retire all of that ‘I hate my 20’s I’m so frustrated’ material. Which I’m still in it. I’m 26, I’m not exactly 42 or whatever. But I’m like ‘How long am I going to do this? Until I’m like 28?’ I feel like I can move on from that.”
And just as much as she’s willing to move on from it (she tells me her next special will explore more of her anxieties in a bigger way than what’s seen here), you also can’t help but acknowledge just how good it is for people of similar ages and with similar feelings to have someone who can speak on their behalf, as she does.
“I get a lot of girls in their 20’s telling me ‘Oh my God, you’re my spirit animal’ or whatever. And I’m just like ‘We would never hang out. You are much cooler than I am.’ We’re all trying to figure out and kind of trying to act like how we think we’re supposed to. And social media is just another added layer to that, like ‘No look. I’m doing great.’ I get people in their 30’s telling me that. I get people in their 50’s and 60’s going ‘That’s exactly how I felt.’ So people who aren’t 25 aren’t leaving the show going ‘Ugh. That was just a bunch of Tinder jokes. (Laughs).”
“I do have one dating app joke and it’s from the one time I was ever on a dating app,” she adds. “I got on, got the joke, and got off.”
There are a number of preconceived notions about being in your 20’s and that everybody acts a certain way. You have people sort of snubbing their noses at you, dismissively, because they assume that you just sit around the house and don’t do anything all day. And it’s things like Quarter-Life Crisis that seems to get it right, and tell a different perspective of what it’s like being in your 20’s and at least attempting to take on that responsibility and possibly getting it wrong in the process, but you’re still trying.
“Anytime you make a T.V. show about being in your 20’s,” she says, “I kind of feel like it’s always the same thing, like ‘I don’t have a job and I got this STD.’ It’s kind of like what older people think your 20’s are like almost. And then, you know, for some people that is their 20’s. They’re kind of figuring it out and they don’t have like a steady job or whatever. But for me, I’ve never felt like that and I have a lot of friends who are not like that, too. And I think this image people give millennials is being like kind of vapid and irresponsible and party. I don’t think that’s universal. I think there are a lot more 20 something’s like me who are really, really trying so hard and working really hard.”
Taylor got her start in stand-up comedy when she was 16, and the idea actually stemmed from her dad asking her if she wanted to sign up for a comedy class with him. After this, she was naturally hooked, and started performing at churches for years before transitioning into clubs. Her act has definitely became less “church-friendly” since those days, with things that she says her father definitely won’t be a fan of.
“I’ve told him that he does not have to watch it, and quite frankly shouldn’t,” she admits. “I don’t know if he will, to be honest with you. I told him before I filmed it, ‘These are the jokes that I have about you in it.’ And he was like ‘I appreciate you running it by me and telling me.’ He knows there’s jokes about him, so he may just watch out of morbid curiosity, but I also said ‘It’s not clean. There are sex jokes in there. You wouldn’t want to watch it if I wasn’t your daughter.’ That’s kind of how I make peace with it. They’re conservative. They like clean comedy. And that’s just not me, unfortunately. I think they’ll probably watch it, but I don’t think they’ll talk to me about it.”
“The sex joke in the 15 that my dad hated,” she continues when talking about her family, “my grandma thought was really funny. And she’s like very conservative. And I talked to her a few months ago about all this stuff on this special. I said ‘You guys don’t need to watch it. I’m dirty now.’ And she’s like ‘You’re not dirty. You’re just naughty.’ (Laughs). I thought that was so sweet.” For the record, that sex joke she’s referring to is “I’ll have you know that in bed I’m a wild animal. Way more afraid of you than you are of me.” This joke also got her fired from one of the churches she was performing at, after she had posted it to Twitter.
As for what’s next? It’s back on the road. It never ends. It all works in a cycle when you’re a stand-up comic. “You’re so excited to try new stuff even if it bombs,” she explains. “After you’ve been doing the same jokes for so long, you’re like ‘I don’t want to look at these ever again.’ And I think that motivates you to write quickly.”
After you’ve seen a really strong up-and-comer for the first time, there’s this discovery factor. It feels as if you’ve been initiated into this secret club, but not such a secret club that you’re able to resist the urge to go out and tell everyone about it. That’s exactly the feeling you get after seeing Quarter-Life Crisis. You know you have to go out there and spread the word about just how good it is.