Taylor Tomlinson is only in her mid-20s, but she’s already a seasoned stand-up comedian, having started touring on the church entertainment circuit when she was still a teenager, before graduating to gigs on The Tonight Show, Conan, and the Just for Laughs Festival. Now, she’s a rapid-fire punch-line-delivery machine, and the punch-lines are decidedly less church-friendly. Her new special, Quarter-Life Crisis, was released on Netflix this March.
In this episode of the new, improved, and now weekly Good One podcast, Tomlinson discusses teen abstinence, incest jokes, and why her life was never anything like Girls (no dancing to Robyn in the living room, on her own or otherwise). You can read some excerpts from the transcript or listen to the full episode right below. Tune in to Good One every Tuesday on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, Overcast, or wherever you get your podcasts.
On the Joke That Made Her Quit Performing at Churches
The joke ended up on my first late-night set on Conan a few years ago, which was: “I’m a wild animal in bed: way more afraid of you than you are of me.” And that was enough to get me fired from a string of church dates. And I just remember thinking, I don’t ever want to feel this way again. I don’t ever want to feel like I’m walking on eggshells or like I’ve disappointed somebody, or lied to somebody, or misled them. Not that they made me feel that way when they let me go or took me off those tour dates. It was just some internal stuff, probably, from growing up so religious.
Even now, if I do a show where some of my jokes are too off-color or dirty or whatever for an audience that’s a little older or a little more conservative, depending on where I’m at in the country, it really taps into that for me. I still feel that dormant guilt and shame, a little bit. And then I get upset that I still feel that way. So that was a huge turning point for me. That was the point that I told my managers and agents, “Hey, I know you’re gonna get offers for me to do churches. I know it’s good money. But just don’t send them to me. I don’t care how much it is. I can’t do it. I’m not what they want.” Because if you do churches, you’ve got to be that all the time. You have to be squeaky-clean in clubs if you’re gonna do both.
On the Double Standard for Male and Female Church Comedians
There were churches that would not let me tell jokes about being abstinent. I’m like, “I’m promoting the thing you like!” But they wouldn’t want you to even refer to anything like that. Like, if you’re married, and you have a family and stuff, you can sometimes get away with a little innuendo in the church, because everyone’s like, “He’s a good guy — he’s got a wife and four kids,” or whatever. But as a single female who was 19, nobody’s gonna be onboard with that. They’re gonna go, “You’re leading people astray.” I told a joke once where I said … I think I said, “stripper” in it. It wasn’t a dirty joke. And I remember somebody in the church was like, “Every time you say that, you are making men think of strippers, and this is your fault and you’re compromising their salvation.”
On Talking About Being in Your 20s Onstage When You’re Actually in Your 20s
I think the most common perspective is people talking about seeing people in their 20s and going, “Hey, fuck you, man. Your metabolism’s really fast and you aren’t paying all your bills yet, and you don’t know that life’s going to hit you in the face yet.” All those perspectives I’ve heard. And as someone in their 20s, I felt like, No, no, no. I know that I suck and I know what’s coming. And I know that I’m not a fully formed human yet. And so everything you guys are saying, I agree with. And I still have to be here.
Everybody looks back on their 20s like, “Oh, I was so dumb, I would not go back for anything. I didn’t know what was happening.” Imagine knowing all of that, but you’re in it. It’s like realizing you’re dreaming during a nightmare and not being able to wake yourself up — which is the only type of lucid dreaming I’ve done, by the way. It’s terrifying.
I think a lot of people in their 20s right now are trying to do everything. A lot of people are trying to have that partying phase, because you feel like you’re supposed to, or you actually just really want to. Then there is also the side of you that’s like, I’ve got to be in the office tomorrow morning because if I don’t kill it as this high-powered career person’s assistant, I’ll never be a high-powered career person. So I think there’s never been a more stressful time to be in your 20s and have so much expected of you at once.
On Being Young But Not Fun
It wasn’t even only that I wasn’t fun. I didn’t even have any interest in partying. I was too scared to drink or do drugs or anything. I mean, my mom died when she was pretty young. Not from drugs or anything. But I think when that happens, you kind of go, All right. I’m not gonna push it because I know bad things can happen when you’re young, too. I missed that bubble of invincibility that a lot of young people have, particularly in college. When people look back and they go, Oh, man, I took so many risks. I was so, so dumb. I almost died three times, I don’t have any of those stories because I’m waking up every day like, Is today the day? Is today the day?
I remember thinking, What can I write about that other people aren’t talking about? Like, I loved Girls. I thought Girls was amazing. Did I relate to a lot of it? No. Those were not my experiences. I’ve never bathed with a friend of mine. I’ve never danced with my roommates like that. And those are like the tamer things: I didn’t have any STDs, I had never lost my job, which are all very relatable things. I’ve never gone to a rave in Brooklyn like that. This is just not what I have. So I was like, Okay, I know there’s more to mine there. So I’m representing the people who are going, I don’t want to get fucked up and go crazy. And I don’t feel this pure pressure to experience certain things. I’m just trying to keep it together.
On Writing Like You’re Running Out of Time
My mom passed away when she was 34 years old … And I think in addition to I have to be really good if I’m going to disappoint my parents, I also have that in the back of my head, which is … okay. I may only have until 34 because in addition, my mom’s aunt also died, same cancer, 34. So there’s a pattern. Rule of threes. And I do feel like on a certain level, every time I get something, there’s this morbid part of my brain that goes, you know, The universe is giving you this because you don’t have that much time left, which is so dark and so sad.
The reason I didn’t party and the reason I work hard are the same thing. It’s, I don’t have that much time. I don’t have time to be irresponsible like you guys do, because I don’t have till I’m 70.
I think it’s that idea of leaving work behind. That’s a sort of immortality as well. You go, Okay, I’m gonna leave behind these specials. That’s why creative people love watching Hamilton, because you go, “Oh man! That was so many years ago, and now we’re watching and there’s all these books about him and textbooks and there’s statues and now there’s a there’s a rap musical about him! Like, I’m never going to die if I write something this good!” Because it just keeps your memory alive, and you feel like you can keep affecting people even when you’re gone. And maybe on some level, that tricks our brains into thinking we’ll still be here.
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