Many comedians don’t find their voice until their 30s, but at 26, Taylor Tomlinson has already honed her persona enough to score her first hour-long special for Netflix. All throughout the just-released Quarter-Life Crisis, the Los Angeles comic explores the difficulties of life in your mid-20s, but with the expertise of a comic that’s been performing for a decade. (That’s because she has been going onstage for a decade—she started performing comedy at the age of 16.)
While she’s modest, Tomlinson is undeniably hilarious, rattling off relatable anecdotes and observations about her life. “Too old to party, too young to settle down, comedian Taylor Tomlinson takes aim at her life choices,” reads Netflix’s synopsis of Quarter-Life Crisis. As she talks about not drinking or doing drugs, and her one experience using the online dating service OkCupid, Tomlinson merges introspection with high-energy act-outs, like when she compares dating to Charlie Bucket winning Willy Wonka’s factory.
“You do want people to say you’re wise beyond your years and you know what you’re doing,” Tomlinson told Newsweek ahead of her new special’s March 3 release. “That’s the age-equivalent of ‘I’m not like other girls.’ I’m not, I’m different.”
Tomlinson spoke to Newsweek about starting comedy as a teen, being more aware when dating and her tough-love parents’ reaction to her bringing up mental health as a child. Whether you’re trying to find your way through your 20s or remember how hard they were, Quarter-Life Crisis is a hilarious lens with which to view young adulthood.
How did your preparation for Quarter-Life Crisis compare to prep for your 15-minute performance on Netflix’s The Comedy Line-Up?
When we found out that I got [Comedy Line-Up], it was a month before. We found out in June that we got the hour and filmed it in November. I had months. I’d been on the road almost every week for two years before that. So, I was trying to slow down a little bit, take some weeks off, take a vacation over the summer. Of course, June was when we found out I got it, so I’m calling my agent and saying, “Ignore everything I said about needing time off. It turns out I need to be on the road every second until November!”
With the Comedy Line-Up, I didn’t have any control over really anything. I was on that stage for the first time when I was taping it. I don’t even know if I did a soundcheck or anything. I might have. I didn’t pick the venue, the city. I don’t even think I picked the jacket I wore. I came with a different outfit, and they were like, “That’s not gonna work. How about what you wore on the plane here?” I’m like, “Great, sure, whatever you guys want.”
[Doing a special,] you have so much control over every aspect of it that by the time you film it, you’re kind of not even nervous. There’s no uncertainty about it. I’ve run this set into the ground, and I had final approval over every piece of it. So, doing the 15 was much more frightening, to go in not knowing what to expect.
You’ve been doing comedy since you were 16. How have you changed as a performer since you started?
Well, I’m not afraid to drive on the freeway anymore. So, I can drive myself to shows. I didn’t go up in a comedy club until I was in my late teens, because I didn’t know where to get a fake ID or anything, and I’m such a good kid. For the first year and a half, two years, I was performing everywhere else that you could perform, like churches and schools and coffee shops and corporate stuff sometimes that I shouldn’t have been hired for. Once I turned 18, I started going up in comedy clubs, and it was like, “Oh my gosh, it’s supposed to sound like this. This is what it sounds like on albums I listen to and specials I watch,” which is a different kind of laughter.
Also, everywhere I was performing up until then, I had to be really clean, and I continued to be up until about four or five years ago. Once I let go of that, I felt like I was able to get into a lot more stuff I was able to talk about and I felt a lot looser onstage than I did when I was younger. Luckily, you don’t have a lot to talk about when you’re a teenager. I was doing “I didn’t go to prom jokes,” then I went my senior year—”There goes that chunk!”
Do you feel like as a comic in your 20s you’re able to observe and notice different things that a comic in their 30s or 40s wouldn’t?
Yeah, I think everybody notices different things based on where they’re at in their life. For me, I don’t do a lot of purely observational stuff, or I don’t do any political stuff, because I don’t feel qualified.
What people will say to me on the road is, “We’re the exact same person” and that’s people in their 20s and 30s. Or they’ll be older and they’ll go, “That’s exactly what it was like for me, and it gets a lot better,” or, “I wouldn’t go back for anything.” I have a joke about it in the special, about someone telling me, “You should really appreciate [being in your 20s] right now,” and that’s true. That’s happened a few times. Overwhelmingly, what I get much more so than that is, “Yeah, your 20s are terrible. Your 30s are a lot better.” Or, people will come up to me in their 40s and be like, “Your 40s are amazing.” I feel like I’m on the right track.
Some people will say, “Oh, you’re very wise beyond your years,” and that’s just a nice way of saying, “You hate yourself, and you should!” [Laughs] They’re like, “You are garbage right now, and you’ll get better, but you’re ahead of the curve in that you know you’re garbage!”
In your act, you talk about not drinking, not doing drugs and not liking dating, which a lot of 20-something comics tend to draw material from. You also still make observations about all three things. Do you feel like being on the outside looking in gives you a unique perspective?
I used to think there was more of a unique perspective where it feels like everyone is having fun, and everybody’s [partying and dating]. When I actively started talking about that stuff, I got a lot of people saying, “Oh my gosh, I feel the same way,” or, “I’m like that, too.” I think there are a lot of people in their 20s who are just trying to be responsible and do the right thing and develop a career and get through it. I’m glad that it’s been more relatable than what I originally thought.
Originally, I just felt weird. “Why am I not more fun? Why am I so uptight?” There was a year, when I was 21, 22, where I thought, “I should probably get wasted just to know what it feels like.” You feel so incomplete as a person, and you start to think, “Maybe I should mess up more, and then I’ll feel more fleshed out.” At a certain point you just go, “Everybody’s got their own path here.”
A lot of my friends have ended up in the place I started in, where I don’t have the time or energy to party, but they already partied, and now they’re getting to a place where they’re married and buying houses and having kids, and now, they’re as boring as I’ve always been, but now they also have a family. So, they’re still beating me in some way. They’re like, “Yeah, we’re boring, but we also have four people at home who love us unconditionally.” I’m like, “How are you still winning?”
My favorite bit in the special is about dating—the one where you talk about going on a date and hearing about someone’s crazy ex and thinking you’d be friends with her. Can you talk about writing that bit specifically?
That might be one of the newest jokes to go in the special that I wrote over the summer, because I’d just gone through a breakup that I talked about in the special, called off my engagement. I was talking to somebody afterward and they were telling me about their ex-girlfriend and all the stuff she’d done, and I remembered thinking, “Yeah, I’ve done that. I’ve done that to people.” I think I even said that to him: “I was that person to this other guy when I was 22.”
That’s the thing that’s so messed up about dating, is that you start hearing all these stories about how nuts their ex-girlfriend or -boyfriend or whoever was, and the longer that you date the more relatable those stories become—the more you realize it’s just their account, and it’s not necessarily what actually transpired. At a certain point, you get outside yourself enough to know, “Oh, there’s somebody sitting at an Olive Garden right now telling another girl how crazy I am. In the same way that I’m telling this guy how nuts my ex-boyfriend was.”
You reference therapy throughout your act. Not in a Nanette-type way, but does mental health play into your material?
Do I reference therapy that much in the special? Maybe I do. That’s so funny, because my new hour is so much about therapy. It’s not references. It’s hard jokes about therapy. I am full-on therapy jokes in this new one.
This special is mostly experiences and things I wrote between 20 and 25, and that’s why I wanted to call it Quarter-Life Crisis, because I felt like it was the end of doing jokes about “I’m young, and I don’t know what I’m doing.” I still feel like that, but you want to reference your age less, even though I look fairly young in the face. I knew where I wanted to go in the future with the mental health stuff and the therapy stuff.
I spent so much time in therapy last year. I got on antidepressants and anxiety medication, and I was in couples therapy for a little bit and seeing my own therapist and found a psychiatrist I liked. There was a lot of mental health work going on last year right before, and during, preparing for this special. I had already started writing this next hour that I’m doing now [in clubs, on the road] before we filmed Quarter-Life Crisis. It definitely felt like a nice ending to that chapter of my life and hopefully moving into a more self-aware place.
In 2017, you were developing a sitcom with ABC. Is that still something you’d like to pursue?
We have a show that we’re working on now, not with ABC. The ABC deal was a great learning experience for me—just a great experience in general. They were great. The writers I worked with were great. We were writing a multi-cam sitcom about my family, and now, that’s not at all what I want to do. After doing that, I feel like we made the best thing that we could have made for that format. Obviously, it didn’t get picked up.
Coming out of that, we circled back, “Do we want to go through the same thing at other networks or do we want to focus on other things?” I don’t see the point in doing the same thing over again. If I had gone through the ABC process and been like, “This was horrible. I know I could get it right, and this is my dream to have this multi-cam sitcom!” Then, maybe I would have gone that route, but I didn’t feel strongly about it, and I felt like if we’re going to do a multi-cam, that was the best possible situation for it. I was nervous about it. So, once we found out that we didn’t get picked up, I was a little relieved. I had a lot of headlining dates coming up and wanted to get better at stand up. If that show had gotten picked up, I wouldn’t have a special right now, or I would, and I wouldn’t be as good at comedy.
That’s one of those sick times, where you go, “Everything happens for a reason,” which is a privileged thing to say. Sometimes, things really do work out for the best and help you clarify your focus and where you want to be heading, which I feel like that really has for me and definitely reflects in what we’re developing now.
What can we expect from you next? What do you want to do next?
It’s a boring answer, but I want to do standup as much and wherever I want to. Beyond that, we have the show that we’re working on that would be great to make. It’s very personal for me. I also have a tendency to make very strong goals for myself, and then things come up that I don’t even really have the self-esteem to want yet. So, I tend to be like, “What’s next is I’m going to keep working really hard, getting really good at standup, and everything else is just icing.”
This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.