Taylor Tomlinson from the Pulpit to the Punchline


taylorSUSC was lucky enough to talk with Taylor Tomlinson! Taylor has been featured on the Tonight Show, Conan, MTV’s Safe Word, Comedy Central’s Adam Devine’s House Party, was a top ten finalist on season 9 of NBC’s Last Comic Standing, and was recently honored as one of Variety’s top ten comics to watch at the prestigious JFL Montreal Comedy Festival.

Unbelievably, Taylor started doing stand-up at just 16 years old and has been letting comedy slowly ruin her life ever since. She is currently one of the country’s youngest touring headliners, delighting audiences coast-to-coast with her sharp crowdwork, biting wit, and wonderfully self-deprecating point of view.

Tomlinson co-hosts The Self-Helpless Podcast and her Netflix 15 minute special is set to air this summer. Check her out at the San Jose Improv September 13, 14, 15 & 16th Tickets Here:

You don’t do a lot of interviews. Is that intentional?

Not at all. I mostly do radio and podcasts.

Welcome to the old school! I read that you initially got into stand-up comedy through a church group. Was it taught by a comedian?

It was. When I was 16, my dad wanted to take a stand-up comedy class. We were very religious so we took it through a church group. The teachers name is Nazareth. He’s a real person, look him up. I started opening for him and then he started sending to me gigs he didn’t want to do. So for the first year and a half until I turned 18 was just doing churches and fundraisers and schools. It’s not a very rock and roll story. It’s pretty dorky and lame.

No it isn’t. Anjelah Johnson has a very similar story.

Right. She still does churches doesn’t she?

I don’t know why she wouldn’t. I’m jewy but my wife goes to church every Sunday. And she took me to see a church comedian who completely destroyed.

As long as you’re not dirty you can really clean up. It’s a supportive place to start for sure because people don’t want you to suck and they’re not used to laughing in church. I would murder as a pastor. If you’re a little funny as pastor people are like, “Pastor Jeff is hysterical.” I’m like, “Really, or is it just 9am?”

It’s so true. I went this past Sunday and the pastors assistant, or whatever that’s called, he did a bit on hiking. And I’ve just started doing a bit on hiking. And it was similar, like he used some of the same words and he destroyed harder than I have this week. So I was totally confused if I should convert and challenge him to comedy or steal his tag and hope nobody from the church comes to my shows.

The associate pastor is always funnier than the lead pastor.

The main guy has to stay in a certain lane. But the sidekick can always be goofy. It’s the same format as Late Night. So I disagree that it’s dorky and lame, because everyone’s trajectory is unique. How you get into comedy is your personal fingerprint.

I was getting way more time onstage than I had prepared material and then getting paid for it. So maybe it’s not the best idea. Nobody should start off comedy doing 20 minutes in front of hundreds of people and then be handed a check afterwards. It was ridiculous.

How does church comedy differ, besides in the obvious ways?

It’s such a strange world. There aren’t that many people that can do it. Because even if you are a clean comic, you are probably not church clean. If during your hour you are not church clean 100% of the time they don’t want anything to do with you. You got to be one of them.

I saw a church comic named Bob Smiley who destroyed a church full of about 2000 people. And that’s an overplayed word, but it was unlike anything I’ve seen at the Improv. It was probably what the rapture would feel like.

Church people struggle to find guilt free entertainment. So, for a comedian to do an hour set where you can be there with your kids and grandparents and then to be able to go in the van and go to Olive Garden afterwards and everyone is happy, is special. Part of it is just relief from the tension.

Did you do jokes about being so young early on, that you can’t use anymore?

I know I was doing jokes about not going to prom and feeling fat and ugly, very insecure 16-year-old stuff. I used to open, and still do essentially, but I would apologize for being so young. I would say, I’m really young and I know there are differences. I used to do a joke about about how everyone in the audience saw Titanic in theatres and I saw it on VHS and we cried for different reason. They cried because Jack drowned and I cried because Leonardo DeCaprio didn’t look like that anymore. That was my teenager opener. My biggest hurdle back then was to make people feel at ease that I knew what I was doing. If the audience is nervous the whole time, it’s pretty hard to laugh at anything.

Was it a big class? Were there a lot of kids wanting to do stand-up comedy?

No. I was the only kid. It was me and seven adults. Nobody else pursued it. It was just a fun hobby thing.

At what point did you realize there were topics of interest you wanted to talk about and you would need to expand outside the church?

Absolutely. I made a conscious decision to stop doing churches. I was very very clean until I was 21 or 22. I wanted to talk about other things. Even TV clean isn’t clean enough for churches. That was the time I did Last Comic Standing. And I was very clear that I didn’t want to be labeled a church comedian. They wanted to film me performing at a church. I told them it’s where I started but I had moved on to clubs. And of course that’s exactly how they portrayed me. But because of that I got offered a bunch more church gigs, so I did it for a while longer. Eventually I felt trapped. I couldn’t touch on subjects that were important to me but were considered dark, harsh or mean. It wasn’t worth it to me anymore. I was getting roped in.

You become like a carnival act. You’re expected to perform within certain parameters and there’s a paycheck at the end. But, if you want to grow as an artist and as a comic. . .

. . .I mean if that’s who you are. And squeaky clean comedy is your thing. Then go for it. Capitalize on it. Take advantage of that audience. They need you as much as you need them.

How was the transition to Last Comic Standing? Having gone from working churches and clubs to having to hit your mark in front of cameras and a TV audience?

I grew up watching Last Comic Standing and so it was a pretty big deal to be on it and I was terrified. TV audiences are either super excited to be there or paid to be there, so it’s a different animal all together. Now when I do a late night show, it’s still weird, because it’s not like a club audience by any stretch of the imagination, but I’m much more comfortable.

Is it true you have a development deal based on your life story?

That was last year. I had a development deal with ABC. I did New Faces in Montreal and off that I shopped a project around. ABC was interested and it was a great learning experience. It’s still floating around the internet that makes it look like it’s still happening. But I moved on. So much of show business is perception. People relate to you on something you have done in your past, but you are already moving on to something that you may or may not be able to talk about yet.

Was the ABC show shelved? Did you make a pilot episode?

We wrote a pilot. Me and a team of writers. ABC passed on it. At the time was a bummer because I liked the people I was writing it with. But the actual project wasn’t exactly what I wanted to do. What I am working on now is something I feel better about. Back then I was trying to tailor my ideas to fit a mold that the network wanted. A multi-cam sit-com thing. That wasn’t my first choice and when it didn’t happen I was the least disappointed. As a comic you are always trying to get onstage and get better. I heard so many stories that once you get on a show and start acting you can’t get onstage as much as you want. I don’t really audition for anything, which drives my agent crazy. Unless it’s funny or makes me better or makes sense to me, I don’t want to do anything that detracts or distracts from stand-up.




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