Comedian Taylor Tomlinson On Success Of Her ‘Have It All’ Tour And What’s Next

Following the breakout success of a pair of Netflix
specials, stand-up comedian Taylor Tomlinson finds herself in the midst of her biggest run of live performances, capturing a unique moment.

The “Have It All” tour resumes this weekend, with Tomlinson set to arrive in Dallas, Texas for a whopping five shows at the Majestic Theatre beginning on Friday, March 3.

Last month, Tomlinson sold nearly 11,000 tickets over the course of three sold out sets at the Chicago Theatre, moving even more in Boston earlier this month, where four sold out performances at the Wang Theatre (14,000 tickets sold) eclipsed a mark set by Jerry Seinfeld and Louis C.K.

The tour actually began in October and continues to make its way across the U.S. throughout March before heading to Europe, an immense outing which returns to America in late April, with dates running into mid-June before moving to Australia and New Zealand.

Making the jump to even bigger theaters has tasked the comedian with making sure her act continues to resonate in larger rooms the way it has on screen and in clubs.

“You just have to do everything a lot bigger, I think. That’s the biggest change,” said Tomlinson over the phone following the Chicago residency. “At say The Comedy Attic in Bloomington, Indiana, you can take two steps in either direction. At an Improv you can pace a bit. But the Chicago Theatre is a massive, wide stage – and you just have to move so much more,” she explained. “It’s also different because in some of those rooms, like Chicago, there’s a screen behind you – and that helps. Certain things will work with a screen because the back row can see your facial expressions, like in a club. So, just thinking about all of that and sort of tweaking each performance based on the room you’re in is key.”

Stand-up comedy has grown immensely in recent years, in the midst of perhaps its biggest boom period since the 1980s. In an era where musicians can be beholden to producers or a label, actors and directors to a studio, comedy remains a mostly uncorrupted art form where honesty is paramount.

“I don’t think that comedians really need any one thing or any one opportunity or any one person anymore,” said Tomlinson. “I think with podcasts too, everybody has so much control over their career and their voice and finding their people. I think the internet has made it so that you have so much control over your own career – which I think is really important and cool.”

Timing is everything and Tomlinson’s first comedy special, Quarter-Life Crisis, hit Netflix in March 2020, her debut hour of material quickly finding a whole new audience starved for entertainment in the early days of pandemic lockdown.

The comedian has been able to take advantage of online platforms like TikTok, where nearly 2.5 million followers and 40 million likes have led to artist sponsorships and an alternate revenue stream.

But her story has much more modest roots. Growing up in California, Tomlinson was raised in a devout Christian household, cutting her teeth as a comic first on the church circuit in smaller, more unconventional venues. Quickly outgrowing it, she moved on, appearing as a finalist on NBC’s Last Comic Standing in 2015 while landing on the Forbes 30 Under 30 list at the end of 2021.

“I was really sheltered growing up. So I didn’t really know a lot about it,” said Tomlinson of stand-up comedy. “I liked performing. I can’t sing or dance or anything – I just liked acting. But, where I grew up, there weren’t really plays – everything was a musical. So, I liked being on stage but I was never like the lead in anything,” she explained of her path, discovering comedy during a stand-up class in her mid-teens. “I think once I found stand-up, it was like, ‘Oh… this is so much better than acting! I get to perform but I get to do whatever I want. I don’t have to say anything I don’t want to say. There’s nobody here to let down or be let down by. It’s all on me up here.’”

Tomlinson has developed one of the smoothest, most conversational deliveries in stand-up comedy, continually honing a more and more relatable act. While her target demo probably skews toward women under 30, the Chicago audience, and more importantly its reaction, is evidence of a wider appeal.

“I was a really shy, scared kid. I was really, really anxious to go on stage for the first five years that I was doing this. But, once I was up there, I felt like myself. I felt like, ‘Oh. This is who I actually am. This is who I want to be,’” said the comedian. “Over the years, I got closer and closer to that. And now I feel like I’m the same person off stage that I am on stage. At first, I just couldn’t be that person every day. But I could be that person for 10 to 15 minutes on stage.”

Quarter-Life Crisis found Tomlinson breaking down her religious upbringing while hitting upon the value of therapy, destigmatizing the process.

Her second hour of material for Netflix, Look At You, hit the streaming service in spring of 2022, Tomlinson’s material achieving an even greater depth through her candid approach to topics like antidepressants, her bipolar diagnosis and the death of her mother when the comedian was just 8 years old.

“I’ll tell you that Look At You, some of the darker material there was half formed when I was getting ready to do Quarter-Life Crisis. But I didn’t put it in Quarter-Life Crisis. Because I wanted Quarter-Life Crisis to be about being in your 20s and not knowing who you were. I wanted it to feel consistent throughout the whole thing,” she said. “Look At You was me being able to do all of that – and that was great and really rewarding. That being said, it was also really sort of emotionally exhausting by the end of that tour – it was just a lot every night to sort of stick that landing of presenting that material in a way that wasn’t going to make people uncomfortable while also making it clear that I was fine and I was OK. It just took a lot to do it – and then meet people after shows and talk about it more.”

More than just setup and punchline, Tomlinson’s material carries with it a narrative arc, stand-up that doubles at times as storytelling, characters developed, plot established and conflict resolved over the course of sixty minutes.

Everything that made the first two specials great informs the new material the comedian is offering up on stage each night during the “Have It All” tour, with Tomlinson, 29, probing the age-old question, is it possible to have it all?

“I wanted this new, current hour to be lighter and sillier – and probably just a little more fun for myself and for the audience,” she said. “Right now, I like where the hour is at. Quarter-Life was kind of about not knowing who you were. And then, I think this hour is kind of about knowing who you are – but not knowing why your life isn’t where you thought it’d be,” said Tomlinson.

“Everyone has a different age in their head of, ‘This is when I’m gonna have x, y and z – this is when I’m gonna have everything figured out.’ But life just doesn’t work like that. At all,” she said. “Everybody in my life, in their 20s and 30s, they may have their dream job – but they’re not married. They might be married – but they don’t know if they want kids. Or they may have kids – but they don’t have the dream job. Or they got divorced. So that’s kind of the overarching theme of ‘Have It All.’”

Most nights during the “Have It All” tour, Tomlinson works alongside opening act Dustin Nickerson in a crowd participation segment, interacting with the audience during a highly engaging portion of the show.

Handling an audience in moments like that, while keeping the show from veering off the tracks, can be difficult under optimal circumstances. But conditions during the final Chicago performance were far from that, with Tomlinson forced to pause the show due to a medical emergency in the audience.

After the attendee was assessed by on site medics, and it was made clear that person’s condition was OK, the decision was made to continue with the show. But, by that point, given the break, those in attendance began making bathroom and bar runs and conversation soon took over the theater. Fans were still making their way back inside and to their seats as the performance resumed.

Tomlinson’s ability to rein the crowd in was masterful, carefully guiding what could’ve been a combustible situation.

“Obviously, you never want anyone to have a medical emergency. We’re not saying that made the show better that someone had a medical emergency. But I think nights where things don’t go according to plan or you get thrown a curve ball – provided nothing horrible happens, and we made sure that person was OK – people can sort of band together as an audience and feel closer,” said Tomlinson of the unique experience on stage in Chicago, one which took place shortly before the crowd participation segment with Nickerson was set to begin, allowing the pair to address it.

“That was something that I pitched to him before this new tour. I was like, ‘What if we did crowd work together? Would you be down for that? Would that be fun for you?’ I really like Steve Martin and Martin Short’s special where they’re just on stage together for a lot of it. And I just thought that that would be fun,” said the comedian. “That’s another way to make every show feel different and give people something specific to talk about. I just want the show to be worth the money to people. Because I know it’s money and time and a babysitter and all of that stuff. I know how much goes into getting out to see things.”

With her first feature film reportedly in the works, Tomlinson, like all great stand-ups, is continually working on new material, her current hour a work in progress as she continues amidst the massive success of her “Have It All” tour.

“Whatever my current hour is is just what’s happening in my life. There’s not really like… a plan,” said the comedian with a chuckle. “I have stuff that I was talking about on part of this tour that I’ve decided to probably save for the next hour – because I just feel like it’s kind of still unfolding and it’s not quite ready yet. It’s harder subject matter – that I think people can relate to. But, sometimes, I think you’ve got to just process things. Especially when it’s deep-rooted grief or family stuff,” Tomlinson said. “You’re not going to mess anything up by thinking about it a little longer. You’re just going to develop a more well-rounded perspective on it. So, right now, I like where the hour is at. It’s very much where I’m at currently. And I hope that it’s relatable to people.”

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