From the Church to The Tabernacle
Rising comic Taylor Tomlinson stars in Conan's standup tour
Conan O'Brien is on a bit of a hiatus from his popular TBS late-night show. While it's being revamped for a more succinct, comedy-oriented format, he's on a cross-country tour of theaters with a wildly-varied selection of today's hottest comics in tow.
In Atlanta, the line-up is perhaps the strongest of all the dates, with steadily-rising funnyman Ron Funches, xxx Flavo or whatever - and hot young comic Taylor Tomlinson.
Her latest special is an episode of the The Comedy Lineup on Netflix, recently awarded an impressive 100% score by Rotten Tomatoes. She also co-hosts a funny podcast called Self-Helpless.
INsite caught up with Tomlinson by phone before a recent show in Las Vegas.
Your path to comedy is decidedly unique. It's not the typical 'open-mics-to-headlining clubs' story.
Yeah, when I was 16 my dad wanted to take a stand-up comedy class, so we did. We were a pretty religious family, and we did it through a church group. Then I started opening sets for the teacher. I actually did that until I turned 18, just doing churches and fundraisers and schools. It's not really a very rock and roll beginning, I guess.
Was your dad happy that you became a comic and he didn't?
He didn't really want to be a comic, he just thought it would be a fun thing to do together. It's not like he had some big dream that I stole; we just had time to talk in the car every week for eight weeks. It was much more about us hanging out. And then this is what I ended up doing, which is crazy to think about now.
Like with "Christian Rock," is there a stigma of being labelled a "Church Comic?"
Oh yeah, but I never wanted to actually be a "church comic." I never really had church jokes, I was just really clean for the first few years. Then at a certain point, I decided I didn't want to just do churches anymore. If you want to do churches, you really have to commit to that and be that - all the time. There's no way to go, 'Ok, I'll do this set at churches and I'll do this set at clubs.' No. You have to be doing church sets everywhere. For me, there were just other things to talk about. I felt like there were other things I couldn't get into. Not that it was 'dirty,' but it's like you can't do darker or harsher things. I felt like it was a little limiting and it wasn't conducive to my style of comedy. Some people are totally clean and that's how they are anyway - and they fit in great. They're awesome and they fit into that circuit. There's just so much work in that field if you can do it.
You said "clean," but there's a big difference between regular clean and church-approved clean.
Right and that's the tough part. People will ask me about it and they'll say, 'Oh, I could do some churches, I could do an hour clean.' And I'm like, 'No, you don't understand - you'd have to wipe your entire internet presence.' Every podcast you've been on, every video. You'd have to make sure you didn't even swear once. They don't want you to just be a comic, they want you to be a Christian Comedian, you know? People don't really get that sometimes. It's a very specific skill and you have to be a very specific kind of person to be right for that market.
From there, did you move to the club circuit or straight on to Last Comic Standing?
I was doing clubs in San Diego by that point. I think I auditioned for Last Comic right after my 21st birthday and they liked the story about starting out in the church - I think because they hadn't heard it before. But I remember I said specifically, 'Please don't portray me as a church comic, I'm trying to get away from that. I don't necessarily want that to be how I'm labelled or whatever.' And of course, that's exactly what they did, because it's a reality show. So after that, or maybe because of that, there was another year where I was doing churches. But once I was 22, which was three years ago now, I stopped doing them.
Thanks to the show, you got some mileage from the church thing even though you didn't want or need it at that point.
I did. They filmed me at a church for the little backstory part and they made that kind of my hook. So I got a fair amount of bookings from it. It's weird, nowadays it's all just a lot of things help put you in a different place in your career, a lot of things building up over time. So the church became a part of it.
What was the Last Comic Standing experience like for you? That was Season 9, right?
Yeah, for me it was really cool because I'd watched it growing up - like in middle and high school. I found a lot of comics through that show. I was so young and pretty sheltered, and I didn't know how to really find comics then. That's the first place I saw a lot of comics just because so many people did it. So for me to actually be on that show, even though it was very different by the time I did it, it was very surreal.
Season nine was very strong, with [Atlantan] Clayton English and a bunch of other great comics.
Oh yeah and everyone was really nice to me and cool and hilarious - even when I was voted off. I was like, 'I'm young, I'm working on it. I'll get better.' They were very encouraging, so it was great. And that definitely helps - especially in L.A. - with getting any kind of TV credit. It puts you a little bit more at the forefront of peoples' minds. Like, 'Oh, she just did thisâ€¦'
You got into the TV scramble last year with a development deal, how did it go?
Well we wrote a script with some great writers but the show didn't go. But that was totally fine because I got to go back on the road and do stand-up. I think that's the nice thing about being a stand-up, you don't really want to do a show; at the end of the day, you just want to do standup. If you get a show, great, if not, cool, I get to go back out and do more stand-up with no distractions. I can't imagine wanting to be an actor and how hard that must be. Because with standup, you're just so much more in control.
Would you like to be on a series at some point?
I think I'd like to create my own show, more that be on someone else's. Which is what comics say, because we're so used to it being all on us up there. But I like that. You know, it's the sort of, 'I stand alone and I succeed alone' thing. But yeah, we have some stuff in the works like that now and we're seeing how it goes. I definitely have things I'd like to make and stories I'd like to tell. If I get a chance to do that, it would be great. But I also don't feel the need to go audition for a bunch of Disney Channel shows as the substitute teacher, you know? In the meantime, I'm more than happy to do standup every night.
Can you work out new material when you're on the road?
Yeah, but it's not really so much dependent on where I'm at, it's just when I have new stuff I want to try out. Like, I saw something in the casino the other day that made me think of a joke and I tried it last night because it's just where I am. I don't want to wait and be at a certain place. Sometimes things just come to you, sometimes things just happen. Like, wow I don't need to even write that, it's just hilarious on its own. Other times you're in a bit of a dry spell, you'll go to a coffee shop, sit down and stare at a blank piece of paper and really question your life choices - and maybe look up how to go back to school and finish your degree. Then you think of a joke and it's like, 'Oh no, I'm fine.'
Conan O'Brien presents a night of stand-up comedy and investment tips with Taylor Tomlinson, Ron Funches, names, Thursday, November 15 at The Tabernacle. Showtime is 8 p.m. For more information, please visit tabernacleatl.com.