The life of a stand-up comedian can be taxing. The hours aren’t long, but they are late. The environment is competitive, and the venues are boozy. You can’t clock in and out; you have to be shining your best and brightest, all by yourself, in front of crowd after crowd, city after city, while mining personal relationships and painful experiences for material that may or may not work, and are only maybe going to get you paid. It’s not a coincidence that so many comedians turn to drugs to keep going. Taylor Tomlinson’s secret weapon is an even stronger analgesic: therapy.
“Mostly we talked about how busy my schedule is coming up and how I need to take care of myself,” she tells me when I ask, only half expecting a real answer, what she and her therapist have most recently discussed. Tomlinson had a session right before our Zoom conversation, and while normally this topic would be incredibly invasive, her persona practically invites it. Her therapist is a recurring character in her two Netflix specials, and one of her best bits is her “floaties” explanation of her own bipolar disorder. It’s part of the package.
Tomlinson has the kind of career most stand-up comedians don’t let themselves imagine, because that level of achievement, that early, is so unlikely that it’s not a helpful goal. Now 30, she began at 16, playing the church circuit for two years until she could legally enter clubs. Then she rose up the ranks of talk show spots and specials and festivals until, in November 2023, it was announced that she would be taking over James Corden’s slot after The Late Show With Stephen Colbert, hosting After Midnight, a new version of the comedy panel show @midnight that ran on Comedy Central from 2013 to 2017. With great success comes greater stress, hence the therapy. And psychiatry. And she has a trainer now, and she adjusted her touring schedule so she can actually sleep.
“Look, the truth is I could not have done [After Midnight] four years ago. Even three years ago. What’s so interesting is when it came up, I was like, Oh I think I’m at a place in my life where I actually could do that job and I could do it well and I could enjoy it. Anyone in your 20s: You don’t know who you are yet. It’s crazy how different I felt every year of my 20s. I feel like I’m finally stabilizing at 30…I really do feel different. Twenty-nine was a really hard year. But also really good, and out of that, I do feel like the best version of myself. It feels like things kind of locked into place in a nice way.”
They say if you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life. But that’s not entirely true. Love it enough and you’ll work all the time, which is how, strangely enough, becoming a TV host is what’s going to give her time to socialize with her peers. “Being on the road is really fun, but it’s also really lonely. Something that I talked a lot about when I was interviewing for the job was, I really would love, when I come back to LA, to have a community,” she says. “The idea of making something new every day with a group of people I really like sounds very fun and creatively fulfilling. Getting to see comedians more. Getting to meet more comedians.”
And in addition to hosting “hopefully a fun comfort show for people at the end of the day,” the program will allow her to spread the spotlight. “I’m excited to give stand-up comedians a platform where they can be really funny and get these great clips that are not going to burn their material, which is why we are all posting crowd work online.” This is generously strategic—or perhaps strategically generous?—and a welcome break from the current wave of comedy-world whining. In just the last month, Matt Rife got into it in the TikTok comments section, Katt Williams called out Kevin Hart, Dave Chappelle dropped another combative special, and Jo Koy threw his own writers under the bus as he floundered at the Golden Globes.
Tomlinson won’t be like that. Level head, thick skin, chalk it up to whatever body part you want, she’s kind of too cool for pettiness. As a practice, she doesn’t read the comments on her work, but when a stray jab crosses her path, she’s able to both acknowledge it and brush it off with the same gesture. “I don’t really care. Everything I love, if somebody told me they didn’t like it, I would understand that. So if somebody doesn’t like my comedy for XYZ reason, I’m like, ‘Yeah, okay. That makes sense to me. Other people really like it!’ It doesn’t really matter.”
She cares about the opinions of exactly four people: her opener, Dustin Nickerson; and her three younger siblings. She wasn’t always this way—she had the aha moment about comments at 21—but that’s the magic of 30. “When I was younger I was so terrified that people hated me, or thought this or that. And now I know, I really can’t control what anybody thinks, and if people don’t like me, I get that. I could argue that side. I feel the most empathetic I’ve ever felt at 30. I can kind of see everything from everyone’s perspective.” Okay, forget about thick skin, Tomlinson’s fully enlightened.
I want to blast her words at every comic from Sunset to Broadway: “You do your best and you try to treat people well. Be someone you feel good about. I think that’s the biggest shift, is now I’m trying to be somebody I feel good about as opposed to somebody that everybody else will feel good about.”
It’s a perspective that will serve her well when she becomes…and I’m sorry we couldn’t avoid the topic…a woman in late-night who is a woman and, by the way, female. It’s like an interview tax we have to pay, even if there have been no new points to make since Christopher Hitchens, uh, went off, I guess.
And actually, Tomlinson has plenty of predecessors: Joan Rivers, Chelsea Handler, Robin Thede, Samantha Bee, Michelle Wolf, Lilly Singh, Ziwe Fumudoh. The problem isn’t that women never get a chance; it’s that those chances don’t seem to come with much support. The shows are so short-lived they almost never overlap, and so when Tomlinson’s After Midnight premieres on January 16, she will be the one (1) woman hosting a late-night show on network television. The closest thing to a peer will be Amber Ruffin, whose Peacock show, The Amber Ruffin Show, is returning not for a full third season but for a handful of specials as Ruffin works on a scripted pilot. It’s not a done deal that, in 2024, the public will hold Tomlinson to a different standard because of her gender. But she and I both see the bias coming.
“[The whole thing] is a bummer,” she says. “I remember when Bridesmaids came out when I was in high school, and didn’t every article about that movie feel like, ‘I guess women are funny?’ That movie changed a bunch of people’s minds, I guess? It was really wild to see that when I was just starting to do stand-up. That was very formative and cool for me. And I’m sure at the time [the filmmakers] were like, ‘Duh, women are funny, what is everyone focusing on this for?’ But yeah, I don’t know. I think I underestimated how big a deal it would be. Because I know so many great female comics, and I think it’s abundantly clear that women are hilarious.”
In 2014, before Corden was announced as the next Late Late Show host, Tina Fey weighed in on what it would take for a woman to get a desk. “I realized, a lot of times, these hosts, they get their job when they’re 35 or 40, and they keep them till they’re 65. So I was like, ‘If you’re a lady, what do you wear?’ Right? Cause if you go in with a cocktail dress, and then you’re 45, you’re 50, then there’s gonna come a day when you’re like, ‘I don’t got it! Bring me the jacket!,’” she told Seth Meyers. “That’s why I think Ellen [DeGeneres] is going to be the first person to break through. Because she’s already wearing jackets.”
Well, it won’t be Ellen. But guess who is already wearing jackets?
For the show, it’ll be suits—“There are suits mood boards. I wore a full-blown suit at Radio City, and I was like, This is awesome! I just felt badass and comfortable, and I was like, ‘Man, this job is gonna be a great opportunity because I get all these suits!’”—but as with her first two specials, the next will see her in a jacket. A confident jacket. An eye-catching jacket. A jacket for a bad bitch with her shit figured out and a fat paycheck on the way. Okay, that’s my excitement talking, I should let Tomlinson explain with her normal words:
“This year I came in with three options. I came in with a very simple option, just in case as a backup-backup; I came in with one that was really loud but I felt pretty good about; and then I had a medium version that was sort of a halfway point. I went with the loud one. This was the first special that I was like, ‘Okay, it might be okay to say you’re successful.’ I felt like the first two…you feel sort of weird taking big swings, or I do at least. But [this time] I was like, ‘Just go for it. Things are going well. Your dreams came true. You have the stand-up career you always wanted. Just do what you think is cool.’ So that’s where we ended up and I feel pretty good about it.”
After Midnight With Taylor Tomlinson premieres on January 16 on CBS.
Elizabeth Logan is Glamour’s pop culture writer. She is a graduate of NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts and the owner of one black cat. You can (and should!) follow her on X @lizzzzzielogan.
Originally Appeared on Glamour