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How Taylor Tomlinson learned to embrace her ‘constant hum of fear’

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Taylor Tomlinson says she admires how hopeful her teenage self was.

Monica Schipper/Getty Images

A note from Wild Card host Rachel Martin: Usually when I watch stand-up comedy, there’s a safe layer of removal. The situations they’re describing or stories they’re telling happened to someone else. I don’t relate but I get why it’s funny.

When I watched Taylor Tomlinson for the first time, I laughed in the way that only happens when you have lived the joke, but you couldn’t see the funny. And when Tomlinson points it out, it’s a special kind of hilarious that comes with a good dose of perspective. This is a long-winded way of saying that Tomlinson makes me feel seen.

Conservative Christian upbringing? Check. Dead mom. Check? Bad dating history? Check. Hosts a sort of fake game show? Check. Took yourself to the ER because you thought you swallowed an air pod — or in my case, a nose ring? Check.

How could I not invite Tomlinson to play our game? Her newest Netflix special is called Have it All. (Side note: This trailer below includes a curse word.)

This Wild Card interview has been edited for length and clarity. Host Rachel Martin asks guests randomly-selected questions from a deck of cards. Tap play above to listen to the full podcast, or read an excerpt below.

Question 1: What do you admire about your teenage self?

Taylor Tomlinson: I admire how hopeful she was. I think she really believed in her future. At the time, I was really unhappy and really struggling with depression and anxiety and a whole host of other things, but my head felt like a very safe place to go to. It felt like my imagination was very rich and fulfilling and I felt very hopeful about the future — and excited and inspired by that. That’s been something that I’ve lately been really trying to get back to about myself.

Rachel Martin: Just the confidence and setting your expectations high? Not letting other people limit them?

Tomlinson: Not even confidence, I think just hopefulness — maybe a little bit of delusion as well. I think as an adult, you sometimes feel sort of bogged down by everything. It’s easy to feel sad and hopeless and scared. And I think when you are a kid, you’re obviously more naive, but I think being naive can be good.

Question 2: What emotion do you understand better than all the others?

Tomlinson: I think that, at my core, I’m a very fearful person and have learned to get comfortable with sort of being perpetually afraid, which is all anxiety is — it’s a constant hum of fear.

Martin: Did getting up on a stage help you not be afraid? Because it’s so frightening to the rest of us civilians to think about making yourself vulnerable in that way. It seems very scary to do what you do.

Tomlinson: It is. It’s very scary. But you get used to it, I think. And I was so scared of how I would feel if I didn’t do it that I think that helped me push through the stage fright. I was afraid that I would get years down the road and go, “Man, I really wish I had pursued that.” Or “I wish I had done more with this potential I had.”

When people remind me how terrified they would be to go up in front of thousands of people, it does help empower me to do other things, where I go, “Why am I afraid to talk to somebody at the grocery store when I talked to 3,000 people last night,” you know?

Question 3: How do you stay connected to people you’ve lost?

Tomlinson: You and I are both in the dead mom club, as they call it. I think just talking about them and asking people who knew them longer than you for stories. And if you are so inclined creatively, writing about those people and finding ways that you’re similar to them or different than them, or even what they would think of movies and TV shows that are coming out.

Like, I think my mom would have really liked Substack [laughs]. I remember talking to my grandma once and we’re like, she’d probably have a blog, right? Just even stuff like that.


Martin: What do you share in common with your mom? You were young when she died, but what do people tell you about how she shows up in you?

Tomlinson: She loved to write and I think I have that. I have three siblings and two of us look like my dad and the middle two look more like our mom. And I was always so jealous that I didn’t look like my mom.

Martin: Me too. My mom was the pretty one of the family – between her and my dad. I got my dad’s looks too.

Tomlinson: Not to hurt our dad’s feelings, I’m sure both our dads are handsome as well, but I always wanted to have more in common with her. But you know, she was an extrovert and I’m not an extrovert. She was very charismatic, smart and funny, and I didn’t feel like I had those things.

And because she died so young — she died when she was 34, and she was sick for the last two years and she had kids really young — so when she died, I was like, “Wow, what a waste. What a waste of such an amazing person who was taken way too soon, with all this talent and creativity that I have scraps of.” And so that’s probably a big reason why I’ve tried to stretch those scraps as far as I can and have been able to, you know, with the help of Netflix.

But I had a moment, maybe a year ago where I was like, man, I’ve really pushed the bits of her I got to the limit because in some ways I feel that I’m the unrealized potential that she didn’t get to realize, which is so sad.

Martin: What was your mom’s name?

Tomlinson: Angela.

Martin: I think Angela would be into Substack and she would be into Taylor Tomlinson for sure.

Tomlinson: I hope so. Maybe she’d be like, “You’re kind of a hack.” [laughs]

Martin: She’d be like a heckler at all your shows. [laughs]

Tomlinson: She’s like, “I don’t get it.” [laughs]

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