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Comedian Taylor Tomlinson plays 'Wild Card'


Comedian Taylor Tomlinson is fearless onstage. She digs right into the awkward and sometimes painful experiences of her life. That includes her conservative Christian upbringing, her mom dying when she was young and her dating history.


TAYLOR TOMLINSON: Every guy I've ever dated has told me I have trust issues, which is something liars say when you're onto them.


TOMLINSON: You have trust issues, babe. You have a hot coworker and a locked phone, so...


TOMLINSON: I have trust issues, but I earned them, OK?

FLORIDO: Tomlinson joined my colleague, Rachel Martin, for our new show Wild Card, where guests choose questions at random from a deck of cards, questions about the memories, insights and beliefs that have shaped them. And a warning - the conversation includes a brief mention of sex. Here's Wild Card host Rachel Martin.


RACHEL MARTIN: First three cards - we're in the memories round. One, two, or three.


MARTIN: What's a moment from your childhood when you realized you wanted to make different choices than your parents?

TOMLINSON: Ooh. My parents had gotten married in their early 20s before they finished college and never really encouraged that - would say things like, wait till you're 27 to get married. Like, you don't have to get married while you're still in school. Like, finish school, live a little life and then get married. But even then, I don't know that I felt that way 'cause I did really want to be married when I was little. So I think that if I had met the person I thought was my person at, you know, 20 - which of course, we all did, and we were wrong. But if I had wanted to get married at 20, I would have just done it. I wouldn't have said to myself, well, you got to wait. Remember, you need to make a different choice than your parents.

MARTIN: Yeah. Although it must be said, you came from this super Christian conservative home and culture where people, I assume, like the one I grew up in, got - like, maybe it wasn't 19, but maybe it was, like, 22...

TOMLINSON: Oh, yeah.

MARTIN: ...When people got married.

TOMLINSON: Oh, yeah.

MARTIN: So it was - a lot of your peers, I imagine, did that.

TOMLINSON: Well, it's a wild thing to tell people, hey, you should wait to get married, but also don't have sex until you're married. And you're like, you got to pick one, everybody.

MARTIN: (Laughter).

TOMLINSON: Like, do you want me to wait or - do you want me to wait to get married? Or do you want me to wait to have sex? What's the choice here?


TOMLINSON: Although I will say that - going back to religion, I think that was an example of a different choice I was making than my parents and my family. And I think...

MARTIN: Yeah, that's a big one.

TOMLINSON: That's a huge one, yeah, where you gradually come to the realization that this isn't right for you or it's not necessarily what you believe. But when your whole family believes this thing, it is very hard to accept that you don't feel that way because you're afraid of being isolated and ostracized from your family. At least that was my experience.

MARTIN: Yeah. OK. I feel like there's more to plumb, but we're going to move on. Three more cards - one, two or three.


MARTIN: One. What do you admire about your teenage self?

TOMLINSON: Ooh, what a good question. I admire how hopeful she was. I think she really believed in her future. I think 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. Like, 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.

MARTIN: Is just that confidence and setting your expectations high, not letting other people limit them, or what do you mean?

TOMLINSON: Not even confidence. I think just hopefulness, maybe a little bit of delusion as well. Like...


TOMLINSON: ...I think as an adult, sometimes you 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.


MARTIN: Round 2 is insights - stuff you're working on now, lessons you're learning today. OK. Three new cards - one, two or three.

TOMLINSON: Let's do three.

MARTIN: Oh, I like this one. What emotion do you understand better than all the others?

TOMLINSON: Oh, fear. I think that I - at my core, I'm a very fearful person and have just learned to get comfortable with sort of being perpetually afraid, which is all anxiety is, is just constant fear. It's a constant hum of fear.

MARTIN: Did getting up on a stage, is that just like the thing that helps you not be afraid? - Because it's so frightening to the rest of us civilians to think about making yourself vulnerable in that way.

TOMLINSON: It is. It's very scary, but you get so 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 - is 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, and I wish I'd developed this talent that might have taken me somewhere. And it certainly helps day to day, too, when people remind me how terrified they would be to go up in front of thousands of people.


TOMLINSON: 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? (Laughter) Like, it helps you (inaudible).

MARTIN: Well, I get that.

TOMLINSON: Yeah (laughter)?

MARTIN: I get that. I mean, 'cause they're just, like, a bunch of people in an auditorium who are - mostly think you're awesome.


MARTIN: Like, they bought a ticket to see you. But the person at the grocery store, who knows?

TOMLINSON: That's such a good...

MARTIN: And they're so close. They're next to your face (ph).

TOMLINSON: You know what? You're right. I'm scared again. No, you're right.

MARTIN: (Laughter) Great.

TOMLINSON: You're so right.


MARTIN: OK, three new cards - one, two, three?

TOMLINSON: Let's do two.

MARTIN: Two. What is something you still feel you need to prove to the people you meet?

TOMLINSON: Well, my instinct is to say to prove that I'm funny, but I don't feel that I need to prove that to everyone I meet, which I think is different than when I was younger. I think when I was younger, probably, I felt differently, but like, I don't really feel that way anymore. I don't know. I want people to think I'm kind, which can be a hard thing to prove.

MARTIN: Yeah, but that's different. What I hear you saying is you're actually in a pretty comfortable place because I think that question plays off insecurities - right? - something that you still feel insecure about that you have to prove otherwise. And I'm not hearing that in how you're answering it. So that's pretty good.

TOMLINSON: That is good. Wow. This is like a therapy session. This is so nice. I'm going to fire my therapist. This is lovely.


TOMLINSON: There's nothing that I feel like I need to prove it to everyone I meet. There are certain things I want to prove to different people. Like, people I work with, I want to prove that I'm kind and hard-working, you know? People I'm performing for, I want to prove that I'm funny. Like, there's...

MARTIN: What about relationships, romance?

TOMLINSON: Oh, oh, I mean, that's a great point (laughter). I mean, in romantic relationships, I certainly want to prove that I'm worthy and worth the effort. So...

MARTIN: Oh, that's fair (ph).

TOMLINSON: We really hit on something there. Well done. Well done, Rachel.

MARTIN: (Laughter).

TOMLINSON: It's like you know what you're doing. I was like, no, no, no. I don't feel the need to prove anything. You're like, what about in relationships? I was like, oh, God. That's right.

MARTIN: Sorry, ma'am, but you put it all out in your special...

TOMLINSON: You're right. You're right.

MARTIN: ...So the bit was there somewhere (ph).

TOMLINSON: You're right. I was like, never mind.


MARTIN: You have round three to go - beliefs, OK?


MARTIN: This is how you see the world, that kind of thing. One, two or three.


MARTIN: One. Does the idea of an infinite universe excite you or scare you?

TOMLINSON: Depends on the day.


TOMLINSON: Depends on the day and where I'm at in my life. I think when I was younger, the idea of infinity really freaked me out. And as I've gotten older, I kind of go back and forth. You know, growing up in church, so much of your life is focused on knowing exactly what happens when you die and making sense of it all, and here's the book, and it tells us everything.


TOMLINSON: And there was a lot of - I found a lot of freedom in deciding that I didn't know and was never going to know. And so there was no point trying to figure it out. I think today, it excites me. So I must be in a good place this morning.



MARTIN: Did you always feel that way? I mean, you didn't.


MARTIN: You believed in the heaven and the hell and the God and the creation. And so when you made that pivot, was that scary?

TOMLINSON: Yeah. Oh, at the beginning, for sure. I mean, it's a gradual process, I think, falling out of love with a religion. I think it's really hard to accept, and you go back and forth for years. And you have to constantly work on it and sit with some really uncomfortable feelings.

MARTIN: Yeah. For me, it was the falling out of love when you don't have something to replace it with immediately...


MARTIN: ...And then that feels empty.


MARTIN: Whoo (ph).

TOMLINSON: (Laughter).

MARTIN: We have three more cards.


MARTIN: OK? One, two, three - still in beliefs.


MARTIN: How do you stay connected to people you've lost?

TOMLINSON: I think you have to - do you mean people who have died or just people you've lost touch with?

MARTIN: I know we lost - I mean, you can interpret it however you want to. Yeah, I should say that. What am I talking about? It means dead.

TOMLINSON: Yeah (laughter).

MARTIN: It means dead. What does that mean, like, I lost touch with my second grade teacher...


MARTIN: ...And I stalk her on Facebook.

TOMLINSON: Right. That's so funny. I know now you don't have to lose touch with anybody because of social media.

MARTIN: Right. You don't.

TOMLINSON: Yeah. No, I think - especially since we're 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 people who knew them in different ways than you...


TOMLINSON: ...How they knew them. 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, like, what they would think of movies and TV shows that are coming out. Like...


TOMLINSON: ...You know? Like, I think my mom would have really liked Substack. Like, you know, like it's...


TOMLINSON: Like, I remember talking to my grandma once, and we're like, she'd probably have a blog, right? Like, it's 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 mean, 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.


MARTIN: My mom was the pretty one of - between her and my dad...

TOMLINSON: Oh, me too.

MARTIN: I got my dad's looks too. Yeah.

TOMLINSON: Yeah. It's - I know, and it's so funny 'cause it's such a specific thing - not to hurt our dad's feelings.

MARTIN: I know.

TOMLINSON: It's like, I'm sure both our dads are handsome as well. But I - yeah, I always wanted to have more in common with her, but, you know, she was an extrovert. I'm not an extrovert. Like, I had a lot - I was really insecure about the fact that I didn't have more in common with her. She was very charismatic and smart and funny. And I just - I didn't feel that I had those things.

MARTIN: Well, I mean, Taylor - charismatic, smart and funny, you know, you are those things.

TOMLINSON: I mean, I'm doing a real good impression of it now. That's - which is what somebody (laughter)...

MARTIN: But isn't that all what it is? You're like, you know...


MARTIN: You just imitate it until it becomes you, and then it is you.

TOMLINSON: Yeah. I feel like she - this is sort of sad, but I felt like because she died so young - she died when she was 34, and she was sick, like, the last two years. So she got sick at 32, I think. And she had kids really young, and so when she died, I was like, wow, what a waste, you know? What a waste of such an amazing person and - just taken way too soon - and 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, like, 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 just 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?


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

TOMLINSON: That's really nice. I hope so.

MARTIN: Yeah. I'm pretty sure.

TOMLINSON: (Laughter) Maybe she wouldn't. Maybe she'd be like, you're kind of a hack. I don't know.


MARTIN: She'd be, like, a heckler at all your shows.

TOMLINSON: Yeah, yeah, yeah. She's like, I don't get it.


MARTIN: Taylor Tomlinson, it has been such a pleasure to talk with you. Thank you so much.

TOMLINSON: This was so lovely. Thank you so much, Rachel.


FLORIDO: You can hear a longer version of that conversation with Taylor Tomlinson on NPR's new podcast Wild Card With Rachel Martin. You'll also find recent conversations with comedian Bowen Yang and filmmaker David Lynch.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Rachel Martin is a host of Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.