Taylor Tomlinson’s Look at You shows how far she’s come since her first appearance on Netflix’s The Comedy Lineup in 2018. And her biggest revelation from the new special—that she has bipolar disorder and anxiety—explains some of it.
If you go back and watch Tomlinson’s 2018 appearance, you’ll notice the jokes are there, but the delivery is frantic and rushed—she doesn’t seem to take a breath. I remember watching it with a then-partner of mine who shook his head and said, “She’s scared.” I countered with, “But she has good form.” After all, we tend to slow down as we age.
In comparison, Look at You contains Obama-level pauses—pauses so pregnant you wonder if they’re going to come to term. And when they do, the punchlines tend to hit home. Tomlinson’s always been solid on craft, and this special really shows it by letting all parts of her jokes breathe.
Five minutes in, Tomlinson gets into her bipolar disorder diagnosis—or rather, her non-diagnosis—and this is where the special hits. Anyone who’s been through the mental health revolving door will relate to Taylor finally reverse-engineering her diagnosis via Googling her meds, finding what they most commonly treated, and asking her psychiatrist who confirmed with a, “Oh, yeah! I’m glad we figured that out.” To which Tomlinson quips, “‘This kind of feels like a putting your dog’s medication in cheese situation.’”
The most brilliant part of the show comes when Tomlinson launches into an extended analogy about mental illness being akin to not knowing how to swim: “It might be embarrassing to tell people, and it might be hard to take you certain places.” But taking medications, or wearing water wings in Tomlinson’s metaphor, eliminates the latter and alleviates the former—and anyone who makes fun of you for wearing water wings obviously doesn’t care if you drown and die.
Comparing this Tomlinson, speaking with measured conviction, to 2018 Tomlinson is to see a woman who has begun to mine her deepest insecurities and fears for material and come out the better for it. Although she started this process in her 2020 special Quarter-Life Crisis, it never fully materialized until now.
The pièce de résistance comes when Tomlinson talks about those who don’t use water wings when they know they need them—people who cling to a lifeguard, drowning their would-be savior as they claim they’re fine. Self-deprecatingly, Tomlinson uses the moment to talk about a few lifeguards she’s drowned, but the moment is more poignant than that. With the rise in acceptance of mental illness and the understanding that it’s not “all in your head,” the other piece often left unsaid is: self-awareness isn’t enough—you have to act. It may not always be water wings, but if you know you can’t swim and aren’t using any aids, you probably shouldn’t get in the pool.
And following this brilliant analogy, executed so well and transcending so many taboo topics, Tomlinson turns to well-trod territory to lampoon her religious upbringing. Unfortunately, she falls into clichés and banal observations, touched on in Quarter-Life Crisis, but packages them as revelations.
When Tomlinson dives into her anxiety, which she traces back to the early death of her mother, and how much she’s achieved at a young age in spite of it, her 2018 performance adds up; Tomlinson was only 25 years old and was cutting her teeth on Netflix’s stage. Most comics her age (and older) are vying for spots on a local open mic’s list. She’s still figuring out how to transform trauma into truths and some are little surface-level.
Of course, this devolves into dead mom jokes, which land, but Tomlinson’s assertion that some of the audience were “uncomfortable” didn’t, for me. Losing a parent at a young age is tragic, sure, but after the past few years we’ve had, I think the audience is a little tougher than Tomlinson gives them credit for.
It’s a shame she starts so strong, slowly shifts to surface-level insights, and, by the end, lets herself fall into unexamined stereotypes: religious people are taught masturbation is bad; anyone who comes to sexuality late is “weird”; women are more turned on by men being caring and responsible above anything else; dating a man seven years older than her (fellow comedian Sam Morril, who made the documentary Full Capacity, which includes his attempt to win Tomlinson back after a mid-lockdown split) is a game-changer.
Again, Tomlinson’s adept at writing jokes and her facial expressions work wonders. But she could have stretched a little further to find the funny in the trite truths. Tomlinson’s still young and figuring things out; I look forward to her next special as more of her ideas coalesce.
Meanwhile, I’m going to send my ex the swimming segment and a pair of water wings.
Brooke Knisley is a freelance journalist and comedy writer. She has balance issues. Let her harass you on Twitter @BrookeKnisley.