Comedian Taylor Tomlinson Shares Why She Needed to Find the Funny in Her Bipolar Diagnosis

When comic Taylor Tomlinson realized how uncomfortable she felt about her bipolar disorder, "I wanted to talk about it," she told E! News, "because I'm like, 'I'm sure other people feel like this.'"

By Sarah Grossbart May 05, 2022 10:00 AMTags
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"I don't know if any of you have tried to get a twentysomething dude from a dating app to wear a condom lately, but it's sort of like trying to get a 5-year-old to put a jacket on over his Halloween costume," Taylor Tomlinson riffed in one stand-up clip posted on TikTok. "It's like, 'Noooooooooooo, you're gonna ruin it!'"

It's the sort of thing the stand-up comedian never would have dreamed of saying when growing up, as she put it, "really sheltered," in an intensely conservative Christian family in Temecula, Calif., much less broadcasting to the 1.6 million fans who follow her on the video sharing site. 

"For the first, like, six years—the first half of my career so far—I was squeaky clean," the 28-year-old said in a recent interview with E! News. And not entirely by choice. The church circuit, her go-to venue after she took a comedy class at 16 and discovered it was an actual, viable career, "is so crazy strict," she continued, "that I'm like, 'Oh, I don't want to stay in this.'"

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It wasn't so much about delving into R-rated humor. In fact, getting too specific about relationships is Tomlinson's one self-imposed boundary "because I always want to be respectful," she noted. "Even if they did something awful to me, I still don't want to make it clear who I'm talking about if it's unflattering." 

She just wanted to be her

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"At a certain point I was like, I just want to talk about different things," explained Tomlinson, one of many, many comedians taking part in the Netflix Is A Joke fest with stand-up shows May 5 and 6 in L.A.

Her latest act gets into the landmine of navigating relationships in your late twenties. "I felt like, well, my friends are getting married but it's fine because I have my career figured out," she shared. "But now my friends have their careers figured out and they're married. So you're kind of like, 'Oh, we're all doing both now?'"

But her wish list of topics is more than just romance and raunch. "It goes beyond being dirty," she insisted. "I just want to talk about darker subjects."

Chief among them, the roller coaster of emotions she dealt with after being diagnosed with bipolar disorder. 

In her most recent Netflix special, Look At You, Tomlinson cracks that she coped in large part by reminding herself that Selena Gomez also has BPD. "When I got diagnosed, they started listing names," she said. "They were like, 'You know who else is bipolar? Selena Gomez.' And I was like, 'That does make me feel better. She is very pretty. Okay, I'll be bipolar.'" 

But in reality, it was a tough pill to swallow. (Yes, pun totally intended, Tomlinson following that revelation up in her special by noting just how many medications she has ingested over the years.)

"It took me a long time to accept that I needed to figure out something that worked for me," she explained to E! "Because I had tried getting on antidepressants a few times over the years and it didn't work and I would give up. And I would just go, 'I'm fine, I'll just be really healthy,' or, 'As long as my relationship's working, I'll be fine.' And you just kind of realize after a few years of that, you're like, 'Oh, I really do need to figure this out. This needs to be a priority for me.'"

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The issue, she continued, stemmed largely from a conservative upbringing that didn't place a huge priority on mental health. "I had all this shame because when I was a kid, my parents were like, 'You don't get on medication. That's weak. That's not good for you,'" Tomlinson explained. "So I think I felt weak for needing that."

She had just come to terms with the cocktail of medication she was using to treat what she thought was anxiety and depression when she received the BPD diagnosis. 

"I was surprised that I felt embarrassed when I first found out," she admitted. "Because I think I'm very open-minded. I have friends who have bipolar. And you never judge your friends. You never felt like that was a big deal. But then when it's you, you somehow realize you have all this deeper stuff from when you were a kid." 

The shame was two-fold, she continued, "Because you're embarrassed that you got this diagnosis. And then you're embarrassed that you're embarrassed. Because it shows that you, yourself are giving into that stigma."

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When ultimately it was a total non-issue once Tomlinson got "on the right meds" and took her psychiatrist's words to heart. 

"She was like, 'It's not a big deal, it's just information about you that helps you understand how to take care of yourself,'" she recalled. "I mean, it's like if you found out you're allergic to something. You wouldn't be like, 'Oh my god, I'm the weakest person alive. I'm broken.' You'd just be like, 'Oh, okay. So we just don't have peanuts. That's fine.'"

Tomlinson acknowledged that the process wasn't entirely smooth for her—"So much of religion is like, 'Well if you were praying about it, if you were good with God, that would fix everything'"—which is precisely why she wanted to incorporate that story into her act. "I wanted to talk about it," she explained, "because I'm like, 'I'm sure other people feel like this.'"

Still, finding a way to not only address things like mental health and losing her mom to cancer when she was just 8 years old, but also make it seem funny, was kind of a tough nut to crack. 

"I don't think I could have done those jokes five years ago—I certainly tried," Tomlinson shared. "There were a couple lines in the long chunk about my mom dying that I had written years and years ago, but I just didn't have the maturity as a performer to pull it off." 

Because in order for an audience to feel comfortable laughing at your misfortune, "They have to believe that you're okay," she noted. And at 22, as much as she wanted to believe she was fine, coping with that loss—and her fears that she, too, might die young—took years of therapy. 

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"I didn't know all of that when I was younger and just trying to make my experiences funny for myself," said Tomlinson. "I'm like, 'I want to make fun of this because it's something bad that happened to me and if I turn it into a joke, then it's taking the power back.' And now it was a little bit more like, 'Oh, I want to do jokes about this because hopefully it will make other people feel better.'"

Now, said Tomlinson, currently working on a movie loosely based on her life, it's easy to deliver lines like, "Do you think I'd be this successful at my age if I had a live mom? She's in heaven. I'm on Netflix. It all worked out." As Tomlinson put it, she and her three younger sisters "make jokes about this all the time. It's hilarious to us." 

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She acknowledges that others still struggle to find the funny, noting that neither her dad Eric Tomlinson nor her stepmom watch her acts. "It's just not for them," she explained of her brand of comedy. "They would not be a fan of mine if I wasn't their daughter either. It's just not their bag."

Ultimately, "It was hard to get to that place and accept that not everybody was going to love that," she admitted of making the swerve from more church-appropriate material, "and get over my own internalized guilt and shame about not being, like, a good Christian. Not being Christian at all, really."

But no matter how tough it was to think about "disappointing my family," she continued, "I was just like, 'This is not how I speak.' Like, I swear and make jokes. I just wanted to be able to say whatever I wanted." 

Condom jokes included. 

Netflix Is A Joke: The Festival will run from April 28 to May 8 in Los Angeles.