I’ve never reviewed a stand-up special before, and I’ll say up front that I’m not particularly qualified to do so. I haven’t done much standup—just a couple open-mics that drove me straight into law school. But I am a dedicated fan of the form, and hopefully over my countless hours of comedic consumption I’ve picked up a thing or two about what the commonalities are in the art that I like (otherwise, my god the wasted time).
This special also isn’t new, it’s months old at this point, but it did come out this year, and I’m treating that as good enough. I decided to review Taylor Tomlinson: Quarter-Life Crisis this week, because 1) I enjoy a challenge; and 2) It was excellent, and I want to use whatever platform I have to encourage people to see it.
Quarter-Life Crisis is the first hour-long standup special from Taylor Tomlinson, and is streaming now on Netflix. Tomlinson had been on my radar as an up-and-coming standup comic for a little while when I clicked on her special earlier this week. I’d seen a bunch of her YouTube clips, and I knew she was a protege of Whitney Cummings. In researching this piece, I also learned she was on the ninth season of Last Comic Standing. (And did pretty well!) Nonetheless, while I was familiar with her work prior to this special, I wasn’t expecting the leap this special would demonstrate. This special is a statement.
Given the nature of this particular piece of content—a standup special—there isn’t really any plot to review, so the most important question to answer is, Is it funny? Fortunately, that’s easy: Hell yes. Less fortunately, that leaves me with a pretty short review, so to pad this thing out, I’ll drill down more into Tomlinson herself as a performer.
I’m not a standup comic, but my understanding is that comedians value a process called “finding your ‘voice.’” Voice in this case isn’t literal (duh), but represents the unique perspective and style that makes a comic distinct. Tomlinson already had the perspective down; even in her earlier work there was a clear sense of what a “Taylor Tomlinson” bit sounded like.
Tomlinson’s style of comedy is of the storyteller variety; she relates personal anecdotes filtered through the prism of her sardonic personality. What I’d seen of Tomlinson’s work prior to Quarter-Life Crisis had always been sharp on the writing side. So the only thing she had to perfect was her delivery. Quarter-Life Crisis makes it clear: She has perfected it.
The special illustrates the growth and polish in Tomlinson as a performer. You can see the development in her form by comparing these two clips. I don’t know when she performed this first clip, but it was posted in 2017, so it’s at least that old:
By the time of this set, she’s already a gifted storyteller. She identifies (or makes up) amusing events from her life, has a nice way with words, and the result is solid comedy. And her delivery is good, too! She’s clearly an experienced comic, already.
Compare, that set, though, with this excerpt from Quarter-Life Crisis:
You can see right away that her confidence and stage presence is much stronger. Granted, it is not fair to compare the laid back setting of a comedy club set with a special being recorded in a giant theater. That being said, this set signals a jump, starting in the level of dominance Tomlinson exerts over the audience. She reminds me a little of Anthony Jeselnik; not in the nature of her material (obviously) but in the way she exudes confidence. You can feel the energy radiating out of her.
Another improvement is her physicality. Compared to her earlier work, this new special shows Tomlinson working with much more smoothness than before, demonstrating masterful control over the small gestures that punctuate her stories and punchlines. I’m not referring to the acting out of full scenarios, either, but the smaller stuff, like her facial expressions, the timing of her sip of water, and that way she drops into a brief crouch when she says “I know!”
This last clip shows how it all comes together, demonstrating how her “voice” is fully formed. You get a good story, with a funny perspective and witty writing, combined with superb delivery:
As I said at the start, I’m not a comedy critic, so I will conclude this review by noting I briefly debated what score, out of five, to give this special. Obviously I thought it was great, but I was tempted to hold a star back and give it a four, because Tomlinson is only 26 and clearly still evolving as a comic, and I wanted to leave room for when she inevitably produces an even better special down the road. In the end, though, I decided, screw it. This is clearly a rave, let the score reflect that.
Final Score: 5 out 5 Weird Emojis.