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Meet Taylor Tomlinson, your favorite quarantine-watch, who can’t wait to get out of her 20s (and her apartment)

Comedian Taylor Tomlinson. (Todd Rosenberg/Levity Entertainment)

The Taylor Tomlinson on my television screen was just striding across the stage in tight black jeans and a leather motorcycle jacket, lamenting her theoretically enviable but actually miserable condition: being 25 years old. She recently heard she was two years shy of developing the frontal lobe function that enables real adults to anticipate the consequences of their actions. This, she explained, made her feel unmoored, dumber than she’d like to be and vaguely useless.

“You have no intuition. No instincts,” she said. “You can’t make decisions, only mistakes. That’s why you’re thin in your 20s: You don’t have a gut to listen to yet.”

The Taylor Tomlinson on my FaceTime screen is sitting in her home in Los Angeles with a white scrunchie holding back her hair and clear-rimmed glasses on her face. All that gives Tomlinson “a reason to put in contacts and put on makeup” in the morning is shooting “New Couple Gets Quarantined” sketches with her boyfriend, comedian Sam Morril, who went from long-distance to live-in just weeks before, about five months into their relationship. She figures those two processes — expending any effort on her appearance, creating comedy — have “probably been helping keep me sane.” She gestures at her get-up from sweatshirt to ponytail. “I would have just looked like this for two weeks, and I might have started to lose any sense of self I had.”

Tomlinson’s standup special, “Quarter-Life Crisis,” was released by Netflix on March 3, right before the national response to covid-19 began to ramp up. For weeks now, we’ve all been stuck at home hitting “play next episode” over and over, treating our Netflix accounts like a morphine drip that keeps the panic at bay. The coronavirus has given a whole new meaning to the concept of a captive audience. “I feel like that’s a popular post right now [on social media],” she said. “Everybody’s like, ‘This is a great quarantine watch!’ ”

Yet that success “also feels a little gross to acknowledge,” she added. Before the gravity of this crisis seeped in across America, interviewers were still cracking jokes with her about how “at least everybody’s indoors watching Netflix,” she said. “And you’re like, I mean, I guess? But I put out this special so that people would come see me live.” All her upcoming tour dates are off; like the rest of us, her plans for the future are extremely TBD.

A return to normalcy, when­ever that happens, may not be a return to comedy-business-as-usual. “People are going to be out of work for a while,” she said. “They may not want to spend extra money on live shows. Maybe people are going to be afraid to be in large groups like that for a while. Or maybe they’ll be starved for it and there’ll be another huge comedy boom. We just don’t know.”

In the meantime, she and Morril are occupying themselves with “New Couple Gets Quarantined.” The 90-second videos are usually based on a real conversation, like when Tomlinson suggested they watch “Contagion” and Morril, who is Jewish, countered “that would be like if the Jews watched ‘Schindler’s List’ during the Holocaust.” Or when Morril got mad at Tomlinson for coughing on him shortly after they’d had sex. (“That was a three-minute fight we had,” she told me. “I was genuinely hurt by that.”)

Tomlinson is, like her audience, in a holding pattern, trying to make something bearable out of a nightmare scenario. Who among us didn’t have plans that have been totally upended, for who knows how long? Who doesn’t just want the opportunity to work at work and not at whatever makeshift office we’ve been able to assemble in the living room? As the days blur together, we’re all just sweating it out until the awful part is over, so we can get on with our lives. Which is something Tomlinson’s been thinking about for a while. It’s actually something she talks about in her standup.

Back in the spring of 2018, when Tomlinson made her “Tonight Show” debut, she put it his way:

“Being in your 20s is like having a virus. You can’t do anything. You just have to wait until you’re better.”

Tomlinson was raised in a “really religious” Christian household. For years she toured the church circuit, performing “squeaky-clean” sets that her parents could see without flinching. Though she’s not as religious as she once was, and she makes plenty of jokes that I was not allowed to quote in this newspaper, Tomlinson maintains that she is still deeply, hopelessly unfun. Much of “Quarter-Life Crisis” is devoted to Tomlinson’s insistence on that fact.

She doesn’t drink or smoke or have casual sex, the holy trinity for people who don’t set too much stock by the original Holy Trinity. If fun is the whole point of your 20s, she figures, then her 20s are basically pointless.

“I don’t want to be irresponsible and have fun right now,” she said. “I’m so desperate for all the wisdom that only comes with age. But I can’t do anything except wait for it. And even though I’ve always been told that I’m an old soul and mature for my age, I don’t know what I’m doing. And it’s frustrating to keep being reminded of that by life, every year.”

Conan O’Brien, who’s had Tomlinson as a guest on his show and brought her on his “Team Coco Presents Conan & Friends: An Evening of Stand-Up and Investment Tips” tour, respectfully disagrees with Tomlinson’s harsh self-assessment. “When I toured with Taylor, we were playing to some very large venues and she would walk out on that stage without a hint of fear,” he told The Washington Post via email. “I could not have done that when I was her age. Taylor has the steely resolve of someone who has been doing standup for decades, and I still cannot believe that she is so young.”

“Taylor speaks so honestly about her family and her religious upbringing and she’s unsparingly vivid about what it’s like to be a young woman today,” O’Brien said. “Whenever I speak about what it’s like to be a young woman no one listens.”

Tomlinson’s jokes about being uncool — less “life of the party,” more “faint pulse of the potluck” — have been in her set for years, as have bits about how nobody expects anything from her because she’s so young. (For family dinner she is tasked only with bringing napkins, “and if they say ‘Starbucks’ on them, I swear to God, Taylor,” she imagines her Nanna saying. “Just go to a Dollar Tree, stop ruining Easter.”)

But the linchpin of her special came about in a totally unexpected way. Tomlinson broke off an engagement last summer, after she landed the Netflix gig but before she taped it. As she mined jokes from her pain in that ­several-month span, her existing material took on a new charge. It was the accidental but ultimate proof of concept: She didn’t know what she was doing with her life. “The broken engagement feels like the turning point of, ‘I thought I had it figured out,’ ” she said. “I obviously don’t.”

As we were talking, it dawned on her that she still hasn’t picked up her wedding dress. She’s been getting calls from the bridal salon every three weeks, politely reminding her to come in for a fitting. “I don’t know what to do. I don’t know if I should go in and pretend I’m still getting married. I don’t know if I just say, ‘Can you just put it in a trash bag and I’ll come get it?’ ”

“It sucks that I had to get engaged and then go through an excruciating breakup and let go of this future I had planned for myself with another person,” she said. “But the hour that ended up being ‘Quarter-Life Crisis’ was different and, in my opinion, so much better than what it would have been if I hadn’t gone through that right before. And I felt like a different, better person after it as well.”

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