Tomlinson won’t be like that. Level head, thick skin, chalk it up to whatever body part you want, she’s kind of too cool for pettiness. As a practice, she doesn’t read the comments on her work, but when a stray jab crosses her path, she’s able to both acknowledge it and brush it off with the same gesture. “I don’t really care. Everything I love, if somebody told me they didn’t like it, I would understand that. So if somebody doesn’t like my comedy for XYZ reason, I’m like, ‘Yeah, okay. That makes sense to me. Other people really like it!’ It doesn’t really matter.”

She cares about the opinions of exactly four people: her opener, Dustin Nickerson; and her three younger siblings. She wasn’t always this way—she had the aha moment about comments at 21—but that’s the magic of 30. “When I was younger I was so terrified that people hated me, or thought this or that. And now I know, I really can’t control what anybody thinks, and if people don’t like me, I get that. I could argue that side. I feel the most empathetic I’ve ever felt at 30. I can kind of see everything from everyone’s perspective.” Okay, forget about thick skin, Tomlinson’s fully enlightened.

I want to blast her words at every comic from Sunset to Broadway: “You do your best and you try to treat people well. Be someone you feel good about. I think that’s the biggest shift, is now I’m trying to be somebody I feel good about as opposed to somebody that everybody else will feel good about.”

It’s a perspective that will serve her well when she becomes…and I’m sorry we couldn’t avoid the topic…a woman in late-night who is a woman and, by the way, female. It’s like an interview tax we have to pay, even if there have been no new points to make since Christopher Hitchens, uh, went off, I guess.

And actually, Tomlinson has plenty of predecessors: Joan Rivers, Chelsea Handler, Robin Thede, Samantha Bee, Michelle Wolf, Lilly Singh, Ziwe Fumudoh. The problem isn’t that women never get a chance; it’s that those chances don’t seem to come with much support. The shows are so short-lived they almost never overlap, and so when Tomlinson’s After Midnight premieres on January 16, she will be the one (1) woman hosting a late-night show on network television. The closest thing to a peer will be Amber Ruffin, whose Peacock show, The Amber Ruffin Show, is returning not for a full third season but for a handful of specials as Ruffin works on a scripted pilot. It’s not a done deal that, in 2024, the public will hold Tomlinson to a different standard because of her gender. But she and I both see the bias coming.

“[The whole thing] is a bummer,” she says. “I remember when Bridesmaids came out when I was in high school, and didn’t every article about that movie feel like, ‘I guess women are funny?’ That movie changed a bunch of people’s minds, I guess? It was really wild to see that when I was just starting to do stand-up. That was very formative and cool for me. And I’m sure at the time [the filmmakers] were like, ‘Duh, women are funny, what is everyone focusing on this for?’ But yeah, I don’t know. I think I underestimated how big a deal it would be. Because I know so many great female comics, and I think it’s abundantly clear that women are hilarious.”

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