A few weeks ago, after Leslie Jones — newly promoted to a feature player on Saturday Night Live — appeared in a Chris Rock sketch (inarguably the worst sketch of the season), there was some legitimate concern online that one sketch could ruin Jones’ future on the show. Bullshit. Yes, she was terrible in it, and we in the public don’t know if it was a case of stage fright, or — as some have suggested — a cue-card f*ck-up resulting from Chris Rock bringing in his own writers.
We may never know, either, but anyone who thinks one misstep could shake Leslie Jones’ confidence or crater her career clearly doesn’t know Leslie Jones. She’s been through worse. Much, much worse.
Leslie Jones is 47 years old, which makes her the oldest actor to ever join the cast of Saturday Night Live. She has also lived more life than most SNL cast members ever will. She’s been in and out of showbiz for nearly 30 years. Her first screen credit was in a 1987 movie as a night nurse in a Leslie Nielsen movie no one has ever heard of. Around that same time, she was performing at Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles in L.A. and working at UPS to make ends meet.
It was then that Mother Love and Dave Chappelle encouraged her to move to New York to work on her stand-up act. It was a bumpy ride for Jones. After honing her craft, she returned to Los Angeles and performed at the Comedy Store, where she “bombed like a frickin’ 747.”
She also opened for Jamie Foxx (pre-In Living Colour) and she got her ass kicked.
I opened up for him and I was horrible. He told me, “the reason you were so bad is because you didn’t have anything to talk about. You don’t have a boyfriend. You’re fresh out of college. You ain’t doing nothing. You don’t have anything to talk about. Go live life for a little while’and then start writing.”
After that, she quit comedy for three years.
She went out and she lived a life, and when she came back, she was prepared to take on the stand-up world. Leslie Jones has been around so long now that she was in the first wave of female comics to come after women like Roseanne Barr and Whoopi Goldberg changed the game for women in stand-up. She helped evolve stand-up comedy for women away from menstruation jokes and whining about kids and men.
But she had to put up with push back along the way, from the likes of other comedians like Eddie Griffin — “he’s a big chauvinist, ‘bitches’ this and ‘bitches’ that — who were shitty to her until they realized she could perform. By that point, she didn’t want anything to do with them anymore.
She managed to find some success in stand-up over the course of the last two decades, but it wasn’t until earlier this year when she finally got her big break, when she got hired by SNL. Even that came with a caveat. She auditioned for a role on the show after Lorne Michaels finally decided to diversify the female cast. She lost out to Sasheer Zamata, but Michaels brought Jones on as a writer. It was in that capacity that she broke out with one of the most controversial bits in the last five years of SNL’s relatively tame run: She joked on “Weekend Update” about how good she would’ve been as a breeding slave in early America.
But through that controversy, it was apparent that Jones could become the kind of cast member who could ignite a spark on the show and break through, who could bring something to the SNL besides benign takes on politics and pop culture. She can be more than a performer on SNL, she can be a voice. A loud, hilarious, outspoken voice, and in her brief time with the show, she does what so few cast members can do right now: Leave an impression.
She’s the best thing about this season of SNL, as she once again proved with the best bit of the weekend.
(And because I couldn’t resist including this, here’s her take on the King Burger, the Burger King mascot.)
I don’t know if there’s anyone, except for serial killers, that guy doesn’t creep out. And he’s even in the bed with you, or in the window. Somewhere in your personal space. It’s like he’s doing something to you while you sleep. And the fact he doesn’t talk is even worse.
The future of SNL should be Leslie Jones, a woman who can cut through the broad-comedy bullshit and usher in a 40th season and beyond. She’s the complete opposite of the affable, nice-guy voices (Seth Meyers, Colin Jost, John Mulaney) that have dominated for the last decade. She has the boisterous personality and the comedic wisdom of someone who has lived. Give her a spotlight on the show, and she just might be able to bring back the topical relevancy with which SNL once excelled.