It’s been almost 13 months since Leslie Jones got hired to be a writer on Saturday Night Live. Since then she’s had a hilarious but controversial debut, worked her way into a role as a featured player, and now she’s reportedly about to become a Ghostbuster. To call Jones’ rise meteoric would ignore the two decades that she spent as a working stand-up comic and actress, but it’s still a remarkable story that has been propelled by a combination of her comedy super skills and the right opportunity.
Because of Jones’ breakout year and her likely breakout role, it makes sense to take a look back at her best work on Saturday Night Live in an effort to introduce Leslie Jones to those who are unaware.
“I’m strong, Colin. STRONG!”
Jones’ take on the shifting definition of beauty was clever and fearless — which is an impressive thing considering it was her first time on the show. I liked it a lot, but I absolutely loved her unapologetic response to the ample blowback that followed.
Here is a portion of Jones’ full response:
“I’m a comic it is my job to take things and make them funny. to make you think. Especially the painful things. Why are y’all so mad. This joke was written from the pain that one night I realized that. Black men don’t really f*ck with me and why am I single. And that in slave days I would have always had a man cause of breeding. If anybody should be offended is white folks cause it’s what they did. Y’all so busy trying to be self righteous you miss what the joke really is. Very sad I have to defend myself to black people. Now I’m betting if Chris Rock or Dave Chappelle did that joke or or jay z or Kanye put in a rap they would be called brilliant. Cause they all do this type of material. Just cause it came from a strong black woman who ain’t afraid to be real y’all mad. So here is my announcement black folks, you won’t stop me and Im gonna go even harder and deeper now.”
This is what Lorne Michaels gets when he decides to give the SNL spotlight to someone who has been made tough by years of working her way up the ladder: someone who will push boundaries and push back when people’s delicate sensibilities are shaken up a bit. Strong indeed.
With Cameron Diaz on the show to promote the Annie remake, it wasn’t surprising to see SNL‘s writers have some fun with the movie. While some didn’t love the idea of Jones playing a 43-year-old orphan Annie with three kids and battle-tested courtroom experience, it still stands out as a commanding performance. Especially since, as Jones noted during her recent Reddit AMA, it was the first live sketch that she didn’t screw up after her notable flub beside Chris Rock two weeks prior.
Jones’ first experience with the supernatural doesn’t go very well in this spoof of ghost hunting shows, but perhaps she’ll be a bit less likely to scream in terror and break through a door when she’s got an unlicensed nuclear accelerator on her back.
“Have You Ever Been Called a B*tch By Harriet Tubman?”
Jones has gone back to the Update desk a couple of times since her debut. This time, things get wonderfully weird as she details a two-hour long conversation with abolitionist Harriet Tubman about the innate rivalry that exists between HBO and Showtime, and the hazards of choosing mushrooms over pot.
This is more of an ensemble sketch, but Jones takes the baton from Beck Bennett’s “Dr. David Doctor” and steals the back half of this pharmaceutical parody about Taylor Swift-induced vertigo when she stops trying to shake off her T-Swift love and embraces the magic — while dancing in a tutu.
Back Home Ballers
Another ensemble sketch, this pre-recorded rap about the pleasures of going home for the holidays to take advantage of your parents kindness marked Jones’ debut in the Your Girls hip-hop group. I wouldn’t say this song is on par with the group’s previous offerings — “(Do It On My) Twin Bed” and “Dongs All Over The World” — and Jones doesn’t have the mic skills that Cecily Strong and Aidy Bryant do, but when her moment comes, the pace changes completely and Jones does her best to stand out while rapping about an abundance of bowls.
“Help Me Ghost Whisperer!”
Once again, Jones dances with the supernatural in this quick-but-funny Update appearanc. She talks about how men’s “spirits” are left behind in the women that they abandon as she sits next to sexy vanilla muffin Colin Jost.
“If You End Up In Our Pants, Don’t Be Surprised If We End Up In Your Chimney.”
Jones and Jost’s chemistry is a fringe benefit of her appearances on Weekend Update as a relationship expert. Here, Jones demands that Jost stare at her breasts, talks about the “seven dwarves” of penis variations, and levels with a woman who was arrested in the chimney of a man that she met online.
Jones, Jay Pharoah, Kenan Thompson, and Sasheer Zamata ask why charities only ask for 39 cents a day to feed starving villagers when that’s not even enough to buy a cup of coffee anymore. It’s one of those sketches that springs to life from a simple observation, but then it bursts into extreme satire after host Bill Hader’s kindly but impatient Sally Struthers avatar is kidnapped and held for ransom.
Jones has publicly credited this sketch — which appeared in the third episode of this season — as one of the reasons why she got bumped up from the writer’s room to join the cast as a featured player.
As you can probably see from this sketch, in which Jones is cast beside the diminutive Martin Freeman as a mismatched pair at the altar, and this entire collection of sketches, Jones isn’t bringing a lot of versatility to her work on Saturday Night Live. But that’s not necessarily a problem. There are cast members who are or have been able to get lost in every character that they play — Bill Hader, Phil Hartman, and Jones’ Ghostbusters and SNL compatriot Kate McKinnon come to mind — but the show has also had success with cast members who were somewhat one-note. Chris Farley is a great example, and so is Jones. She has a well-defined comedic voice that, according to her, took quite a while to form.
“It takes 10 years to become funny, first of all. You don’t start thinking about your voice until you REALLY realize that you’re funny. I pretty much know who I am as a person, so that’s why my voice is so real. Because I’m honest. It took me a long time to accept myself, people, and once I did, it was on and crackin.”
On Update and in sketches where she is able to embrace that voice, Jones shines. There are other bright moments too, but that’s when she’s at her best. Will Paul Feig work to give Jones an opportunity to play to her strengths as a scene-stealing, larger-than-life performer in Ghostbusters with Melissa McCarthy — another talented comedic actress and brash performer — in the cast? I hope so. At the very least, this is another opportunity for a woman who has worked long and hard to get hers, and that’s all anyone can ask for.