Black women, may you be seen, heard, understood, appreciated, and loved. And if you aren’t, take a cue from the comedic genius that is Leslie Jones, and tell people about themselves. Because Black women, you are (insert any good and magical adjective). Bold. Brilliant. Enterprising. Fervent. Powerful. Real. Funny.
These are perfect descriptors for the ambitious and brutally honest Memphis native whose presence is undoubtably rare. One thing about Jones, she’s gonna tell it like it is and it doesn’t matter who you are. But I think her authenticity is why we love her, and in many ways, it has most definitely contributed to her success.
By the early 90s, Jones began building a name for herself on BET’s ComicView and HBO’s Def Comedy Jam. But by the 2000s, the three-time Emmy-nominated comedian, actress, writer, and executive producer was acting in movies like Master P’s Repo, Chris Rock’s Top Five, and the hugely popular Ghostbusters’ reboot. And for five seasons, she gave us comedy gold both writing and acting on the NBC sketch series, Saturday Night Live, where she not only grew as a comedian but also realized that there were so many other doors for her to open.
Today, Jones’ plate is full, as she’s working on a lot of major projects—the Coming to America sequel, a newly released Netflix special, Time Machine, and a reboot of Supermarket Sweep, which she’s hosting and executive producing; it premieres October 18.
ESSENCE had a chance to have a much-needed conversation with the queen that demands everyone’s attention. Both confident and vulnerable, Jones talks about her two biggest upcoming projects, but she gets candid about her views on race, politics, the craziness that has become 2020, and not getting the proper love from her people, Black people.
Great comedians are needed because comedy can be therapeutic. If only for a short time, the jokes and the laughter take our minds away from tragedies, stress, and the crazy times that we live in. Would you agree?
LESLIE JONES: Yeah, I agree. True comedy relieves people of pain, but for comedians, it’s delving into pain. We go straight for it. The philosophy of a comic, of a true comic, like you said the good ones, is to take your pain straight to the stage because usually the audience is in pain also, and they need to be shown how to relieve it.
From the overlapping chaos of 2020—the pandemic, recession, political and civil unrest—things are pretty stressful. It’s like we’re living in a twilight zone right now.
JONES: And right now, everybody is just screaming at each other, calling each other stupid and saying, “No, I’m right,” “I don’t want to hear you,” “I’m not going to listen to you,” and nothing’s going to get solved until we all stop and listen to each other…As far as the social unrest, I tell people all the time, this system was always built by one race. When the Constitution was built, it was straight white men. They didn’t sit down at a big ole table with an Indian, a Black person, and an Asian person and decide what the f*ck we were going to do with this nation. It was all straight white males. And that’s questionable, but you know what I’m saying?
I do. It was written by them and for them.
JONES: Exactly. There were no transgendered people around. There were no gay people around, and there were no women at that table. So, when this Constitution was built, it was built for that time. And it needs to be updated. I mean, we get updates on our f*cking iPhone three or four times a damn month, and we can get an update on the Constitution.
We are in desperate need of change.
JONES: We are so on the surface and not digging deep that it’s ridiculous. No one’s grasping what our real problem is, which is change. Look at our society, because we are choosing not to change, we are dying—the fires, the social injustice, COVID. Change is the scariest thing, but you have to do it scared because if you don’t, you die.
Just look at our industry, look at how we remake all these f*cking movies. We’re stuck in the eighties and the nineties like a mother*cker. Real talk.
We do love remaking classic movies from back in the day.
JONES: You know why? Because they were the happiest in those times. That’s where we were the most creative.
Speaking of classic remakes, one of your biggest upcoming projects is Coming 2 America.
JONES: Well, I’ll be honest. When I first got the project, I wasn’t going to do it. I wasn’t going to do it because I was like, “I don’t want to be part of another remake.” I thought, “Is it going to be good?” When I saw the script, the rewrite of the script, I was like, “Wow, this is actually really funny.”
They don’t stay stuck, they move into the future. They update everything. It’s actually a really good movie. I think everybody’s really going to love it.
Let’s switch gears a little. You were nominated three times for an Emmy for your work on SNL, which was brilliant. What is one thing that you got from your time on SNL that has helped you to become better at your craft?
JONES: It just opened up all the doors that I thought were shut. I think I noticed that I wanted to do a lot of other things, but I think maybe I had already put myself in the box of being a standup comedian. Talk about developing and changing…It’s like now I sing, write, and direct. It’s crazy. My love of wigs has changed. I didn’t even used to like wigs and now I love wigs. I love when they pop a wig on me and then I look totally f*cking different.
Speaking of SNL opening up doors, starting on October 18th, you’re taking over Sunday nights for Supermarket Sweep, another classic. That show started in 1965, came back in the ’90s, then in the early 2000s for a couple of years. And now, 17 years later it’s back on, and you are the first Black host as well as the first woman to host. So, you’re making history.
JONES: And I’m the executive producer.
Wow. Congratulations. What can we expect from the new Supermarket Sweep?
JONES: Just good vibes. I love it for the contestants because we are giving away a lot of money, one-hundred thousand dollars is our grand prize.
Your career is pretty impressive.
JONES: This is one thing I’m going to say. I’ve always been a Black mother*cker—extra ghetto Black a** b*tch. When I started comedy, I started in the Black club. My dad lived off of ESSENCE, Ebony, and JET magazines. He would pick up the magazines and look for all the black people and what show they was going to be on.
So, when I made it, I’m going to be honest, the magazine that I wanted to hit me was ESSENCE, and I never got no love like that. At least that’s what I felt. I felt like my people just wasn’t into me as much as I was getting it from other people.
It’s a trip because the stuff that me and Keenan was doing, I was like, “Oh man, Black people should know the sh*t we’re doing over here.” If you go back and look, there was a season of SNL that literally dominated with Black hosts because me and Keenan was out there.
When I saw Chadwick Boseman at the Black Panther premiere, I shot over to him like, “Yo, you got to do SNL. You got to do SNL.” A lot of Black actors, I think sometimes they didn’t want to do SNL because they didn’t know if they was going to get written for or written directly for. Whenever somebody would come there, I would really work my best to try to protect them, make sure that they got taken care of.
Me and Keenan was doing a lot. It’s like, I promise to God, we would sit and watch the BET Awards and say, “so, they don’t like us? Do they not like us?”
So, you feel like you just never got proper credit and love from your people in general.
JONES: And I love Taraji [P. Henson]. I love Beyoncé. I love all of them, but damn, how much sh*t is they doing really to get every f*cking award… And I love them. I love them!
The people I was looking to go, “F*ck, yeah, you go,” I would go, “Do y’all even know?” Whenever I have a Black person come up to me and be like, “Man, I love you,” I be like, “For real?”
When do you feel like you started receiving the love, the real love, from your people?
JONES: When I actually see them. The other day I went and bought a bike and I had to ride it up this alley. And it was a clothing shop that was opening. And it was like all thugs—and I love thugs—all black, and they all knew me. They was like, “That’s the chick from Ghostbusters.” And it’s hilarious because I was like, “Are you rolling a blunt? You watched Ghostbusters, homey?” And then they was like, “Man, I just got out of jail. We used to watch Saturday Night Live every Saturday.” I was like, “Oh. Okay.”
[hysterical laughter] No, but it was really wonderful to get that type of love from people that you don’t even think are even watching you.
Well sis, we just want you to know that at ESSENCE, we’ve always loved and admired you. We’ve been watching and cheering you on. And we are overjoyed for all of your success.
JONES: Appreciate that. When they asked me to do this interview, I was like, “Damn, okay. So, I don’t even know what to say to ESSENCE. I want to tell y’all everything because, Lord have mercy, you talking ‘bout Black girl f*cking magic—I am the f*cking magic case. I am the hat and the f*cking rabbit in the case.
The sh*t that I’m doing right now as a Black woman is like, I want you all to know so I can tell other Black people, “This is the f*cking time, man. Don’t be afraid to be who you are. Don’t be afraid of this industry. You’ve got to know how to play this ticket. You got to be smart enough to get in that mother*cker and you got to affect people and not be infected by people.”