'SNL' Alum Leslie Jones Debuts Netflix Special: 'Time Machine'
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Comedian Leslie Jones is really excited.
(SOUNDBITE OF COMEDY SPECIAL, "TIME MACHINE")
LESLIE JONES: Yeah. What's up, DC?
GREENE: After five seasons on "Saturday Night Live," Leslie Jones is back on stage doing what she loves best, stand-up comedy, this time on her very own Netflix special.
JONES: You don't understand, man. I'm so nervous about it.
GREENE: Really? Why?
JONES: I'm scared that it might be too funny. Does that make sense? Like, it's just like, the way comedy's doing right now...
GREENE: What does too funny mean to you?
JONES: Like, it just feels like no one really wants to laugh now. Like, it feels like comedy is - like, might be in trouble or whatever. And I just feel like maybe I'm too goofy, like this...
GREENE: Don't hold back, Leslie. Keep being funny. Don't hold back.
GREENE: I'm just - as a person, as a viewer, I just say, we do need to laugh and keep helping us do it.
JONES: Me, too. I think so, too.
GREENE: Leslie Jones has been in this business a long time, and she does not shy away from talking about the grind, like the gigs early on, when she didn't know if promoters would even pay her and her meteoric rise on "SNL" in 2014, which was around the time the show was acknowledging its lack of diversity. This is all why she's called her stand-up special "Time Machine." If she could go back 30 years, what advice would she give her younger self?
JONES: It's something I think about all the time. You have dreams of making it this big, but you never even imagined - this is way more than I ever would expect it. The only thing that I thought that I ever was going to do was maybe be on someone's sitcom and be, like, the funny person that comes into the scene and tour the rest of my life. Never thought that this would be what would happen to me.
So every time I think about it, I go, wow, I wish I could go back and tell myself, yo, dude, have fun. Like, stop stressing out. Like, it's OK. You really go ahead to become, like, really big. Just like - sometimes I'm dressed up, and I go, oh, wow, I wish I could quantum leap back to the 24-year-old self so I could show myself how I look because I would be like, oh, girl, give me that ring. And I know I would rob myself. I just know I would.
GREENE: (Laughter) I have to say like - I mean, I interview a lot of celebrities, and many will say, like, I'm really grateful for where I've come. But, I mean, you really sound genuine about this, like, wanting to pinch yourself sometimes.
JONES: I still just can't believe that I'm Leslie Jones. That's really weird. I'm telling you, every time I get someone that comes up to me and is going crazy, I'm like, I - you don't even look like you would watch someone like me.
GREENE: Who is the someone like you? Why would you not think that they would want to...
JONES: Well, I just - you know, first of all, I'm a tall black woman, loud. I mean, all the things that I think are crazy about me is just things that people ended up liking about me. I'm aggressive. I'm too honest. I'm just so in-your-face that it's amazing to me, the demographic that I'm reaching.
GREENE: Leslie Jones told me that she doesn't take anything in this career for granted. Even that day she got the news about "SNL," she thought about giving up comedy altogether.
JONES: I was thinking about quitting the night that I got picked for "SNL." Like, I - it's always darkest before the dawn in this business (laughter). You live from a day-to-day basis of, am I going to continue this or am I going to go use my damn degree? It's always like that.
GREENE: Why, the night you got selected for "SNL," were you thinking about quitting?
JONES: Well, that whole "SNL" thing was so crazy. Like, I didn't want "SNL."
GREENE: You didn't?
JONES: I didn't want "SNL." Like, when Chris called me and told me that they was going to call me for audition, I mean, I remember going off on Chris.
GREENE: Was this Chris Rock calling you? This was...
JONES: And I was like - this - no, I'm a stand-up comic. I don't do sketch. Why would you suggest me? And Chris was like, shut up and go and do the audition and let people see how good you are. So when I got to the audition, my whole intention was to go there, show them how dope I was and just leave. I mean, even if I thought they was going to pick me, I wasn't going to take the job. And by the end of that week, they made me want it. They made me want that damn job.
JONES: Just seeing their process, just seeing the writing, just seeing - it was just - you know, I remember going to get my nails done, and I remember my phone kept ringing. It was a 212 area code. I got to the nail place, I picked up the phone, and it actually was - it was Lorne.
GREENE: Lorne Michaels, like, who...
JONES: Yeah, Lorne Michaels.
GREENE: ...Runs "SNL."
JONES: Oh - she's like, Lorne Michaels for Leslie Jones. And in my head, I was like, oh [expletive]. So Lorne gets on the phone. He was like, hey, I want you to come out and do some writing. And then I was like, I'm a performer. I want to be in front of the camera. That's what I do. And he was like, I know that. Just come and write, and we got to figure it out, but we know something's there.
Man, I hung up with him. Man, I jumped out my car, and I ran all the way through that parking lot screaming. And it was a place that I usually go, so I knew the security guard. So I'm screaming, running - I'm like, yes. I'm screaming, running through the parking lot. And he was like, are you OK? What's wrong? Oh, my God. So I told the security - I was like, I got "SNL." I got "SNL." And he was like, what's "SNL?" Is it a disease?
JONES: Are you - what? Is it - he thought it was a disease. He was like, what's "SNL?" What's "SNL?" So I was like, it's just a big show. I got this big show. So I come out, and it's like going to college and finding out that everybody is as good as you.
GREENE: You were there for five seasons as a cast member.
GREENE: And you announced recently you're not going to be returning this fall. How did you get to that decision?
JONES: I'm old, man. I'm 52. You know, exactly at 47, I stopped having energy. I don't know what the hell happened. It's just like, my body said no. It just - it's like somebody showed up and said, hey, fun's over; better start taking multivitamins because you're done. Like...
GREENE: So "SNL" is that exhausting?
JONES: Man, it's 100 hours a week. It's like working two jobs. They hire them young for that reason, too, (laughter) 'cause, like, it's so tiring and not only physically; it's mentally tiring also. So I got to a point to where I was like, I'm not even a stand-up anymore, and this job has a lot of restrictions on it. I can't really do movies the way I want to. I can't - I'm 52. If they had got me in my 20s or 30s, I would've probably did 10 seasons. But they got me when I was 47, and they got a good five years out of me. And I just was like, I want to do something else. I want to be a stand-up again.
GREENE: Leslie Jones, real pleasure talking to you. And...
JONES: Oh, damn. That's it? (Laughter).
GREENE: ...Best of luck with the special. Yeah.
JONES: I was getting into it.
(SOUNDBITE OF !!!'S "ME AND GIULIANI DOWN BY THE SCHOOLYARD - A TRUE STORY")
GREENE: That was Leslie Jones. Her new stand-up special is called "Time Machine."
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.