TONYA MOSLEY, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Tonya Mosley. When comedian and actress Leslie Jones joined the cast of "Saturday Night Live" in 2014, she held the distinction of being the oldest person to ever join the cast at 47 years old. But that detail might just be the least interesting thing about her. Jones was on "Saturday Night Live" for five seasons, first as a writer and then as a cast member. She became known for her hilarious Weekend Update reports, as well as her outrageous sketches playing everyone from Whoopi Goldberg to Donald Trump.
In her new memoir, simply titled "Leslie F-ing Jones" - I can't say the actual word on the radio - Jones makes clear that she's no overnight success. For years, she worked odd jobs to get by while doing comedy shows everywhere. In the book, Jones also shares details of her life that she's never spoken about before - her life growing up as a military brat, working comedy clubs in a male-dominated field and the mistakes and lessons she learned along the way. Leslie Jones was nominated for three Primetime Emmy Awards for her work on "Saturday Night Live." In 2016, she starred in "Ghostbusters," and in 2021, she starred opposite Eddie Murphy in "Coming 2 America," for which she won an MTV movie and TV Award.
Leslie Jones, welcome to FRESH AIR.
LESLIE JONES: (Laughter).
MOSLEY: Got to love when a conversation starts...
MOSLEY: ...With laughing.
JONES: ...My God. Yeah. 'Cause I was just like, wow, that's so crazy. When she's reading the credits, I was just like, I went back to sitting in my living room and thinking, oh, God, how long am I going to have to do this until somebody realizes that I'm actually funny?
MOSLEY: I know.
MOSLEY: How many moments did you have like that? I mean...
JONES: A billion.
JONES: A billion. Like, it's - because I knew I was funny. I knew I was funny, and I knew that they didn't know what I was. They knew that I was an entity they just did not know. And up until I got "SNL," nobody really knew what to really do with me. And everybody trusts me. They tried, but what the problem was is that I knew what I was, but I didn't tell them because I felt like they wouldn't get it.
MOSLEY: You are undeniably funny, but...
JONES: Thank you.
MOSLEY: ...You'd - when you were young - and I'm talking, like, when you were young, young - comedy wasn't something you saw yourself being in. Like, you...
JONES: Yeah, I just assumed...
MOSLEY: ...Saw it as, like, Richard Pryor. But you didn't see yourself in Richard Pryor.
JONES: No. No, I was a funny kid. I - every time I meet somebody from the past, they go, yeah, you was crazy. You was, like, a little fun. But I never thought of myself as funny. I thought as myself as just, like, I just liked to have fun. And I was emulating a lot of comics that I would watch...
JONES: ...You know? So when it came down to it, like, and my friend entered me in the contest, I was like, I'm not a comic. I always thought I was going to be an actress, that...
JONES: ...One day, that I would play Whoopi Goldberg. Like, I would play a comic. I never thought I would be a comic...
JONES: ...So yeah.
MOSLEY: Your friend entered you in this contest - Colorado State University. You were a freshman.
MOSLEY: So this contest was the funniest person on campus contest. And you say that the moment you picked up the mic, you walked on the stage, it was...
JONES: I can't even...
MOSLEY: ...Like a religious experience.
JONES: ...Explain it more than when I grabbed the mic, I just remember thinking, I've been doing this forever already. Like, oh, my God, this fits like a glove. It's almost like putting on a shirt and going, oh, God, this shirt fits. It almost felt like I saw a line leave from the mic and just went out and it was like, oh, that's the path I'm taking. It was like I had already been doing it and didn't know I had been doing it. It was just so natural.
MOSLEY: And then when you were 19, a young Jamie Foxx was the headliner for this club called The World.
JONES: The World. Well, Magic Johnson used to own The World. It was back in the day, like '87. This was '87.
MOSLEY: So Jamie blew you away. And so you were like, I'm going to blow Jamie away.
JONES: Well, I was - well, first, it was like Jamie - when Jamie started performing, I was like, oh, there's other comedians other than Eddie Murphy and Richard Pryor and Whoopi Goldberg who know how to do this type of comedy 'cause it's a certain type of comedy. It's a very - when you could take from your life and then you could make someone just be right there or you could just relate. I was like, he's performing like this, and I'm like, oh, my God, so that means that I can learn how to do this, then. So my friend that was with me, she was, you know, knew the promoter, and she - I told her to go and, like, hook up with the promoter, do whatever you got to do so we can - so I could talk to Jamie Foxx.
So we all went to Fatburgers. We all went to Fatburgers, and we was waiting on our burgers. And Jamie was over there, and I think I flirted with him at first, but - 'cause I was like, OK, if that's what it's going to take for me to find out what I need to, if you think I'm cute, then I'm definitely going to try to talk to you. But he didn't. He was like - he didn't - I don't know - didn't think I was cute or whatever. He just was like, you a young'un. He knew I was 19. So he was like, you 19. He was like, of course you wasn't funny. He was like, you ain't got nothing to talk about yet. He was like, and the stuff that you're talking about, you're not funny enough yet to talk about it. He was like, so you're just up there doing jokes. He was like, go live. He was like, go live. Go get jobs. Go get fired. Go get hired. Go quit. Go break hearts. Go get your heart broken. Go and live.
MOSLEY: Go live.
JONES: Go live so you can have something to talk about. So I just remember going.
MOSLEY: You went to live.
JONES: I went and lived.
MOSLEY: So for six years...
MOSLEY: ...After meeting Jamie Foxx...
JONES: That was in '87.
MOSLEY: ...You quit comedy, essentially - or you didn't quit, but you, like, went to go live.
JONES: I went to go live. But I'm telling you, at the root of every job I would get, every thing I would be assigned to, I would be like, this is temporary. I always went in it temporary 'cause I was like, this is not - I'm going to be a comic. I'm going to be a comic. This is just until I'm a comic.
MOSLEY: Leslie We have to go through some of the jobs you held.
MOSLEY: For a hot minute, you were a justice of the peace.
JONES: Yeah. I married people. And I was really good at it. I actually was good at it because I'm funny. But my - when I first started, the judge pulled me into the office and he was like, hey, are you reading the card when you're doing the ceremony? I was like, no, I know it by heart. He was like, you actually don't know it by heart because you're saying awfully wedded husband and awfully wedded wife. And I was like, that's...
MOSLEY: What it is, right?
JONES: ...What it is, right?
JONES: And he was like, it's lawfully, and please read from the card. And I was like, well, you know, awfully is pretty funny. He just looked - I know he wanted to laugh, but he was just like, Leslie, please go and do it the right way.
MOSLEY: And then from there, they're like, all right, let's move her to the annulment office.
JONES: And then all the people I married, literally most of them came in and got an annulment. So I was like, I guess the awfully in the lawfully was true. I guess I did jinx y'all's mess. So, you know...
MOSLEY: What I want to know, though...
MOSLEY: ...You worked for Scientologists?
JONES: Yes, I did. Twice. I had two jobs with Scientologists, 'cause they own Glendale. You - If you - I mean, you don't work in Glendale without working for some Scientologists.
MOSLEY: Right, which is right outside of...
MOSLEY: ...Los Angeles.
JONES: So what they do is they buy a lot of businesses. They have a lot of businesses. I guess that's how they bring a lot of money to their thing or I don't know what it is, but...
MOSLEY: What were you doing for them?
JONES: Well, the first job that I had for them was with the Dohring Company. And I remember 'cause I used to always had to write it on this little survey 'cause that's what they did was surveys. Like, if you bought a car and somebody call you and would be like, yeah, we'd like to ask you how your car was...
MOSLEY: You were the person calling.
JONES: ...I was that person calling. So you'd get money for that. So - and it was a good paying job. I remember it, you know, paid the rent. And I lived right around the corner from there. And they loved me because I was very enthusiastic. I was very - I would come in, you know, I have an energy. I would come in and, you know, just be happy and everybody would be happy to be at work or whatever.
And they was always trying to hat me. That's what they called it, hat you. When they want you to join and then they want to move you up. They want to make you feel important and stuff. So I remember the lady, she was moving me up in the office, which I didn't mind. I liked doing the surveys 'cause - when she came at me like this, I went back to doing surveys, but she was trying to move me up. But she kept saying hat me. I want to hat you, I want to hat you. And I was like, what is that hat stuff? What is that? And she was like, oh, you know, in the Scientology worlds, bwoop, bwoop, bwoop, bwoop (ph) with the woop, woop, woop (ph). And I was like no, I want to go back to surveys because I'm a Christian.
MOSLEY: You let them know, I'm a Christian.
JONES: I'm a Christian. I believe in God. I don't know what y'all believe in. No. So then I went and worked for a construction company, and they were a family deal. And I didn't really like being around them either because I always felt like they was going to kidnap me. I don't know why.
JONES: So I went and looked for another Scientology because there was a billion of them in Glendale.
MOSLEY: Well, look, you definitely took Jamie's advice as far as that's concerned.
JONES: I went and lived.
JONES: Girl, please. I went and had a life. Yeah.
MOSLEY: Let's take a short break. If you're just joining us, my guest is Leslie Jones.
MOSLEY: She's written a new memoir about her life and her career in comedy. We'll continue our conversation after a short break. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF QUEEN LATIFAH SONG, "FLY GIRL")
MOSLEY: This is FRESH AIR. And today we're talking to comedian and actor Leslie Jones. She's written a new memoir about her life and rise to fame. Jones was nominated for three Primetime Emmy Awards for her work on SNL. In 2021, she starred opposite Eddie Murphy in "Coming 2 America," for which she won an MTV Movie and TV award. Last January, she was the first guest host of "The Daily Show" after the departure of Trevor Noah. Leslie Jones also stars in the HBO Max series "Our Flag Means Death."
Leslie, you really like physical comedy.
MOSLEY: Lucille Ball, for instance...
MOSLEY: ...Taught you that you can't just be happy or sad with your - you know, you can't just, like, show emotion or happy or sadness.
MOSLEY: You got to show it in your face.
JONES: Well, you just be it. I remember being in an audition because I was in a Martin Lawrence movie. And the director, I remember, I was auditioning, and he was like, Leslie, you don't have to act mean. He was like, you could just be it because you've got that face that - your emotions is going to come across your face. And Lucille Ball and Carol Burnett, Melissa McCarthy, too, like, very good - the face. Just face, like, that's the one thing I want to learn is that.
MOSLEY: You know, I heard Jim Carrey and of course, we know, Jerry Lewis talk about, like, the physical toll of physical comedy, like, literally on your body.
JONES: Yeah. Yeah.
MOSLEY: What about for you? Do you feel it?
JONES: Yes. Well, you know what's so weird? Like, I played basketball since I was in sixth grade. I didn't start getting injured until I started doing stage stuff and started at "SNL" and all that. I think those were my injuries, like, just because you give it all. Like, to me, John Ritter is one of the best physical...
MOSLEY: Wait, can I just say...
MOSLEY: I don't think I've ever - you wrote about him in the book. I don't think I've ever met anyone else who describes that feeling that you feel for John Ritter. I feel that, too. It's like a comfort. He brings a comfort.
JONES: It's so - I hate that that's one person I never got to meet, because when I say that man would fall over a couch and I would die laughing, because there was no one else who could do that, that jerk thing that he would do. He would do this - he would just - it was just such good movements. And then John Ritter went on to "Buffy The Vampire Slayer" and played the malfunction robot and won an Emmy for it. I was like, just - that's, like, artistry. You know, Buster Keaton, it's just a physical thing.
Like, I always tell everybody, don't try to reinvent comedy. Comedy is its own entity. You're just, like - you're trying to reinvent the wheel. The wheel will always be round, it needs to be, you know what I'm saying? So just try to just learn the tricks and make them yours. Like, slipping on a banana will always be funny, and I don't care what nobody say. Slipping on a banana will always be...
MOSLEY: Always be funny.
JONES: ...One of the funniest physical jokes ever.
MOSLEY: But it's really interesting, you playing basketball from sixth grade. You went to college to play basketball.
MOSLEY: And I feel like - that feels like that's really physical, and it's also you're running. Like, you're - but it's not...
JONES: I didn't ever injure myself, yeah.
MOSLEY: What is it about, like, just being in that...
JONES: Because you love it. Like, I didn't love basketball like that. I wasn't going to throw myself. I wasn't going to do all of that. But comedy, if I'm trying to get a joke across, oh, yeah, I may twist my knee. I may - like, I done fell off stages. I done fell off tables, I done fell off chairs. I've just - it's just a real - it does take a toll on you, especially when you start getting older and start forgetting.
JONES: But let me tell you something about the joy of watching physical comedy. If you do it right, people love you, because you don't forget that physical move. You don't forget the dancing. You don't forget that, especially if you're there live and watching them do that. It is magnificent. I love physical comedy.
MOSLEY: Do you treat your body differently now?
JONES: Oh, yeah, baby.
MOSLEY: I saw in your last special you had on, like, a brace on your leg.
JONES: Well, it's so weird, girl. Let me tell you, the stages that you go through, not only as a comic but as a woman - when I first started comedy, I thought I had to be sexy. I used to wear heels onstage. I used to do...
MOSLEY: I remember that, yes.
JONES: I used to wear the splits and all of that. And then, you know, at the end of it, I'm sweaty. And maybe the makeup done all melted on me. You look gross. So it's like - and then, too, this is why I tell women, don't be afraid to be yourself. Because see, there's women who can go dressed up onstage, then do your thing. But this is what happens. When you walk onstage, the first thing that happens is the woman look at you and they go, oh, does she think she cute? And then they look at they man and they go, does my man think she cute? All that's happening while you're trying to open up.
JONES: So I always say, in your first couple of years, T-shirt, jeans, tennis shoes. If you can make it lovely and cute, do that, because you don't have to prove you're a woman. And listen, you could do whatever you want. I'm telling you, as far as I've been doing this a long time, I know what that's doing.
MOSLEY: OK, there's something that lives rent free in my head, and it's something that you said Katt Williams told you.
MOSLEY: That once you get rid of your desperation, you're going to blow up.
MOSLEY: What did he mean by that?
JONES: Man, OK, so at the time when he said it, we was on tour. And I was just very frustrated. I was just like, I don't know why I ain't blown up yet. Like, this person done blown up, this person done blown up. But I always try to not try to look at other people's blow-up because they should blow up, you know? But I was just like, dang, if they like her, why they don't like me, you know? If they like her, why they don't like me, you know? What am I doing wrong?
MOSLEY: We all do that, yeah. Yeah.
JONES: You know, it's like, yeah, what am I doing wrong? Like, I got to get this, you know? I was like, why ain't I making it and stuff. And, damn, like, I'm broke. Like, think about Tom Hanks in "Punchline," like, at that moment when they was going to pick somebody else and he was like, no, I'm not finna wait a year. I need to make it now.
JONES: That is some real - like, that's hard. Like, every time I see that scene, I be like, oh, that's so real. But that's desperation. Do you get what I'm saying? Like, he was like, once you get rid of that desperation, you're going to blow up. And I was so angry at him. I was like, what do you mean? How can I not be desperate? I'm broke. I have no money, so how can I not be desperate? He was like, you don't have no money, but you're not desperate. You're talented. You have talent. You don't have an empty basket of tools. You just don't have no money. It's like - that's nothing. He said, so now you're working from a different basket. He said, you working from a desperate basket. So now you're going to do anything. You're going to take any offer. You're going to do anything to make it. And that's not going to last. Stop working from that desperation. You start knowing that this is about - oh, no, this is not about me blowing up so I can get rich. This is about - I want to be the best comic, and I'm going to blow up because of that.
MOSLEY: I want to go back to your early life for a moment if you're OK with that. Your family growing up was made up of your mom, your dad and your brother...
JONES: Nuclear family.
MOSLEY: ...Your younger brother. Yeah.
JONES: Like, straight nuclear family. Yeah.
MOSLEY: You all moved around because your dad was in the military.
MOSLEY: You were a military brat, and your dad later worked at a radio station in Memphis as a studio technician. It was the first all-Black station...
JONES: Yeah, WDIA.
MOSLEY: ...In the United States - yeah...
MOSLEY: ...Before moving to Inglewood to work for Stevie Wonder's radio station.
JONES: Yeah. And we moved to Linwood. We moved to Linwood.
JONES: But the radio station was in Inglewood. Yeah.
MOSLEY: That's right. That's right. Did you ever visit your dad at work at Stevie Wonder's station?
JONES: I might have and just don't remember. Only particular time I remember that I was going to go to work with him was because I was in love with the DeBarge family.
MOSLEY: Oh, yeah.
JONES: I was...
MOSLEY: Who wasn't?
JONES: It was like a DeBarge poster on one of my wall and Duran Duran on the other wall.
JONES: So I was just, like, in love with DeBarge, and they were coming to the radio station. And, like, whenever you see the fans cry, like, you see them cry over Michael Jackson and stuff like that - I used to be like, why? That's how I was about DeBarge. Like, so my dad was like, oh, you going to come to the studio. And I literally burst into tears, and I said, Daddy, I don't want to go because I felt they were so beautiful, they wouldn't like me, you know, because I'm a little Black girl. You know, they're not going to like me. They're all beautiful and light-skinned. You know, right now that - you know, thinking about that, that's what I thought...
MOSLEY: Taking you back - absolutely. That's real.
JONES: ...When, you know, that's so weird, you know, that's what I was thinking in my head. If I had said that out loud to my dad, my dad would be like, get your butt in the car, girl. You fixing to go meet these four. But I think he was like, oh, she a fan freaking out, because I was like, oh, my God, I can't meet them. But I sent my brother to - and he took a picture. And my brother said - he got it signed. And you know what they said? They said that they wish you had came.
JONES: I cried all night. I was like, I could have met El DeBarge. But I didn't know what - I probably would have fainted or something. And I didn't want to embarrass myself. So funny - on my 44th birthday, I was having it at the Comedy Store. And guess who walks up? El DeBarge. I had to - I got to find a picture. When I say the smile in that picture is so big. And I told him that story, and he just laughed. He was like, that is hilarious.
JONES: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
MOSLEY: You know, your dad worked at Stevie Wonder's radio station...
MOSLEY: ...For a short period of time. And then the thing that you saw through your dad was a man who wanted to be successful.
JONES: He wanted to be. He - at one time, you know, I think he managed or either got a gig for Tony! Toni! Tone!
MOSLEY: For the group Tony! Toni! Tone!
JONES: Yeah, but they wasn't famous then.
JONES: They wasn't famous then. And I think he got a gig for them, and then they signed with someone else. But, like, yeah, he wanted to be in the business for sure.
MOSLEY: He wanted, but he never quite got there.
JONES: That's why I wish he was alive - 'cause, Lord, he would love everything. Oh, my God. He would love this. Oh, he would just be tickled pink with this.
MOSLEY: So thing is you always knew seeing him, seeing how he moved. How did it influence how you moved?
JONES: My dad always worked. He always worked. He was always thinking. He was always - my dad was always so super-confident in himself and in his ideas. And he would always tell me - like, this is so funny because, like, I hear, like, parents be trying to get their kids to get married or try to get their daughter married or - my dad never did that. My dad was always like, I want you to make your own money. He used to always say, I don't want no man taking care of you. I want you to take care of yourself. Be undeniable. They going to tell you that you Black and that you can't make it. They going to tell you you're a woman...
MOSLEY: And you can't make it.
JONES: ...And you can't make it. They're going to tell you you're a Black woman and you can't make it. He said, please don't listen to them. He said, because if you work hard, you can't be denied.
MOSLEY: Our guest today is comedian and actress Leslie Jones, who has written a new memoir about her life and career. We'll hear more of our conversation after a short break. I'm Tonya Mosley, and this is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
MOSLEY: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Tonya Mosley, and today we're talking to comedian and actor Leslie Jones. She's written a new memoir titled "Leslie F-ing Jones." I can't say the actual word on the radio. It's about her life and rise to fame. Jones was on "Saturday Night Live" for five seasons. She's also appeared in the 2016 female reboot of "Ghostbusters" and in Eddie Murphy's 2021 "Coming 2 America" sequel. Last January, she was the first guest host for "The Daily Show" after the departure of Trevor Noah. When we left off, Leslie Jones was talking about growing up with her family.
You also had a really special relationship with your mom.
MOSLEY: She had a stroke during your freshman year in college.
MOSLEY: I got chills reading about the dream that you had the night before you got the call...
JONES: So weird. So weird.
MOSLEY: ...That she had the stroke. Yeah. Would you mind sharing that story?
JONES: Yes. OK. So - oof (ph) - I hope I don't get emotional. But I remember - you know, I'm going to tell you, kids, we take advantage of our parents. We do not love them as much as we need to love them. We complain more than we love them. I used to fuss at her 'cause she would come up to the campus and clean up my room when I wasn't there. Like, she would just do stuff like that. And I remember her talking to one of my teammates and...
MOSLEY: Your basketball teammates at college, yeah.
JONES: Yeah. And they were like, she's so good. And I just remember we was in - I think it was - I want to say we was Utah - we was playing in Utah, and we were delayed at the airport. All of us was laying on the floor 'cause it was a big basketball team - all of us tall. We laying on the floor. And I fell asleep 'cause I could sleep anywhere. And my coach would just be so angry because he was like, you just fall asleep anywhere.
JONES: So - I wish I could do that now. Those days - anyway, I fell asleep. And I just remember this big white room. It was just a white room. Nothing was in it, and it was just a silver table. And my mom was in the middle of that table. She had those white - little white robe on, and she was in a fetal position. And I just remember waking up and ran to a telephone 'cause I was like, hey - and my brother answered crying. He was like, they just took ma to the hospital, you know? And I was like - he was just crying. He was like, I don't know what's - she couldn't breathe. And it was just like, he was freaking out. So I always tell everybody - and I tell this and I say this all the time - it is a very, very, very scary world without your parents, especially ones that loved you. And I know they don't always get it right, but at some point, you have to give them some grace.
MOSLEY: There was this moment - 'cause your mother, after she had the stroke, she was never the same...
MOSLEY: ...Again. And you looked at her. There was a moment when you - you went home, you looked at her and you realized that she would never be the same.
MOSLEY: And in a way, like, you, at that young...
JONES: I said goodbye to her.
MOSLEY: ...You said goodbye.
JONES: That - I said goodbye to her. And it's not like I didn't go visit her and stuff after that. But I was like, you are not going to ever be my mom again. And I hate that I maybe did that 'cause maybe I should have put effort forward for her rehabilitation. But I was a kid, you know? And real talk - the main thing in my head is - I remember when - the last time she got sick and almost died, she said to me, the reason that I think I made it was because I asked God to let me survive until my children could take care of themselves. So I just remember thinking, yes, my mom is sick, but every time I went - go and visit her, she always had this look of like, you better be - please be out there - please don't be out there giving up. Like, I would go and...
MOSLEY: Did she speak?
JONES: No, she couldn't speak or nothing, but she knew what was going on.
MOSLEY: Going on.
JONES: And I would go and visit her, and I would cry with her. Any time my brother was mean to me, I would go and cry with her. And she would just - she understood. You know, I saw her more than anyone, so...
MOSLEY: Your mom and dad died six months apart.
JONES: Which is really weird because I think my mom secretly probably was trying to outlive my dad.
MOSLEY: Oh, really?
JONES: Because I think everybody was - I think with everything that happened between them and how everything went, I think my mom was just like, yeah, I'll outlive you. I'll outlive you. But, yeah, she passed away six months after my dad passed away. And I don't know.
MOSLEY: At the time, you were - you were a working comic at the time, but you hadn't made it made it yet.
JONES: I hadn't made it yet. And they did not die with life insurance. So I didn't go to either one of their funerals because I was working to pay for them.
MOSLEY: Leslie, I - I'm just thinking about what you had to access within yourself, though, to go on stage...
MOSLEY: ...Knowing you were doing these sets, making people laugh so that you could pay for your parents' funerals.
JONES: Girl, that first gig - 'cause I had to go to Amsterdam. And I remember, I missed the first flight. I missed the first flight that I was - that was booked and it was because that had happened. And I'm - like, my friend came and picked me up with her boyfriend. Man, I was crying so hard 'cause nobody had ever seen me cry like that. Oh, I'm trying not to cry now. It was really hard. I couldn't do it. I was helpless - helpless in everything. You know, I couldn't - I wasn't rich to send them money. I wasn't - and then hearing about my dad, who was such a strong person. He was so strong - 6'5''. He was such a strong man. And for him to be so weak when he died - and it's just, too, so unexpectedly because I always thought I would get the call by my mom.
And, yeah, that first gig out of the box - 'cause I was so - you know, I can work through a lot of pain now. But I don't know. I think that might have been the first experience of me trying to perform under such pain. Like - and also, too, death is like something else. Like, whenever, you know, it's a distance death, that's different than somebody right up on you death. Like, so your dad - like, it was just so hard to perform. And I was awful that first night. But the promoter was like, man, the fact that you - he was like, you're definitely getting paid. And you're going - and I told him - I was like, I promise it won't be like this, you know, tomorrow night. So, yeah, it was hard. It was pretty hard.
MOSLEY: Both your mother and your brother...
MOSLEY: ...Died at the age of 38. And you actually thought...
JONES: Well, my mom got sick at the age of 38.
JONES: She actually died, like, 20-something years later.
JONES: Yeah. Now, my brother died at 38, though.
MOSLEY: And you really felt like maybe you wouldn't live that long.
JONES: I felt like - yeah, yeah. Thirty-eight - I was like, oh, they're trying to get rid of all the Joneses (laughter). I was like, I'm next. So after my brother died, I was like, oh, OK. Well, I'm about to do everything. I did not care. I don't care what nobody say. I'm living like - I'm doing the jokes that I thought I couldn't. I'm doing everything.
MOSLEY: Let's take a short break. If you're just joining us, my guest is Leslie Jones. She's written a new memoir about her life and career in comedy. We'll continue our conversation after a short break. This is FRESH AIR.
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MOSLEY: This is FRESH AIR. Today we're talking to comedian and actor Leslie Jones. She's written a new memoir about her life and rise to fame. Jones had a long career in stand-up, but her career really took off when she was hired to work at "Saturday Night Live" in 2014, where she was a writer and a cast member for five seasons. We talked to Jones about her time at "SNL." Although the Writers Guild and the actor's union are currently on strike, Jones was given the OK to talk about her work on "SNL" since the union has an agreement with networks for artists to talk about their work on variety shows. Leslie Jones told us how she got her audition for "Saturday Night Live" and how it involved comedian Chris Rock catching her stand-up act.
So Chris Rock saw you at one of your sets, was like...
MOSLEY: ...Oh, yeah - call Lorne Michaels, and said, you got to have this woman. And you went on and auditioned because they were looking for a Black woman at the time.
JONES: Yeah. They was like, yep.
MOSLEY: So the audition process for "SNL" sounds pretty intense, of course. And you were up against some pretty heavy hitters. Like, it was you and several comedians, but then there were some Black actresses.
JONES: OK. They weren't heavy hitters to me. I mean, listen, I'm Leslie Jones.
JONES: I'm the heavy hitter walking into the room, trust and believe. I, listen, give all respect to those ladies, but none of them was a comic like me. None of them was going to ever challenge me onstage. But what they had on me, though, was the sketch stuff. They had that down on me.
MOSLEY: So "SNL" hired you as a writer.
MOSLEY: You didn't want to be a writer. You were, like, so dejected by that, but you took it.
JONES: No, but Chris had warned me. Chris had already told me. He said, listen, there's no way they're going to let you go. He was like, I know Lorne is not going to let you go. And Kenan told me the same thing. Kenan was like, there's no way...
MOSLEY: Once you get in as a writer, they're not going to...
JONES: There's no way they're letting you walk out the building. They know you're something. So they called me and hired me as a writer.
JONES: And I told Lorne - I was like, listen, I'm being honest with you, I'm not a writer. I'm a in-front-of-the-camera chick.
MOSLEY: But he told you, you know...
JONES: He said, just come.
JONES: Yeah, I don't know what to do with you, but we'll figure it out, you know?
MOSLEY: Right. I mean, writing, in the beginning, it wasn't easy because you had all of these pitches that were rejected at first.
JONES: Yeah, because I was pitching like a comic.
MOSLEY: Yes, and not...
JONES: Instead of pitching like a sketch person. And that's the thing that I really had to learn was that when you writing a joke in a sketch, it has to have foundation. Like, it has to have a story. It has to have character names. It has to have, you know, a flow.
MOSLEY: Right, yeah.
JONES: It can't - it's not just you onstage talking about it, you know?
MOSLEY: So Chris Rock, Kenan Thompson, they were like, they're going to want you. You're there. You're a writer. You're doing your thing. You're trying to work out even writing.
JONES: Yeah, yeah.
MOSLEY: But once you started performing, in many ways - you write about this in the book - they started to treat you like a caricature.
JONES: You mean once I became a cast member?
MOSLEY: Once you became a cast member.
JONES: Well, because, again, I've been doing comedy so long, it's like, I know what I am. And I know what I'm giving them. At "SNL," they take that one thing and they wring it. They wring it because that's the machine. So whatever it is that I'm giving that they're so happy about, they feel like it's got to be that all the time or something like that. So it was, like, a character of myself, you know what I'm saying? So it was like, now either I'm trying to love on the white boys or beat up on the white boys, or I'm doing something just, like, loud. I knew once I did these things, though, I knew it was going to happen because I know the power of them.
MOSLEY: You were so good at Weekend Update.
JONES: Yes, because that's comedy. That's nothing but me sitting down, doing stand-up behind a desk. That was my - yo, let me tell you something. That was like, yes. That was mine, you know? So when I left, I was like, yeah, this is the worst. But no, man, it was just bittersweet because it really is a training, you know? For some people, it should be the springboard.
JONES: You know what I'm saying?
MOSLEY: And so much good has happened from your time on "SNL."
JONES: Yeah. Yeah, yeah.
MOSLEY: It also sounds like Kenan Thompson became, like, your homie.
JONES: He's - oh, the first day I met Kenan, we were brother and sister instantly. And it's so funny, Lorne Michaels, love Lorne Michaels. At the time when you - like I said, when you leave, you're just so angry because you can't - but in his defense, I used to always be like, he's a puppet master. So he has to make the cast happy, he has to make the writers happy. He has to make the WGA happy. He has to make NBC happy. Then he has to make a family in Omaha, Neb., who's watching the show happy. Imagine the strings that have to go out to him? So it's a machine that has to work, you know?
MOSLEY: It's so interesting when you say it's like a machine because, right, you see folks like you on there. You're like, yes, there's Leslie Jones. I mean, all the way back when Eddie Murphy was on there.
JONES: Right, yeah.
MOSLEY: But there's always just one, and they always do have their signature, and then they leave.
JONES: In fairness - because I remember I was talking to another cast member that retired. And they said, but in fairness, like, that's how they do all of them.
MOSLEY: Not just the Black ones.
JONES: Not just the Black ones. And I looked back and I was like, oh, that's right, Taran, Taran Killam. Taran wanted to do so much other stuff. But they would only have Taran in those very masculine and singing and stuff. And I was like, oh, yeah.
MOSLEY: This is the machine, yeah.
JONES: This is the machine, you know?
MOSLEY: The advice Jamie Foxx gave you about, like, living life, being yourself - you have, definitely, like, a catalog of stories now.
JONES: Yeah (laughter).
MOSLEY: I got to ask you about one you've talked about.
JONES: All of them, baby.
MOSLEY: You've talked about this one a lot already over the last few years, but there's an element of it that I want to just talk with you about. So you met somebody on match.com?
JONES: Oh, yeah.
MOSLEY: You sent them nudes. And then the FBI was involved over it, because you're famous by now, like, this is - like, you're famous.
JONES: Which is so funny that you're not smart enough to know...
MOSLEY: But you're famous...
JONES: No but wait. You know what's so funny about that? I started dating someone a little bit after that, and I sent him a nude. And he literally...
JONES: He literally sent me back the text, you ain't learned yet?
MOSLEY: The thing I want to ask you about - so the FBI was involved.
MOSLEY: It was a whole thing...
JONES: Oh, my God.
MOSLEY: ...Because you sent this person nudes and then they were like, we're going to use this against you. TMZ even called you and was like...
JONES: Yeah. Well, what happened was we got Homeland Security involved. And then the FBI got involved, and they took over. And instead of them just taking my computer, they made me send what it is I sent to the dude.
MOSLEY: So you sent nudes again but to the FBI, yeah.
JONES: And then so whoever was hacking me - because the "Ghostbusters" stuff was going on, too, and I was fighting against that. So whoever was hacking me was just trying to hack me because dude from Twitter was like they are on your account.
MOSLEY: And just...
JONES: Like, they had to protect me.
MOSLEY: ...To - just so the audience...
MOSLEY: ...Knows, with the "Ghostbusters" stuff...
MOSLEY: ...You were starring in "Ghostbusters," and you were getting a lot of hate...
JONES: I was getting a lot...
MOSLEY: ...On social media about it.
JONES: ... Of hate already. So it was just like in the midst of all of that happening - so I know it was just superhackers going, we're going to get her or whatever - you know, whatever. They went into the email 'cause they got my passport, they got my ID and then they got the nudes. So I woke up to a phone call from the chick from TMZ, the Black girl. I - and I hope you're listening 'cause I will never forgive you. I will never forgive you 'cause she calls my phone and she goes, hey, do you know that your nudes and your passport and your ID is up on - and I looked at the - and I was like, who is this? Oh, this is so-and-so so-and-so from TMZ. And I was like, well, how did you get my number? Did you use the number? And she was like, well, I'm just trying to - and I was like, you ain't trying to help. And I hung up, and I called my publicist, and my publicist had it down in 20 minutes. But 20 minutes is like 20 days on the internet.
MOSLEY: So you got hacked in addition to being threatened by this person you met on match.com.
MOSLEY: And so then you put together a sketch for the Emmys and for Weekend Update.
JONES: Yes. Yes. So after all the hacking and all that stuff happened, we were like, you know - me, I was just like, I'm not going to play the victim. I'm not a victim. This is not a victim. This is a - me being harassed by some disgusting hacker that went into my private things. So they wanted me to play victim, and I'm not a victim. I refuse to play a victim 'cause that means that - you don't have control of nothing about me. You want to see me naked? Ask.
JONES: That's what it's about. So when the Emmys hit me, I was like, this is the perfect sketch to do with the accountants. Like, y'all got this in the suitcase. Y'all need to put my Twitter account in there. And, you know, that was the whole gist of it. Now, when I got back to...
JONES: ...Weekend Update, you know, I am that person that's going to address it. And I really, really was about, like, if you wanted to see me naked, ask. I have a trove of pictures I can send you. And they're way better quality than the ones that got hacked, you know? And I - the whole thing there was a preaching about is, like, no one else has the power to come and break you. The only person that can break you is you. Don't give nobody else that power.
MOSLEY: You've worked so hard to get to where you are. Does success feel like you thought it would?
JONES: Absolutely not. It's - I was just telling this to somebody today. I was like, man, I used to sit - on my gigs when I wasn't nothing and was selling DVDs and stuff. I would sit after my gig. I would run to the front just to hug and sign stuff and be - and get in touch with people. And I thought that when I got famous, that was going to be the - my most favorite part was connecting with my fans. And it is sometimes. But it is hard. It is very - 'cause I have to always tell myself, OK, you're famous. Hey, you can't smack that person, man, you're famous. Hey, man, you can't curse that person out, man, you're famous. You know, now, some things I'll break through. I'd be like, if I'm going to go to the Beyonce concert, I'm going to the Beyonce concert. It's...
JONES: ...Happening. You know, y'all are just going to have to deal with it. And I always try to do the Arsenio Hall, Magic Johnson rule is to make yourself seen so much that people get used to seeing you so they don't attack you. And a lot of people see me out all the time. I'm always at the gym, I'm always at Ralphs, I'm always at The Comedy Store, and I act normal as hell. I don't shut stuff down, I don't send a - I try to be as normal as hell. I try to dress myself down. The mohawk was a big thing. I had to get rid of the mohawk because the...
MOSLEY: It was too much of a...
JONES: It was...
MOSLEY: ...Signature. Yeah.
JONES: ...All - I mean, and people - like, I could be with Kenan, and they would not know...
MOSLEY: Even see Kenan Thompson.
JONES: ...Who Kenan - see Kenan.
JONES: They have asked Kenan to take pictures and they look and go, oh, my God. Kenan. Yeah, like, it's just a thing. You're six foot tall, smiling, Black woman with a mohawk. Of - they're going to recognize you. So I had to calm that down. It's a lot of things, you know? But I refuse to be trapped in my house. I'm not that type of star.
MOSLEY: Leslie Jones, thank you. Thank you for being you. Thank you for this book. Just thank you.
JONES: Oh, thank you. I appreciate it.
MOSLEY: Leslie Jones is a comedian and author of a new memoir. Coming up, Maureen Corrigan reviews a new novel by Lauren Groff about an escape from a colonial settlement. This is FRESH AIR.
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