SNL’s Leslie Jones Isn’t Your Typical Celebrity,
Leslie Jones guest-hosting ‘The Daily Show’ in 2023.
Matt Wilson

Leslie Jones, best known for her star-making turn on Saturday Night Live, is ready to share her story, on her terms and in her own way. She came up with her new book’s title “because a whole bunch of people [would] come up to me and go, ‘That’s Leslie-f******-Jones!'” In her book, Leslie F****** Jones (Grand Central Publishing), the comedian shares the abuse she suffered as a child, her path to stardom and how she emerged with a level head. “I don’t look at myself as a celebrity. I look at it like somebody that got a really good job and was just really good at it.” About that job, she said SNL “is a machine that’s already fixed the way that it is. It does not matter how wonderful and great and different I am, I’m not going to change the machine,” except for her impact on the way SNL “might look at Black women, now they’ll have more Black women.” While she does wish she was “in my 30s so I can just do Marvel sh**,” Jones knows what she wants next: “to be an interpreter for our nation right now, because I feel like no one’s speaking the nation’s language.”


Editor’s Note: This conversation has been edited and condensed for publication.

One thing that stood out to me from the memoir is that it’s less Hollywood memoir, and more of a truly personal mediation on how you got here, almost inspirational. Was that intentional?

We look at stars and we look at entertainers as these untouchable people and they’re just normal folks that got a different job. And I really wanted to show people that, hey, struggle is struggle, no matter who the f*** you are. And you can get through it. You can get through all your bad sh** and still have a good life and still have a good attitude about it. I don’t know if it was much about me becoming famous, because I noticed I’m crazy. But I don’t look at myself as a celebrity. I look at it like somebody that got a really good job and was just really good at it. So, I really wanted to tell the story. There’s no such thing as an overnight success. You have to work for it. And it’s not going to always be easy, but enjoy the sh** because it’s your life.

How do you feel when people approach you about your work?

I guess it depends, mostly it’s very positive. Mostly it’s a lot of people who come up like, “Oh, I’m really inspired by your story.” I’m not in the news like other people are a lot. So when you do see me, it’s like, “Oh, that’s Leslie Jones!” That’s why I named the book Leslie F******* Jones, because you get a whole bunch of people that come up to me and go, “Thats Leslie f****** Jones!” With the fame thing, I remember me and my friend, we would play PlayStation every day when we were struggling comics and we would talk about what we would do when we was famous and what we’re going to have and all of that. And when I did hit that fame part, I remember having a conversation with him going, “It’s nothing like we thought it was.” It’s more pressure. I want to be able to leave the house, I want to be able to go to the gym, does that make sense? I can see how people can get caught up in the sh**, I can see how people can be manipulated to think that they’re the sh**, too. Because there’s engines in this business that do that. You got the agents, you got the PR people, you got these people that are doing a certain type of kiss ass. I had to really put my people on blast. Like, you could do that to the rest of the motherf******, I don’t need that sh**. Don’t do that to me. I like truth.

Trauma for a comedian is often a job requirement, and your trauma resume is stacked. You’re in a good spot now, but was it difficult navigating some of these older stories?

There was some times [when writing the book], when I was like, “God damn, I made it through that? [laughs] How did I make it through that?” Some stuff I was like, “Oh wow b****, you really are strong.” I remember one section, while writing, I started crying like, “Oh God, let me cry for her.” Because I wasn’t crying when it was happening to me, because I was going through it. Sometimes people wear their scars as their uniform, and you’re not supposed to do that. I will tell you this, not every comic has to go through trauma to be funny, you just can be funny. A lot of comics make that mistake in thinking that they need to go through something hard to be funny. Life is hard. Just your life, period, is hard. Getting up every day facing the day, that’s some hard sh**. So you don’t have to make up trauma to f****** be funny. I don’t believe in that. And I’ve learned that from a lot of comics that are just normal people who had normal lives who are funny, but you do meet the comics who have been through sh**, too. I always want to tell people, stop wearing your scars as your uniform and use them as your weapon. If that makes any sense? I put the abuse in the book for the simple fact to tell the story. But that’s not who I am as a person. It’s something that happened to me. It didn’t make me who I was. Yes, I was abused, but I’m not gonna walk in the room and go, “Yeah, [I was abused].” Some people do that and that’s how you start the conversation. You want people to look at you and I want people just to look at me. We can talk about our lives without it taking over our life? I was very lucky to know in my head that this wasn’t because of me. That didn’t happen because of me. This wasn’t my fault. It was a disgusting person. So it didn’t have sh** to do with me, that was on him. And I was part of his f*****-up shit.

leslie jones isn't your typical celebrity
AUSTIN, TEXAS – APRIL 18: Comedian Leslie Jones performs onstage during Moontower Just For Laughs at the Paramount Theatre on April 18, 2023 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Rick Kern/Getty Images)
Rick Kern/Getty Images

You write about a moment where you bombed in front of Jamie Foxx and decided to take time off from comedy to live. How important was that to the comedian you became?

When I was 18, when I was talking to Jamie, I was a child. And he was like, “You’re young. You don’t got sh** to talk about. You don’t have anything to talk about. You think you have stuff to talk about but you don’t. And the stuff you want to talk about, you’re not talented enough to do that joke yet. So go have some experience.” And it made so much sense to me because I was like, how else am I gonna have jokes if I don’t go live life? So it was easy, because at that time when I was trying to get into comedy, there’s a lot of other sh** going on. I was living with my boyfriend, I was working, I don’t think I had my sh** together. So it was easy for me to go, “Okay, let’s go get a job. Let’s try to figure out this step-by-step,” because the promise that I made to myself in comedy, I remember making this praying to God and saying, “I don’t want to be a sh** comic. I want to be a good comic.” Because I love this, I love comedy. You have to go through stuff, you have to live life. You have to do jobs, you have to get fired. You have to get heartbroken, break hard. You have to go through sh**. And he was right. After six years, man, I had so much f****** material.

Your path to SNL is so unique and unlike anybody in the show’s history. Were you aware of this when you were auditioning for the show?

I feel like that always helped me, I’m gonna be honest with you. Even when I started comedy, I felt like I was different than anybody that was going on stage because I was really going on stage and performing passionately and from my heart, while [other] people was just trying to entertain. I was definitely different than any female already from the beginning of my career. I feel like and when I went to SNL, I had been doing comedy so long, I already knew I was the best person. I’m not trying to be cocky or anything, it’s just more like a being a doctor. When you go to a doctor, you want your doctor to walk in and go, “Yeah, I’m the best, we’re gonna do this treatment…” You don’t want your doctor coming in and going, “Ah, I’m kinda good.” You don’t want that. Right now. By that time [of the SNL audition], I’m a doctor. I’m a full-fledged doctor. I’ve been to med school. I’ve done the entire work. So I’m sitting there with a bunch of f****** interns. I had no f****** clue what I was doing, I just thought, I’m a badass comic, let’s go. I didn’t know that there’s a whole system, you know? I just knew I wanted to be funny and I wanted to be on this television show that everybody keeps saying is gonna make me famous. I’m actually glad I was very naive.

I think one of the things I resonated with most in the book is that age shouldn’t be a deterrent to dreaming. I feel like a lot of people who were the age you were when you joined SNL, in your 40s, probably would have thought, my time has passed. How was it finding your voice at SNL?

Yeah, because what they [SNL] do is they find out what it is that you can do and how they can use it in the scheme of everything. So with me, I think that the disadvantage of me coming in with these faces and this attitude, it was taken upon as this is Leslie Jones now. So if Leslie Jones is in a sketch, she’s probably going to take over the sketch, which I used to tell the writers like, no, if you don’t write it like that, I’m not going to do that. But what I didn’t understand, on the other side of that, even the smallest nuances that I would do were big things. And I didn’t understand that. Like, I didn’t understand that when I came into a sketch, if I make a face or if I say something, it is different. And everybody’s gonna pay attention to me. I started noticing sometimes when we would do sketches and they would put the camera on me, everybody would applaud. When you’re in it, you don’t understand that. “Oh, why you can’t just put me in the sketch?” Or, “Why you can’t just do this?” But I wasn’t seeing how powerful I was. I would get very frustrated because I was like, “Show me how to be in it. Write me this way.” I wanted to learn that, but SNL wasn’t the place for that. SNL is a place to catapult. So when I left there, I was able to do more stuff. But [at SNL], it kind of became like I did become a character of myself.

Leaving SNL must have been a difficult decision and moment for you. Was it? And how did you navigate the emotions that I think a lot of people struggle with, what’s next?

Dude, again, I had been through life. SNL is a f****** job. I worked at Roscoe’s [House of Chicken and Waffles] for four years, I’m not gonna stay there the rest of my life. I was telling everybody, this [SNL] is a great job, but I got more things to do. And I’m older. So if you’re not going to really use my skills, I gotta go. I remember telling Lorne [Michaels], “You gotta let me go, man. You gotta let me go. It’s time for me to go. I need to go now, before I can’t leave.”

What would you make you stay?

At that time, nothing. That is a machine that’s already fixed the way that it is. It does not matter how wonderful and great and different I am, I’m not going to change the machine. I mean, I might change it for the way that they might look at Black women, now they’ll have more Black women in there. I told [Lorne], you know how f****** talented I am. I’m Leslie Jones. I’m making the show. He was like, “You’re Leslie Jones. But you’re not SNL.” And that’s real talk. They don’t just come to see you. I’m not SNL. So when he told me that, and that was a decision, that was the day that I was like, “You’re right. Absolutely. This is just another job and I freelanced my services to you guys to use them for a little while. Now it’s time for me to go.” And I knew Lorne did not want me to leave because he was scared that I was going to lose my fame. He was like, “You’re gonna go to California, they’re gonna have these meetings with you, and they’re not going to do nothing with you.” And this is what I told him: “Listen, just like when I came in here. I believe in myself. I believe in my talents. I believe that I’m funny. This is just part of my journey. This is not my journey. That’s not my whole journey. So I know that you believe what you believe. But I’m with me, and I know who I am. And I believe I’m the sh**, so…”

Post-SNL, over COVID and stuff, you talk about therapy and how you really came to a place of peace with yourself and your past. Did the isolation of the pandemic help with that?

Well, first of all, I was going to therapy and all that way before SNL. You need a therapist while you at SNL. But the pandemic, this is what people don’t really know, people think I’m an extrovert, but I am not. I am a true introvert. And people need to know what that means. The introvert means that you get energy by being by yourself. Extroverts get energy by being around people. The pandemic was a dream for me. loved that I did not have to f****** go outside. I loved that I can stay in my place. So for me, I loved it. It gave me time to really figure out other talents that I had, like the live tweeting was always a fun thing to do, but I didn’t realize how much people depended on it. Because people really paid attention to it. So I was just like, let’s see if we can use this. So it was fun to find things to live tweet, doing the new stuff, doing all of that. For me the pandemic was just like a nice vacation. I don’t think it did well for a whole nation, but for me, I loved it.

So what goal do you want to achieve next?

I do wish I was in my 30s so I can just do stunt movies and Marvel sh** and all that. I couldn’t do it now. But you know, I think I want to be stationary. I want to be on a show. I just want to be on a show like The Daily Show, what I did there [when I guest hosted]. Because they want to help our nation. I kind of want to be an interpreter for our nation right now. because I feel like no one’s speaking the nation’s language. And the nation needs to be f****** talked to, we need to be informed.

I fully get that from your book. Your voice comes through as someone who can communicate complicated things to people in a very direct, and humorous, way.

I hate to say this, but it’s always some Black woman that steps up and kind of puts everybody in check. I really feel like with the life that I’ve been through, and the things [I’ve learned], like when I went to SNL and discovered politics. I thought I knew politics, but I didn’t know sh** about politics until I started SNL. So imagine me finding this out, somebody who’s really kind of educated, against some people who don’t know this. So I think I want to be in that type of area.

Listen to H. Alan Scott on Newsweek’s Parting Shot. Available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or wherever you listen to podcasts. Twitter: @HAlanScott