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10 Things You Didn't Know About Leslie Jones

There's a good chance you're already pretty familiar with Leslie Jones. The celebrated comedian was a cast member on Saturday Night Live for multiple years, and has received three Emmy nominations for her work on the long running sketch show: Two for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series and one for Outstanding Original Music and Lyrics. Jones is also an experienced stand-up performer who has multiple specials to her name: Showtime's Problem Child from 2010 and Netflix's Time Machine from 2020 are two particular stand-outs. She has even acted in a growing number of high-profile films, including 2016's Sing, 2019's The Angry Birds Movie 2, and 2021's Coming 2 America.

Despite her established background in comedy and her recent success, however, there are still many details of Jones' life and career that most fans may not already know. We're here to explore those little-known facts and tidbits about Leslie Jones, from her time on the basketball court to her appearance in Time magazine.

Family life

Jones' upbringing is fascinating unto itself. She was born Annette Jones on September 7th, 1967 in Memphis, Tennessee. Her father was in the military, and her family often relocated. She also had a brother named Rodney Keith Jones, who sadly died in 2009. While living in Los Angeles, Jones' father ended up working as an electronics engineer for Stevie Wonder's radio station, KJLH. Jones, on the other hand, busied herself with attending high school in Lynwood, California. Lynwood is located near Compton, which is why she often makes jokes about growing up in the latter city.

Jones grew up to be six feet tall and struggled with insecurity about her looks. "People used to call me names so my mom had this beautiful African lady come talk to me," Jones told People in 2016. "I was like, 'Oh my God if I'm going to look like you then I don't care what anyone says about me.'" Eventually, Jones took advantage of her height and followed her father's advice of playing basketball. She received a basketball scholarship from Chapman University in Orange, California, but transferred to Colorado State University when her coach left for that school.

College years

Even though Jones initially enrolled in college to play basketball, she was still unsure about her career path. Jones elaborated on this uncertainty in an interview with Pollstar in 2010. After giving up her law degree aspirations, Jones considered majoring in business accounting, but quit on the first day after someone introduced her to microeconomics. While working as a radio DJ at Chapman, someone told Jones to major in communications. "'It covers everything,'" Jones quoted. "'You can probably do a little acting, you can do everything in communications.'" Keep in mind, this conversation took place before she transferred to Colorado State, meaning she probably had to re-establish her major once again after transferring.

Jones also talked about her college years with SanDiego.com in 2011. "It started off with electronic engineering," she recalled, "then I wanted to be a lawyer; because I really didn't know what I wanted to be. I just knew that I could play basketball really good and there's a possibility that I could maybe go overseas and play. I didn't actually know what I was going to do." Luckily for fans, she figured it out in the end.

First steps in stand-up

Jones found her calling after a friend at Colorado State entered her into a "funniest person on campus" event. Jones won the contest and promptly quit college (much to the chagrin of her coach and parents) so that she could move to Los Angeles and pursue a career in stand-up. While performing at regular clubs, Jones worked several odd jobs to make ends meet: She had stints working for Roscoe's Chicken and Waffles, the UPS, and, and, believe it or not, as a telemarketer for Scientology

Famed comedians Mother Love and Dave Chappelle encouraged Jones to move to New York. She took their advice and went there to hone her craft, eventually performing on BET's ComicView. In time, Jones returned to LA, where she opened for Jamie Foxx and was brutally booed. Thankfully, Foxx gave her some advice: "'The reason you were so bad,'" Jones recalled him saying, "'is because you didn't have anything to talk about. You don't have a boyfriend. You're fresh out of college. You ain't doing nothing. You don't have anything to talk about. Go live life for a little while and then start writing.'" Jones didn't perform for three years following this. She feared being pigeonholed as well, so in 2010, she began to stop exclusively performing at "Black clubs."

A helping hand from Chris Rock

Chris Rock has a long history of working with Leslie Jones. Around the same time he directed Jones in his 2014 film Top Five, the respected comedian helped her score an audition for SNL. As Rock explained in a 2014 essay for The Hollywood Reporter, "I just helped Leslie Jones get on that show. She's about as funny as a human being can be, but she didn't go to Second City, she doesn't do stand-up at The Cellar and she's not in with Judd Apatow, so how the hell was she ever going to get through unless somebody like me says to Lorne Michaels, 'Hey, look at this person'? I saw her at a comedy club four or five years ago, and I wrote her name down in my phone. I probably called four managers — the biggest managers in comedy — to manage her, and all of them said no. They didn't get it. They didn't get it until Lorne said yes a few years later, and then it was too late." 

As he details in this essay, Rock believes that power players in comedy don't give Black female comedians such as Leslie Jones a chance. If he hadn't contacted Lorne Michaels, who knows if Jones would have still received that SNL audition? Luckily for all of us, her talent won out, with a little extra help from Rock.

Auditioning for SNL

Even though Jones eventually joined the cast of SNL, she was not initially a fan of the prolific sketch show. In a 2013 interview with videographer Patricia Tone, Jones explained that she wasn't into SNL and that Kenan Thompson was, in her opinion, "not funny." While Jones didn't mention Thompson by name during that interview, she did say he was not "a stand-up," and went on to presumably respond to comments Thompson made to TV Guide in 2013, in which he espoused a belief that Black comediennes were not ready for SNL.

In 2020, Jones told radio host Howard Stern that she was originally going to tell the SNL producers "no" at her audition, but ended up going through with it because she thought the audition could lead to other opportunities. Funnily enough, this carefree attitude is likely how she aced the audition. As she recounted to Stern, "I thought to myself, 'Oh! This is the Comedy Store at two o'clock at night!' ... So I got on stage and there was empty chairs in the front, and I was like, 'Nuh-uh, that's not how I work. Let's go, everybody move to the front! ... And everybody moved up to the front." In January 2014, Jones became an SNL writer.

SNL cast member

Although Jones would eventually become a stalwart part of the SNL cast, she faced controversy along the way. Jones first appeared on the show during a May 2014 Weekend Update segment, when co-anchor Colin Jost brought her on to discuss People magazine naming Lupita Nyong'o the most beautiful woman in the world. "I agree that [Nyong'o] is very beautiful," Jones said. "But for me personally, I'm waiting for them to put out the 'most useful' list." Jones then speculated as to what her life might been like under slavery: "Master would have hooked me up with the best brother on the plantation, and every nine months I'd be in the corner having a super baby ... I would be the number one slave draft pick." Of course, these jokes came under plenty of scrutiny, and Jones defended them with several tweets.

On the bright side, Jones' addition to the cast in October 2014 made SNL history. For the first time, more than one Black woman was part of the cast. At 47, Jones was also the oldest person to join SNL; that record originally belonged to George Coe and Michael McKean, who both joined at 46 in 1975 and 1994, respectively.

Leaving SNL

Unfortunately for her fans, Jones announced in 2019 that she was leaving SNL. Jones confirmed the news in a lengthy Instagram post, in which she thanked everyone who helped her along the way, including the cast. "I will miss holding it down with Kenan everyday, I will miss Cecily [Strong]'s impression of me making me laugh at myself often, I will miss Kate [McKinnon]'s loving hugs and talks when I needed. And of course Colin, you porcelain-skinned Ken doll," Jones wrote. "I will miss all my cast mates!!"

In 2020, Jones told USA Today that she does not miss working on SNL, even though she learned so much from working on the show. "Of course, I learned a lot at SNL. I love what I learned there, but I [was] 47. That's a hard job. It's very restrictive," Jones said. "Now I'm free and y'all can really see Leslie. You can see what Leslie can do. What I learned there is great, but I don't miss the hundred hours a week. I don't miss them cold nights. I do not miss that. I miss Kenan [Thompson], though. I miss Kenan so much."

Supermarket Sweep

After leaving SNL, Jones became the host of Supermarket Sweep, the 2020 revival of her favorite game show from back in the day. The rules of this revival are the same as previous iterations: Each team needs to build up as much time as possible for when they raid the store during the "Big Sweep," and the team with the highest cart total has a chance to play for $100,000.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this revival can't take place in an actual grocery store, which was the case in the '80s and '90s versions. Instead, it takes place in a recreation of a grocery store. "We went to the Santa Monica Airport and got a hangar there. We got a [production designer] to come on — he's one of the best — and he built this whole grocery store inside and it really helped with the COVID situation because we could separate everyone," Jones told Entertainment Weekly. "We could have more room to work, to keep people separated from each other six feet, and keep regulations going because we have enough room to do it. It was crazy and, yes, very stressful. The people worked to get that to happen ... wow. I'm always very astounded at how people can make things happen like that. These people really wanted this show to happen — they got in there, made it happen, and it was beautiful."

Leslie of House Jones, first of her name

Jones has proven herself as an actress and comedian, but you might not know that she's proven herself as a huge Game of Thrones fan as well. Jones live-tweeted many episodes of the massively successful series, and also provided commentary as part of the Late Night with Seth Meyers segment, "Game of Jones." A major highlight from this reoccurring segment came when Jones and Meyers watched the season seven episode "The Spoils of War": She begins to talk about how untrustworthy Varys is when his actor, Conleth Hill, walks into the room in his Varys costume and surprises her.

Series creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss also directed Jones' stand-up special for Netflix, Time Machine. Jones explained to late night host Jimmy Fallon how she recruited these writers-directors to direct her special. She first considered Steven Spielberg, but Lorne Michaels put the kibosh on that. She also considered J.J. Abrams, but Star Wars was keeping him busy.  "Then I was like, who else could catch action but somebody who shoots a dragon?," Jones concluded. "What am I? A dragon!" Controversial Game of Thrones finale aside, Jones can certainly pick talented filmmakers to direct her stand-up specials.

Time 100

Jones is so accomplished that she was named one of Time's 100 most influential people in the world. Each year, Time editors create a long list of individuals to spotlight, to better recognize their major impacts on the world. Jones just so happened to be one of those individuals in 2017 – and who better to write a column about her than Academy Award winner Russell Crowe

The Australian actor hosted SNL in 2016, on an episode Jones appeared on. They even recorded a promo together, which apparently went well. When Crowe wrote about Jones for her Time 100 selection, he had nothing but kind words to say about the actress-comedian: "All the absurdity and pathos of being human. All the joy of having a heart that big. She's going to be the person who says out loud what you were thinking, when you didn't even realize you thought like that."

If having Russell Crowe write a column about how great you are isn't awesome enough, Jones also attended the annual gala in New York that same year, where she took selfies with several fellow selectees such as Ryan Reynolds, Sarah Paulson, and Viola Davis.