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The Untold Truth Of 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 6 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 "Saturday Night Live." 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 "Saturday Night Live," 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 2013in 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.

Leslie Jones and Mikey Day go way back

In January 2014, Leslie Jones joined the writing staff of "Saturday Night Live" and became a cast member that fall, according to The Hollywood Reporter. Long a popular stand-up comic and occasional actor, Jones was among the older cast members in "SNL" history, making her first appearance at age 47. Another late-night late bloomer is Mikey Day, a veteran TV writer who came onboard the "SNL" creative staff in 2013 and was added to the cast three years later at age 36. Jones and Day appeared in numerous sketches together in their overlapping "SNL" tenures, but their connection goes back years.

"He told me that when he was little, he used to go to this restaurant in Orange County called Spoons," Jones told The Hollywood Reporter. "And he remembered this lady who used to wait on him." That "lady" — a teenage server who attended to 6-year-old Day and his family — was Jones. The comedian said the realization made her and Day laugh "for 15 minutes."

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."

Leslie Jones and Kate McKinnon are close

The high-pressure, fast-paced world of "Saturday Night Live" can be an intimate experience, and it's produced many offscreen duos, creative partners, and close friends alike. Case in point: Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, Will Forte and Jason Sudeikis, and Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones. They joined the NBC late-night sketch comedy show in 2012 and 2014, respectively, and quickly developed a mutual admiration society appearing in many sketches alongside each other, which only got stronger during production on the 2016 "Ghostbusters" movie. "Leslie and I have worked together for two years at 'SNL.' We were very close by the time we got there to film and got so much closer, pathologically closer over the course of the summer in fact," McKinnon told Refinery29. McKinnon's involvement in the movie is a big part of why Jones agreed to co-star. "I had some doubts in the beginning, but after I saw who was cast and who was directing, I didn't have any," Jones added.

Jones has often singled out McKinnon for praise on her Twitter feed. Around the time of the "SNL" season finale episode in May 2018, Jones posted a video of McKinnon dancing and called her "MY B**** FOR LIFE!!!" A year later, when Jones departed "SNL," she thanked cast members for their creativity, comedy, and humanity, especially McKinnon. "I will miss Kate's loving hugs and talks when I needed," Jones wrote.

Supermarket Sweep

After leaving "Saturday Night Live," 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.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, this revival couldn't be filmed in an actual grocery store, which was the case in the '80s and '90s versions. Instead, it took 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 7 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.

Why Leslie Jones stopped live tweeting the Olympics 

Since her elevation to superstardom after joining the cast of "Saturday Night Live," Leslie Jones became almost as famous for her enthusiastic live recapping of the Olympics on her social media channels. According to People, Jones provided eager live updates to various events through multiple Summer and Winter Games. But early in the 2022 Winter Olympics, held in Beijing, China, Jones floated retiring from the gig. "i m starting to feel like this should be my last olympics i live tweet," she wrote on Instagram. "But I'm tired of fighting the folks who don't want me to do it. They block my videos and they get folks who think they can do it like me."

Jones was effectively calling out both NBC Sports and Peacock, whom she says respectively ordered her posts featuring footage from the Olympics to be removed for violating copyright laws, and tried to bring a similar joking, informal commentary to the Games with a highlights show hosted by comedian Kevin Hart and rapper Snoop Dogg. After Jones spoke out, NBC Sports issued an apology to Jones, as well as an all clear. "This was the result of a third-party error, and the situation has been resolved," the organization said in a statement. "She is free to do her social media posts as she has done in the past."

She was not happy about Ghostbusters: Afterlife 

Entertainment Weekly reported in early 2019 that Sony had started preproduction on a relaunch of "Ghostbusters," the 1980s comedy-horror-sci-fi blockbusters starring Bill Murray and Dan Aykroyd as scientists-turned-spirit hunters.  Jason Reitman, son of original "Ghostbusters" director Ivan Reitman, was tapped to co-write the script and direct. "This is the next chapter in the original franchise. It is not a reboot," said Reitman. "What happened in the '80s happened in the '80s, and this is set in the present day."

That project became "Ghostbusters: Afterlife," which was initially set for release in summer 2020 but wound up delayed until fall 2021. "Afterlife" completely ignores another major entry in the franchise — Paul Feig's 2016 movie "Ghostbusters: Answer the Call," which features an all-female cast headlined by Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, and Leslie Jones. "I have so much respect for what Paul created with those brilliant actresses, and would love to see more stories from them," Reitman said. "However, this new movie will follow the trajectory of the original film."

Jones publicly took umbrage to the new movie, likening it to an act of sexism. "So insulting. Like f*** us," Jones tweeted. "It's like something trump would do. (Trump voice) 'Gonna redo ghostbusteeeeers, better with men, will be huge. Those women ain't ghostbusteeeeers' Ugh so annoying. Such a d*** move. And I don't give a f*** I'm saying something!!"

She was immediately on board to join Our Flag Means Death

Following her departure from "Saturday Night Live" in 2019, Leslie Jones' first major return to scripted series television came in the form of the HBO Max historical comedy "Our Flag Means Death." Set in the 18th century and very loosely based on real people and true events, the series is a workplace comedy about pirates — specifically gentleman buccaneer Stede Bonnet and the legendary Blackbeard. Jones appeared in three episodes of the series' first season as Spanish Jackie, a fictionalized version of actual historical pirate Jacquotte Delahaye. Spanish Jackie runs a tough bar in a pirate haven where she collects the noses of vanquished enemies as well as husbands.

Producers of "Our Flag Means Death" approached Jones with the role, and she was all in. "As soon as they said 'pirate,' I was like, 'Are you kidding me? I get to wear pirate boots? Yes for sure,'" Jones recalled to Polygon. "They told me, 'Spanish Jackie has a wooden hand and like 20 husbands.' I was like, 'Sign me up, I'll do this for free!'" Jones told TV Insider that she especially loved the pirate fight scenes, for which she trained extensively, and her elaborate, intricate costumes.