“Saturday Night Live” won’t be quite the same without Leslie Jones, who is leaving the show. Who else will provide spot-on impersonations of Whoopi Goldberg, Omarosa Manigault Newman and Oprah Winfrey? Who else will come up with better nicknames for Colin Jost? (“Flat White Privilege Latte.” “Little Salty Oyster Cracker.”) Jones was a part of the “S.N.L.” cast for only a little more than five years, but she leaves behind a lot to remember.
Jones was not always beloved on the internet. She endured racial and misogynist harassment on Twitter, and in 2016, between seasons of “S.N.L.,” her website was hacked and nude photos stolen from her iCloud were published online. Jones addressed the matter on the show’s season premiere in probably the best way possible. “The only person who can hack me is me,” she defiantly declared on Weekend Update. “I ain’t shy. If you want to see Leslie Jones naked, just ask.” She had faced worse things than online trolls, she reminded everyone, and she’d been roasted by professional comedians. Anyone with computer skills was wasting them hacking or harassing her, she said — you could be renewing your driver’s license from home instead, or deleting everyone else’s profile from Tinder, or even building a robotic perfect man. “Forget about Westworld,” she said. “I’m talking about LeslieWorld.” Who doesn’t want to go there?
[“I just like to bring the funny,” Leslie Jones told our reporter.]
One of Jones’s own favorite things about LeslieWorld was her Manhattan neighborhood, the often-underestimated Upper East Side: “Y’all say it’s boring. Y’all say it’s homogeneous. But y’all don’t know it like I do!” She loves the great bakeries, the accessible taxis and the subway trains with a “nobody peed in here” smell. “I thought at 50 I’d be broke or dead, but now I’m a lady from Compton in line for fresh bread,” she rapped. It’s the little things, yo.
‘Alabama Abortion Ban’
When Alabama state senators voted to ban abortions and passed a law that would jail doctors who performed them, an angry Jones took to Weekend Update in a red robe, á la “The Handmaid’s Tale,” to declare the move a war on women. She later dropped the robe to reveal a T-shirt reading “Mine,” with an arrow pointing to her uterus, and she declared her solidarity with all women who might feel “scared or confused.” “You can’t make me small or put me in a box. I’m six feet tall and 233 pounds. Ain’t no box big enough to hold me. And I know, because one time I tried to mail myself to a dude.” Point made.
Jones sees herself as “Pam Grier from about 15 years ago, and Malia Obama 10 years from now,” and she likes to rock boats. In this Weekend Update bit on Black History Month, she used the film about the vital role black women played at NASA in the 1960s as a jumping off point to argue that black history shouldn’t be relegated to one month a year. After all, if she had known that a black man, Garrett Morgan, invented traffic lights, she might have respected them more when driving! And then there was the mechanical engineer Philip B. Downing: “A black person invented the mailbox,” Jones said. “How did you all miss that, white people?” Sometimes we need Jones to point out the obvious.
‘Naked & Afraid: Celebrity Edition’
In this 2016 spoof of “Naked & Afraid” the guest host Peter Dinklage was …very afraid. Jones showed up nude, tried to cuddle him for body warmth, and kept calling him by his character name on “Game of Thrones.” (“Don’t start with me on Day 1, Tyrion!”) Pretty much anytime Jones gets into “Game of Thrones” territory — in her “Game of Jones” TV viewing parties with Seth Meyers, her popular live-tweet commentaries or “Thrones”-themed skits on “S.N.L.” — she’s on fire. She’s Leslie Dracarys Jones!
Many of Jones’s characters come up against racism, sexism and classism, and one of the more hilarious of these encounters involves royal etiquette lessons — and corporal punishment — in preparation for the christening of the son of Britain’s Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. The walloping is unleashed by Emma Thompson, who is trying to teach Jones, playing a distant cousin of the duchess of Sussex, how to behave at a royal tea. This is high-grade slapstick — the blows really seem to take Jones by surprise, and the nasty undercurrent gives the skit a dark bite. Obvious cue-card reading is an “S.N.L.” staple, but Jones and Thompson manage to avoid it; they seem incredibly present together.
Jones is a great ranter, but she can play it (relatively) straight, too, as she did in this spoof of “House Hunters.” Jones and her husband (Liev Schreiber) are reviewing on-the-market homes to buy and finding that they have increasingly absurd drawbacks: vertical floors, tubs filled with magicians, toilets in the ceiling. It gets pretty weird, but Jones nails the tricky comedic timing with perfect equanimity. It’s a gift.
Jones and a fellow cast member Kyle Mooney appeared in a series of digital shorts depicting a fictitious relationship (it involved a secret marriage and a son named Little Lorne). Then the faux couple experimented with actually getting physical (although not actually) in the dressing room of show host Paul Rudd — who inconveniently showed up and joined in the fun. (Interestingly, he seemed more interested in Mooney than Jones.) Is this happening? Probably not anymore.
Can a bitch get a beef bowl? Jones’s very first appearance on Weekend Update in 2014 (after she’d joined the show’s writers room) remains her most controversial. In a hilarious rant, she compared her modern-day dating prospects to what she might have found during the time of slavery. (She joked she would be the “No. 1 slave draft pick.”) She later defended this bit on Twitter, explaining that comedy comes from pain, and she vowed to hit even “harder and deeper” from then on. Which she definitely did.
Honorable Mention: ‘Gift Wrap’
Comedians break character on “S.N.L.” all the time, and Jones is no exception. Most memorable was a holiday-themed skit she did with the host James Franco, who squirted fake blood directly into her mouth — maybe an accident, maybe not. This was live television, of course — Jones started to vomit, and struggled to hold it back. She wasn’t able to deliver her scripted lines, but she still managed to be funny, cycling through a series of very realistic chokes, coughs and winces. Even under duress, Jones delivered: Anything for a laugh.