Leslie Jones Says ‘SNL’ Turned Her Into a Caricature of Herself

Leslie Jones Says ‘SNL’ Turned Her Into a Caricature of Herself

Saturday Night Live takes a single trope and squeezes every drop of funny out of it, former cast member Leslie Jones said this week in an interview with NPR.They wring it because that’s the machine,” she explained. 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.” The problem for comics like Jones? Performing becomes “like a caricature of myself.”

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As the oldest cast member ever hired (she was 47 when she was brought on to write and eventually perform on SNL), Jones understood who she was and what made her funny. “I’ve been doing comedy so long, it’s like, I know what I am,” she continued. But when it came to her tenure on the show, that comic identity was turned into a steady diet of “trying to love on the white boys or beat up on the white boys, or I’m doing something loud.”  

Was Jones being pushed into a stereotypical box as a Black cast member? Not necessarily, she realized after talking to another retired SNL veteran. “‘In fairness, that’s how they do all of them. Not just the Black ones,’” the unnamed cast member told her. That observation resonated with Jones: “I look back, and I was like, ‘Oh, that’s right, Taran Killam!’ Taran wanted to do so much other stuff, but they would only have Taran in those very masculine (roles) and singing and stuff and I said, ‘Oh! This is a machine.’”

It sounds like Jones harbors no ill feelings about her narrow role on the show, understanding why things on SNL are the way they are. “I used to always be like, (producer Lorne Michaels is) the puppet master,” she told NPR. “So he has to make the cast happy, 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, Nebraska 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.”

Going from stand-up comedy to a late-night sketch machine wasn’t an easy transition, particularly when it came to writing. Over time, Jones figured out that “when you’re writing a joke in a sketch, it has to have foundation. It has to have a story. It has to have character names. It has to have, you know, a flow.”

Despite the challenges, Jones left a mark on the show — and in turn, SNL opened a number of future doors for her. “Because it really is a training, you know?” she concluded. “It should be the springboard.”

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