In a candid new interview with NPR, former Saturday Night Live cast member Leslie Jones says the show’s limitations made her “a caricature” of herself, although she came to realize that the process was par for the course at the longrunning NBC show.
“They take that one thing [about you] and they wring it,” she says. “They wring it because that’s the machine. 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. So it was like a caricature of myself. … Either I’m trying to love on the white boys or beat up on the white boys, or I’m doing something loud.”
Jones says a chat on the topic with a former cast member (she didn’t say who) provided additional context.
“I was talking to another cast member that retired and they said ‘But in fairness, that’s how they do all of them. Not just the Black ones,’” Jones says. “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.’”
Jones also says she understands the pressures on executive producer Lorne Michaels to keep “the machine” running smoothly.
“I used to always be like, he’s the puppet master,” she says. “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, Nebrask, 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.”
Jones, who is promoting her new Hachette Books memoir Leslie F*cking Jones, appeared on SNL from 2014 to 2019, and in the new interview also talks about her pre-SNL years as a stand-up comic.
“When I first started comedy, I thought I had to be sexy,” she said. “I used to wear heels on stage. … But this is what happens: We walk on stage. The first thing that happens is women look at you and they go, ‘Oh, does she think she’s cute?’ And then they look at their man and they go, ‘Does my man think she cute?’ All that’s happened while you’re trying to open up. So I always say in your first couple of years: T-shirt, jeans, tennis shoes. If you can make it lovely and cute, do that. Because you don’t have to prove you’re a woman. And listen, you could do whatever you want.”
Jones, who last year had a recurring role on HBO Max’s comedy series Our Flag Means Death, also opens up about losing her parents as a young adult just getting started in comedy.
“[My mom] passed away six months after my dad passed away,” she says. “I hadn’t made it yet. And they did not die with life insurance. So I didn’t go to either one of their funerals because I was working to pay for them. …I was helpless. Helpless in everything. I wasn’t rich [enough] to send them money. … I think that might have been the first experience of me trying to perform under such pain. … I was awful that first night, but the promoter was like, ‘Man, the fact that you performed,’ he was like, ‘You’re definitely getting paid.’ And I told him I was like, ‘I promise it won’t be like this, you know, tomorrow night.’”
Listen to the full NPR interview with Jones here.