This article is part of our series “GRITS: Girls Raised in the South,” in which we profile some of our favorite Dixie ladies and the things that make them awesome. Got an idea for a fabulous femme we should feature? Shoot us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org! (Alliteration optional.)
Name: Leslie Jones
Born: September 7, 1967, Memphis, Tennessee
Profession: comedian, writer, and current cast member on “Saturday Night Live”
Reasons she’s awesome: When we are feeling lost and confused about the directionless state of our lives, people like Leslie Jones make us feel better. The 47-year old took a long and winding road to her current success as an edgy comedian, quick-witted writer, and all around badass. Born in Memphis (one of Zelda’s former hometowns), Leslie was an army brat, so her family moved around a lot (she even spent a chunk of her childhood as a Southern transplant in New York, but describes Memphis as home) before eventually settling in Los Angeles. Leslie is the literal personification of the term “baller.” She went to college on a basketball scholarship, first at Chapman University and then at Colorado State. It was in Colorado that she got her first taste of her future profession, when a friend signed her up for a “Funniest Person on Campus” contest. Which she won.
But like we said, the path from that first contest (1987) to SNL (2014) was long and bumpy, full of road blocks and detours. Although Leslie has said “When I walked off that stage I had all the intentions of being the next Eddie Murphy,” the reality proved more difficult than she expected. She worked as a radio DJ, a perfume salesman, and a justice of the peace, at UPS and Roscoe’s House of Chicken and Waffles. There were lots of fits and starts — bombing at the Comedy Story and then puking in a back alley, opening for Jamie Foxx and getting booed by the crowd. Slowly but surely, though, she started to get more recognition, scoring TV cameos and commercial spots. Comedy festivals, the It’s Pimpin’, Pimpin’ tour, and HBO’s Def Comedy Jam followed, and in early 2014 she got the fateful call asking her to join the writers’ room at SNL.
Leslie was promoted to featured cast member in October 2014, breaking several barriers when she did. At 47, she is the oldest cast member to ever join the show, and her addition to the cast marked the first time in the show’s history that more than one African-American woman was included in the ensemble (Sasheer Zamata being her lovely cohort). Leslie’s comedy is ballsy and unapologetic, sometimes eliciting controversy for her refusal to shy away from uncomfortable subjects. But she also brings palpable glee to her performances. This is a woman who has worked hard at her craft, practicing and struggling for decades. Now, she has arrived. And every time she steps on stage, you can tell she’s having a damn good time.
Quintessential quotation: “I’ve always been crazy. I never knew I was funny. I just thought I was insane.”