Leslie Jones is coming off another successful season of “Saturday Night Live,” where she has been a cast member since 2014. Jones has since earned two Emmy nominations for her performance in the late-night sketch series.
Jones recently spoke with Gold Derby contributing editor Zach Laws about her work on Season 44 of “Saturday Night Live,” her advice to first-time hosts and what’s next after “Game of Jones.” Watch the exclusive webchat above and read the complete interview transcript below.
Gold Derby: Leslie, you are a two-time Emmy nominee for your work on “Saturday Night Live” and I must say, you guys have been on a roll lately in terms of acclaim with awards and audiences. What do you think is the special alchemy going on right now with your show?
Leslie Jones: I think it’s great writing. Lorne [Michaels] is letting the writers have a little bit more say of what’s going on. We have young people who are actually putting in their opinions now. It’s just a little bit fresher. Lorne is giving us a lot more permission to do things than before. We’re going straight for the veins now instead of just playing around the veins.
GD: I have to imagine the fact that the world is so crazy right now, it’s terrifying to live in but it’s very funny to watch on Saturday nights. That must have something to do with it, right?
LJ: Exactly. It’s really weird how we have to interpret so much pain and make it funny. I always thought of “SNL” as a person that lets people who don’t really watch news know what’s going on, in a proper way.
GD: They always say the best way to really attack something is to make somebody laugh at it and you guys do that every single week with the unbelievable stuff that’s going on in our politics every single day.
LJ: I still am mesmerized how the writers can make it still look so good, ‘cause it’s very painful.
GD: The other great thing that’s been happening recently, and I mentioned, you’ve gotten your last two Emmy nominations, Kate [McKinnon] has won, so did Alec Baldwin. You’ve gotten nominations for Aidy Bryant, Kenan Thompson, Vanessa Bayer all within these past few years. It feels like Emmy voters are really starting to recognize your talent not just as sketch performers but as actors.
LJ: Yeah. The stuff that we do on there and how hard it is to really do a balance on the jokes where everybody can get them and everybody can enjoy them, our cast is so talented. We have such a talented cast and I hate when you don’t know that Alex [Moffat] stays up all night to write his Updates when he does the movie guy. Cecily [Strong] puts her heart and soul in everything she writes. It’s good now that people are starting to actually see the work. It’s not just us up there going, “We’re sketch artists.”
GD: I wanted to ask you about your standout episode. We’ve asked if you’re nominated again, I should say when you’re nominated again, you would submit the episode with Idris Elba. What stood out for you about that episode?
LJ: There were a lot of episodes that I was thinking about, like the Weezer one, I was thinking about that one, the one with Mrs. Maisel. This one caught me because I felt like I did three things that were insane. The Gayle [King] and R. Kelly sketch was just, come on. Iconic. The magic show, that was me. That was all me, all my writing, all physical and utter stupidness. Then I got to do a great Update on something that I’ve been wanting to do for a while, is talk about my funeral. To me, it showed all three things that I could do well.
GD: Also what’s interesting about that episode is that you’ve got a first-time host, Idris Elba. You’re a veteran of the series, obviously. What’s the attitude like on-set whenever you have somebody who’s never done this before?
LJ: I always tell the host, “Just submit. You have great writers, you have a cast that’s gonna catch your back no matter what.” We always try to get them used to cards because they’re real actors and the card thing can throw you off if you’re trying to act and read the cards. We basically try to let them know that we are here for you, the audience is here for you. This is really about you having fun. This is about you dressing up and being silly. Don’t worry about if something doesn’t go right. We got you. We don’t even have to talk to people who’ve been there more than once ‘cause they get it. But the people that have been the first time, I tell them all the time, we’re rehearsing in an empty studio right now but soon this studio will be filled with people and you will see what we see as far as what that joke is. Sometimes they might not get a joke. I remember Chadwick Boseman, he was doing the “Jeopardy” sketch and he really was nervous because he was like, “This doesn’t seem like it’s gonna be funny.” And when we did it in dress, you could see the lights go on in his head ‘cause he was like, “Oh, I get it now,” and he was good the rest of the show.
GD: It must be particularly fun to do it with somebody like Boseman and also Idris Elba, going back to this one, ‘cause they’re not known for doing comedy.
LJ: Right. I was always the one asking them to book people like that. I wanna get Brad Pitt in here. I wanna get Tom Cruise in here. I wanna get Denzel Washington in here. I wanna get those people in here and let them have a sense of humor. Everybody has a sense of humor and we all wanna see Brad Pitt do something stupid.
GD: Talk about the sketch that you did with Idris, the magician’s assistant sketch. You said that was all your writing. Where did the idea for that come from?
LJ: Oh my god. Just because I’ve always been big, I’ve always been bigger than everybody, and every time I’ve watched a magic show or something like that, I’m always like, “Wouldn’t it be funny if she just didn’t fit none of that stuff?” If I had to come in and do her job, I would be bigger than the tank. We were gonna have the sawing in half. I was gonna be way bigger than the box. It’s just being able to make fun of my height, that I am taller than everybody else. The box was my favorite part because him stabbing me, all of that, me and Kenan just being real stupid.
GD: It’s funny the little twist that happens at the end there where he’s trying to have you killed.
LJ: Yes, he was like, “Wouldn’t it be funny that he’s trying to get rid of you anyway.” Actually, Idris came up with that.
GD: That’s a funny little twist there.
LJ: That was one of my favorite moments ever.
GD: It made me laugh out loud. Speaking of which, the cold open, the other sketch you’re in with Kenan, you’re doing Gayle King and the R. Kelly interview. I have to wonder, when stuff like that happens in the news, do you find yourself saying, “Okay, I know what I’m doing on ‘Saturday Night Live’ this week”?
LJ: You know what’s so weird? I honestly didn’t think they were gonna do that. When they told me they were gonna write that, I can’t explain the excitement. “Okay. Are we really gonna do that?” So then you go and you study it. When I saw the interview, I was like, “Gayle is the coolest cucumber.” Gayle is like my auntie when I get to lying. Like, “Auntie, let me tell you. What happened, see…” and she’s like, “Leslie.” I wanted to bring that. I wanted to bring auntie, like, “Boy, you better stop jumping up there. Sit down.”
GD: It’s so funny watching the two of you play off of each other ‘cause he is so extreme and he’s singing off to the side and he’s jumping up and all that.
LJ: Kenan is a beast and I have to say that right now. Kenan Thompson is a freakin’ beast. Kenan might be one of the reasons why I’m so good, because he’s so good. You can’t do nothing but just have fun with him. You know when he looked at the guy and was like, “Is that the camera?” That was off the top. That was off the top he did that and it’s just like working with a master. We laughed and had too much fun. Me and him were so happy that we got to do that together because any time we could do sketches together is just insane.
GD: I think I caught you cracking up a little bit during that and I can’t blame you ‘cause I would’ve done the same thing.
LJ: When he jumped up and he said, “Oh no,” oh yeah.
GD: The last sketch you mentioned, the Weekend Update one, you said you’d been wanting to do that for a while. Tell us a little bit more about that one.
LJ: Have you seen the celebrity funerals lately?
GD: Oh yeah.
LJ: Seven hours long. That’s unreal. It’s like Jesus done text me three times asking why I ain’t got to heaven yet, ‘cause I’m being held at this funeral. I thought about it, I was sitting talking to Heidi [Gardner]. We were at the table read and I was really tired. I don’t know what it was but I was really tired and I said, “Heidi, I think I’m gonna die during this table read but I need you to take responsibility. I need you not to let them do no celebrity shit with me.” I started telling her what I wanted at my funeral and she said, “Leslie, that should be an Update.” Me and Heidi sat down and wrote it. It’s something I always talk about. You can ask my assistant, my stylist, all them. I’m always talking about, “Yeah, so I’m probably gonna die tonight. Makes sure that my niece don’t get no money. Make sure that Hunter does not come in and take all my dishes ‘cause he’s been talking about getting my dishes,” stuff like that. You don’t want certain people at your funeral. I plan on having a 10-minute set at my funeral of me telling jokes, talking about everybody at my funeral.
GD: I especially loved all your celebrity references in there, like having Fantasia sing and all that.
LJ: Yes! Fantasia, not J.Lo. I love J.Lo but I don’t want her singing at my funeral.
GD: Speaking of Michael Che and Colin Jost I have to ask about them hosting the Emmys last year which you were there for as a nominee. Talk about that experience a little bit. It was a big “Saturday Night Live” at the Emmys type of thing.
LJ: Yes, it was just like a big “SNL” show. I had my opinions about it but it was great. It was great having everybody there.
GD: Let me ask you this also, switching gears a little bit. I think one of the saddest things about “Game of Thrones” ending is that I guess “Game of Jones” is ending as well. I was talking to Seth Meyers and he was saying how much he loved doing it. What are you guys gonna do now that “Game of Thrones” is over? How are you gonna keep going on there? Are you gonna pick a different show to watch every week or something?
LJ: I think we’re just gonna get on with our lives (laughs). I think “Game of Thrones” is over and I don’t know if there’s gonna be a show as good as “Game of Thrones” to tweet out like that. “Game of Thrones” is a show that took me by surprise that I loved so much. That’s how I watch TV, period, so that could be any show. I’ll probably pick a show and start doing it. Right now I’m watching “Outlander.” I don’t know if it’s live tweet-able, though. There’s a lot of shows that people go, “Oh, can you live tweet?” And I go, “Nah, I can’t live tweet that. You’ve gotta watch what you say sometimes.” I say stuff at the house that I might not say in front of everybody else.
GD: Listen, I can tell you from experience, that show is very popular. We get all kinds of traffic from it so you should live tweet that and you will gain so many followers. You might get into a few arguments with some fans.
LJ: It’s a cute little show ‘cause the dude is on there, the one that tried to stand up and be king.
GD: I lost my train of thought you made me laugh so much. Real quick before I let you go, looking back on this crazy year of “Saturday Night Live,” every single week when people come to watch your show, what do you hope they get out of it?
LJ: Oh man, how much fun we’re having. I want them to get the joke that we actually started off wanting to make them laugh about. It’s even more joyful if they find other stuff in the sketch to laugh at and also that the hosts have a really good time. We get people like Tom Hanks that come off and he’s just so happy after the show. I just want everybody to really start enjoying comedy again. That’s what I hope for.
GD: I think you guys do that week in and week out. Leslie Jones, thank you so much for your time. Congratulations on another great season of “Saturday Night Live.”
LJ: Thank you, you had really good questions! I enjoyed talking to you.
GD: Thank you so much, that means a lot to me. I appreciate it. Thank you.