Who Is Leslie Jones?
Actress and comedian Leslie Jones was born on September 7, 1967, in Memphis, Tennessee. At 6 feet tall, Jones received a basketball scholarship to Chapman University, and later attended Colorado State University. She started performing stand-up comedy in college and spent several years on the comedy circuit before she became a Saturday Night Live writer and cast member. In 2016, Jones hit the big screen, starring in the all-female remake of Ghostbusters, and earned attention as a contributor to NBC's coverage of the Olympic Games.
Leslie Jones was born on September 7, 1967, into a military family in Memphis, Tennessee. Her father served in the United States Army and the family moved frequently throughout her childhood. When her father took a job as an electronic engineer at KJLH, Stevie Wonder’s radio station, the family relocated to Los Angeles, and Jones attended high school in Lynwood, California.
Jones, who would grow to be 6 feet tall, was insecure about her looks. "People used to call me names so my mom had this beautiful African lady come talk to me,” Jones told People magazine. “I was like, 'Oh my God if I'm going to look like you then I don't care what anyone says about me."
Jones eventually learned to use her height to her advantage, and followed her father’s advice to get involved in basketball. “I played basketball to please my dad,” Jones wrote on her official website. “I also got free shoes and could miss class. When they told me I could get a scholarship to college I said cool. Where am I going?”
After playing basketball in high school, she received a basketball scholarship to attend Chapman University in Orange, California. She transferred to Colorado State University when her coach took a job there and asked her to join him. At Colorado State, she first tried performing and found out she was talented. A friend secretly entered her into a comedy contest, which she won, earning her the title “Funniest Person on Campus.”
“I’ve always been crazy,” Jones wrote on her website. “I never knew I was funny. I just thought I was insane.”
While attending college, Jones worked several odd jobs including being a cook, waitress, cashier, assistant to a judge, receptionist, and perfume salesperson, but comedy kept calling her. She returned to Los Angeles and performed at The Comedy Store, the legendary comedy club in West Hollywood, but her act bombed. Jones didn’t let the deflating experience stop her, and she went on to open for Jamie Foxx. She bombed again and this time the audience even booed her.
Foxx’s advice was that she had to live her life. "He told me, 'You're like 18. You don't have anything to talk about.’” Jones said in an interview with People magazine. “Go get a job, go get fired, go get your heart broken and go break some hearts.'"
She took a day job at UPS, but continued to work on her comedy craft at clubs around Los Angeles. “When I started out, I just wanted to go into a club and hold my own,” Jones said of her early days. “There were only a few women out. I wanted to be that one woman who would come out and everyone would love.”
Eventually she started to appear on TV in commercials and programs like In the House, Coach, Snap Judgment, Malcolm and Eddie and Girlfriends.
Jones also continued to make a name for herself in the comedy world, again learning to use her height as part of her act. “I know I’m fly—don’t get me wrong,” she said an interview with The New Yorker. “But I don’t look, like, standard Hollywood. As a comedian, it’s something you learn to use.”
She performed at the Just for Laughs Montreal Comedy Festival, the Aspen Comedy Festival, on Comedy Central’s Premium Blend and Laffapalooza – Urban Comedy Arts Festival, BET’s The Way We Do It and Comicview and HBO’s Def Comedy Jam.
She also landed roles in Martin Lawrence’s comedy National Security (2003), Gangsta Rap: The Glockumentary (2007), Lottery Ticket (2010) and Top Five (2014), which was written and directed by and starring Chris Rock. It was Rock who suggested to Lorne Michaels, the creator and executive producer of Saturday Night Live, that he should audition Jones, calling her “the funniest woman I know.”
'Saturday Night Live' & 'Ghostbusters'
SNL was looking to add an African-American woman to its ensemble. Jones landed an audition for SNL, but was ultimately offered a writing position instead of a featured player role, which was given to comedian Sasheer Zamata. In 2014, Jones got out of the writers' room and in front of the cameras when she first performed in a Weekend Update segment, ranting about her hilarious dating experiences, which quickly earned her a fan following. Later that year, she joined the cast, the first time SNL included more than one African-American woman in its cast.
In 2015, Jones had small role in Amy Schumer's comedy hit Trainwreck, and then landed a high-profile starring role by joining the all-female cast of the 2016 remake of Ghostbusters. In the reboot of the classic comedy, which was directed by Paul Feig and also stars Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig and Kate McKinnon, Jones plays Patty Tolan, a New York City transit worker who becomes a Ghostbuster after seeing paranormal activity in the subway.
Olympics Superfan and Commentator
During the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio, Jones tweeted clips of herself draped in an American flag and rooting on Team USA during competition. Her hilarious posts drew the attention of NBC executives, who invited her to contribute to the network's coverage.
In early 2018, Jones again was invited to join NBC's Olympic crew for coverage of the Winter Games in PyeongChang, South Korea, which she confirmed through another exuberant tweet.
"Experiencing the Olympics through the lens of Leslie is unlike anything else," said Jim Bell, president of NBC Olympics production and programming. "Her passion for Team USA is contagious, and her adventures in South Korea should be fascinating."
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