The comedian and 'Saturday Night Live' alum opens up exclusively to PEOPLE about her friendships and experiences as a Black woman on the iconic sketch show
During her five years at Saturday Night Live, the 56-year-old comedian says the bond she formed with Thompson, 45, was unmatched. They were so close, that even when it came time to write her new no-holds-barred memoir Leslie F*cking Jones (out Sept. 19), she gave her pal a courtesy read-through.
"There were so many things that I could have put in the book that I didn't," says Jones. "Kenan wanted me to take out a couple things that I took out for him."
Indeed, the two had inside jokes and personal stories from set that were all their own. Jones says one thing that bonded them was their shared experience as Black members of the cast, as well as their efforts to help bring diverse talent to the show.
"I just remember one time getting into it with a writer," says Jones. "He was talking to me and Kenan, and we were talking about how we are glad we're getting Black hosts on [the show]," recalls Jones. "The writer was like, 'Oh, just to be fair, last season we had more Black hosts than white hosts.' I said, 'Well, thank you very much out your 40 motherf---ing years on television!"
One such host Jones helped secure was Chadwick Boseman. "I got him because I saw him at a Black Panther after party. I was like, 'Dude, you've got to do SNL and we'll take care of you'," she recalls telling the late actor, who died in August 2020. "A lot of Black guests came because of what we were doing there."
Even outside of Kenan, "I was a team player," says Jones. "I was always like, 'Yes, I'll do your sketch, but let me have my moment too. I'm actually very talented." As for where she shined most, "I did my thing on the updates," she says of her star-making turns at the show's "Weekend Update" desk.
Still, Jones says she faced issues. "Any White corporation you go to as a Black female, you're going to face stereotypes," she says of struggling at times to prove herself and pushing for stylists adept at doing Black hair and makeup. "I was like, 'I'm a Black woman, I've got Black hair. Give me a Black hairdresser."
A time that she did feel fully seen and supported, was after making a big mistake her first year on the show. "When I f---ed up the Chris Rock sketch, I was mortified," she says of missing a line and freezing in the middle of a sketch with her good friend and fellow comic, who'd help get her the job and was hosting the show in 2014.
After it happened, she says, "I just remember being in the back, mortified, and every person, every cast member, cameraman, makeup — they all came by my station."
Jones continues, "Vanessa [Bayer] sat down beside me and was like, 'I tell you what, you'll never do it again and that's what you need to be happy about. Just know that this is live and all of us have done that.' In that moment," says Jones. "I felt like everyone rallied around me."
In 2019, Jones made the decision to leave the show. "I realized that I can only do so much in this machine," she says. "Or I can take what I learned in this machine and go make my own machine. It's like a bittersweet thing."
Still, she affirms, "I love the show."
For more on Leslie Jones's raw new memoir and fascinated journey to fame, pick up this week's issue, out now.
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