'SNL' Star Leslie Jones on Her Comedy Process and Taking on "Deranged" Social Media Trolls

Leslie Jones - Getty - H 2018
Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

The Emmy nominee also opens up about why her TV reactions should never become a show and why she really wants to win this year.

Leslie Jones is many things.

Since joining Saturday Night Live in 2014, she's been a weekly jolt of energy. She is the excitable personality whose reactions to moments of Olympic triumph or Game of Thrones deaths so often mirror those of the everyday fan. She is a one-woman army against online trolls.

Jones, 50 and now a two-time Emmy supporting actress nominee, talked with THR about her comedic growth, why her TV reactions should never become a show and why she really wants to win this year.

Is the second nomination less of a big deal or does it feel extra gratifying as a confirmation of sorts?

Yeah, it does. It's like, "Oh, that's great, I'm still in the running for something like this." And I really want to win, too. You know, I'd be the first black woman in 30-something years to win that category? [Jackee Harry won in 1987 for 227.]

So how do you push harder this year if you want to win?

I think just like getting out there, getting your face seen, let people know that this is what's going on. I betcha a lot of people don't even know that I'm nominated. Stuff like that. Just do a little nice campaign if you will.

So give me the slogan of Leslie Jones' Emmy campaign.

Leslie Jones: She should win.

Since a lot of the castmembers have been recognized before, was there some extra excitement for Kenan Thompson's first nomination this year?

Of course! To me, I feel like Kenan should already have like three or four Emmys for what he does for the show and for the cast and the support that he gives. Honestly, I don't even know why he doesn't have any for like Kenan & Kel and All That. He's been on television since he was like 8 years old, so it's very gratifying to see him finally get recognition, because he works his butt off and he's such a cool guy. I can't think of anybody who's got a beef with Kenan.

When you got started, you did a few Weekend Update appearances and gradually built to sketches and impressions. What has the learning curve of the past four or five years been like for you?

I would say that I've learned that I'm a comedian, but I wasn't a sketch person. It's all really different. You know how you're good at something and then you go to college and you meet someone that's better at it? That's kind of what I felt like when I came to SNL, that I was like the bomb. I was funny as hell and raw as hell, but I still wasn't developed and matured enough to be on television yet. I feel like SNL and the castmembers especially brought me to a certain level of maturity with performance. Like even when I'm onstage now doing stand-up, it's completely different, because I feel more organized in my head.

It seems like whenever NBC is airing an event of some sort, your reactions to those events go viral. Why aren't there talks about how to harness you for things in advance, rather than midway through the Olympics?

Because, Leslie Jones works only organically. It's so funny when people go, "Oh, I wanna watch? TV with you." Like, I was watching TV last night with my friend? and I stopped it three or four times to go off and it was funny to him, but I realized, "Oh, you can't watch TV with me." I work completely off of passion and organicness. People think that they want that all the time, but what they really are in love with is how authentic it is. The reason that you love my videos is because you look at it and you go, "I'm thinking the same thing." If you try to make a show out of that, that's just gonna be contrived and pretentious.

How do you feel about the balance of awfulness and awesomeness you experience on social media?

Most of the time, people just want attention. In the beginning I used to get so mad, 'cause I'm a comedian. So it's like, "Oh, fuck this, I'm gonna hit everybody." But I would hit people and they literally would answer back. Some would answer back and go, "Oh, my God. Leslie I love you," and then it's just like, "Oh, you guys just want me to say something to you. Oh!" A lot of it is deranged motherfuckers who learned how to type.

This story first appeared in an August stand-alone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.