No subject was off limits Wednesday when comedian star Leslie Jones made her Stern Show debut. The actress and longtime “Saturday Night Live” star opened up to Howard about a wide range of topics, including her early days as a struggling stand-up comedian, her rise to fame on late-night TV, teaming up with the F.B.I. to catch a hacker, and smoking a “booger blunt” with Snoop Dogg.
Leslie told Howard her love affair with comedy began at Colorado State University. A sorority girl she knew secretly signed her up for a stand-up contest and she was hooked as soon as she touched the mic. “I couldn’t even explain it any other way,” Leslie told Howard.
While her dad was the man who introduced her to comedy, he wasn’t very understanding when she first broke the news that she planned to pursue it full time. “I was like, ‘I’m gonna be just like Eddie Murphy.’ He was like, ‘Eddie Murphy? Fucking Eddie Murphy ain’t Eddie Murphy! What the fuck are you talking about,” she told Howard.
“He was so mad,” she added.
Her father was a radio engineer who worked at a station owned by Stevie Wonder. While her dad and the music legend spent a good deal of time together, Leslie rarely visited the station as the thought of seeing her idol in person made her nervous.
“I think I met him once … I was too scared to go because I loved him so much,” she told Howard, explaining she’d avoid Stevie on purpose but then cry afterward because she missed him.
Leslie spent some time in radio, too, working as a college radio station disc jockey nicknamed Frosty. By then, however, she’d already had her sights set on comedy.
At the age of 19, shortly after dropping out of school, Leslie landed a gig opening up for Jamie Foxx on tour. While it put her in front of a large audience, she told Howard she was bombing every night. It got so bad the D.J. started playing her off stage.
“How can he do that?” Howard asked.
“Because I was awful,” Jones laughed.
Leslie may not have been ready for primetime, but she still learned a lot on tour. “I watched Jamie Foxx and I promise—as soon as Jamie started performing I got … this tickle that was very, very deep inside of me and I was like, ‘Oh my God, oh my God, this is it. This is how I want to do it,’” she recalled.
Jamie offered her solid advice, too. She needed to go out and live her life. “Go get fired, go get hired,” she recalled him saying. “He was absolutely right because I had no material.”
Indeed, Leslie’s big breakthrough came years later when Chris Rock caught her late-night act at the Comedy Store where she won him over with an envelope-pushing joke about the upside of slavery. Chris then put in a call to “SNL” head honcho Lorne Michaels and landed her an audition. As great as that might sound to most up-and-coming comedians, Leslie was perplexed—her expertise was stand-up and not sketches.
“I was like, ‘Why the fuck would you do that? … I don’t do that shit,’” she recalled telling Chris. “He said, ‘Shut the fuck up, go out there, and do stand-up. I don’t want to hear this shit,’ and he hung up.”
Once Leslie took the stage for her audition, however, she realized her stand-up background actually gave her an edge over the sketch performers. “I thought to myself … hell yeah, I’m about to rip this motherfucker,” she told Howard.
Leslie went so far as to boldly instruct Lorne and his acolytes to move from the back of the room into the empty chairs in the front row, so it would more closely resemble an actual comedy show.
“I was like, ‘Nuh uh, that’s not how it works. Let’s go. Everybody move to the front. We need that fucking energy,’” she recounted for Howard, adding, “They did what they had to do and I started my act.”
Her act apparently bowled Lorne over like a force of nature. “I think I was a rock thrown through a window,” she explained. “I think they didn’t expect me.”
While Lorne knew she’d be a great fit for “SNL,” he offered her a job as a writer instead of a cast member. She accepted but admitted the job was hard at first. “It was fucking hell,” Leslie said, explaining she had difficulty adapting her own jokes for other people’s sketches.
Of course, things turned around quickly for Leslie at Studio 8H. She became a full-fledged cast member in 2014 and eventually became one of the faces of the show, earning two Emmy nominations before her 2019 departure.
“Why did you leave ‘Saturday Night Live’?” Howard asked her.
“A hundred hours a week is like two jobs, you know? I’m 52 years old,” Leslie said. “If I was in my 20s or my 30s they probably would’ve got 10 seasons out of me.”
“I didn’t want to stay so long to where I couldn’t leave,” she added.
At that point, Leslie had made a name for herself in Hollywood, both on television and in movies. In 2016, she starred opposite Kristin Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, and Kate McKinnon in Paul Feig’s “Ghostbusters” reboot. The film wasn’t as successful as she hoped, she believed, because audiences refused to give an all-female cast a fair shake.
“I think the movie could’ve been a lot better, but I think that ultimately the problem was they didn’t like women Ghostbusters,” she said.
Regardless, Leslie is still grateful for the experience. “I was the first black female Ghostbuster. That shit was big to me. I was fucking proud of that,” she told Howard.
This year, she stars opposite Eddie Murphy, James Earl Jones, and Arsenio Hall in another film revival, “Coming 2 America.” Leslie has no doubt the film will be a success, but Howard was surprised Eddie had even dared to make a sequel to such a beloved comedy.
“If I was Eddie Murphy, I’d be afraid to touch that,” he admitted.
“I was afraid to touch it also, but I’m gonna tell you right now, when Eddie Murphy walked on set dressed as a king, everybody got chills,” Leslie said.
“Everybody on set said the same thing, like, ‘Oh, this is gonna be big,’” she added.
Though her career took off over the past decade, Leslie told Howard that her dating life has on occasion failed to launch. She shared several humorous dating stories on Wednesday while also opening up about one that was far more serious. In 2016, Leslie was the victim of a vicious hack and the perpetrator wound up publishing nude photos of her online.
“I was getting blackmailed by a dude I met on Match.com,” she told Howard. “I never met the motherfucker. I didn’t realize I was getting catfished.”
“Did you send pictures,” Howard’s co-host Robin Quivers wondered.
“Yeah, I sent them fucking pictures, Robin,” she said with a laugh. “I wanted to feel beautiful.”
Not only did the hacker put her intimate photos online, he also published her phone number and passport information. That’s when Leslie really started to panic. “I could give a fuck about nude pictures; I’ve been trying to get them out there anyway,” she joked.
Leslie worked with Homeland Security and the F.B.I. to try and catch the hacker. The F.B.I. even used her to set up a sting, but it didn’t go as planned and she wound up cursing the hacker out over the phone in front of authorities. “The D.A. just was sitting there like, ‘I thought you was an actress,’” Leslie recalled.
Thankfully, Leslie hasn’t let that horrific incident stop her from living life to the fullest. While she’s done sending risqué photos to strangers, she told Howard she recently sent some to a person she knows in real life.
“You were wearing a negligee?” Howard asked.
“I was wearing naked-gee,” Leslie laughed.
Leslie also opened up about her affinity for marijuana during Wednesday’s interview and Howard asked her if she’d ever smoked with any celebrities. Sure enough, Leslie had a crazy story about getting high with Snoop Dogg and pimp turned designer Don Juan Bishop.
“This is way before ‘SNL.’ This is when I was just doing gigs and stuff,” Leslie recalled. “I’m not paying attention to Don Juan. I’m not paying attention to what he’s doing with the blunts. He’s smoking them with his fucking nose.”
“Nobody was hitting that fucking blunt, but I wasn’t paying attention, so he passed it to me and, yeah, I hit it, and Snoop and them was like, ‘Oh, you hit the booger blunt!’” she continued. “Oh, I was so mad.”
If there’s an upside to embarrassing stories and awkward social moments, it’s that they make for great material. Leslie told Howard her stand-up act has only gotten better as she’s learned to incorporate more of herself into them and her Netflix debut “Time Machine” is no exception. Released earlier this month to critical acclaim, the special was directed by “Game of Thrones” showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss.
“I actually did not think they was gonna say yes,” Leslie said before explaining she preferred working with comedy novices so that they wouldn’t have to unlearn any bad habits. “You get people who know how to direct action because I’m very … physical.”
Howard wondered if putting her best material into a Netflix special was a double-edged sword considering the entire world will now hear those jokes and she won’t be able to use them again.
“Honestly, it doesn’t scare me because I’ve been working that material so long it actually was great to finally do it one last time and now I can move on to the other stuff I want to work on,” Leslie concluded.
Leslie Jones’s “Time Machine” is out now on Netflix.