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Leslie Jones On Being a Black Woman in Comedy

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Leslie Jones is unapologetically funny. For years the comedian worked in stand-up comedy clubs at night, eventually making her way to the top of the funny ladder. Yet despite her current status as a well-recognized and adored face on the cast of Saturday Night Live, Jones’ rise to stardom was not as smooth as one of her classic comedy acts.

Jones began her young adulthood as a talented basketball player, playing in college on a scholarship. However, one night in college, she signed up for a comedy competition and won without preparing any jokes, according to The New Yorker. It was in that moment that Jones decided to leave school and basketball behind for comedy.

After being booed off the stage at just 19, Jones took some time to live life in preparation of comedy material for her acts. Eventually, she got back on stage.

Though she was finally performing in comedy clubs, she started off by being featured at inopportune times, too early in the night for a full audience to enjoy what she had to say. Jones took matters into her own hands, demanding that the show booker change her time slot. “But I’m not gonna really make it unless someone like you puts me on,” she said.

Though Jones managed to succeed in the comedy club scene, there was still a larger battle to be won. According to The New Yorker, in a 2007 TV Guide article, fellow comedian Kenan Thompson was questioned about the lack of black female cast members on SNL. “In auditions, they just never find ones that are ready,” he said.

Jones was infuriated by this comment, stating that she knows at least three funny, talented black women who could fill the hole in the cast. Instead of taking her recommendations, SNL asked Jones herself to audition for a role on the show, before rejecting her. Soon after, they offered her a role as a writer on the show and eventually moved her up to a performing cast member.

Months later, director Paul Feig was watching one of Jones’ SNL skits when he decided to cast her in his all-female version of Ghostbusters. Jones really seemed to climb to the top of the comedic ladder with her role on SNL and was sought out to act in comedy films.

After the release of the movie, some people took to Twitter to post a series of racially charged and sexist comments about the comedian, comparing her to a gorilla. According to the Independent, which covered these hate comments directed at Jones, “social media continues to be a hostile environment for darker skinned black women.”

Though Jones fired back at the Twitter users, she was still disgusted by the comments she read. Even after having become successful as a comedian, Jones still was struggling to prove herself as a black female in a white male-dominated sector.

Chris Rock said to The New Yorker, “Black women have the hardest gig in show business. You hear Jennifer Lawrence complaining about getting paid less because she’s a woman—if she was black, she’d really have something to complain about.”

Though Leslie Jones has championed as a comedian, she still struggles in the comedy world, having to prove herself funny in a business run by white men. Fortunately, these obstacles have not shut her down. She remains a champion of intersectionality and a spokesperson for everyone like her trying to succeed in a hostile world.

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