The Devil and Leslie Jones

Her Standup Special ‘Time Machine’ Finds the Comedian Totally in Her Element

Leslie Jones never fit in on Saturday Night Live. Both her personality and her look–six-feet tall with another six inches of spiked up, punk rock hair–were both so big, she never seemed meant to blend in and play characters from real life. And so, like the far less skilled and less interesting Pete Davidson, SNL relegated Jones to monologues on Weekend Update, where her boisterous delivery even then could feel sort of out-of-place. She lasted five seasons before leaving.

With her new standup special, Time Machine, Jones proves that she was just too funny for SNL.


I was surprised to learn Leslie Jones began doing standup in the late 80s, encouraged by personal guidance from masters like Dave Chappelle, Jamie Foxx, and Chris Rock (who reportedly had a hand in getting her hired at Saturday Night Live). All of that shows in Time Machine.

Jones’s histrionic physical comedy on Time Machine is pretty masterful. She struts around the stage in constant motion, un-cynically working her ass off, moving around so much that she wears a knee brace while executing several extended dance segments. At one point she turns into a beautiful angel fluttering out of a young woman’s vagina.

Most of Jones’s set loudly dissects the differences between her experiences of being in her 20s, and her current life in her 50s. Every new bit she begins seem to eventually twist back around to comparing youth and middle age. She dances on imaginary fresh snow to illustrate the freshness of a 20-year-old vagina, then bends over a stool and does an excruciatingly long impersonation of how her aged vagina sounds now during intercourse.

Also, she deploys enough literal screaming to almost remind me of dearly departed Sam Kinison, who, it’s safe to say, also wouldn’t have thrived as a Saturday Night Live cast member. She jumps off the stage and screams in the face of at least two people. At one point, when a  false eyelash gives her trouble, she rips off both eyelashes, throws them onto the stage, and screams at them.

Jones tackles topics for which woke critics have ripped Dave Chappelle, Louis CK, Bill Burr, and other comedians lately, namely the idea that young people are too sensitive and easily offended these days. “Do you think I even knew who the president was when I was 20?” she asks. She calls millennials “listless bastards,” and “the worst 20-year-olds in the history of 20-year-olds.” She not only mocks socially conscious young people who march for various causes, but laughs at the very idea of marching and also goes off several times about how and why “women are fucking crazy.”

It will be interesting to see if Jones’s Netflix special receives the same flack for these same stances, or whether people are finally beginning to understand that great comedians will usually betray their own liberal beliefs for a good joke.

Despite sharing the same energy, guts, and potty mouth of America’s greatest Black comedians, Jones rarely mentions race throughout Time Machine, and never in a provocative way, except during a bit at the end, where she’s goes back in a time machine to talk to her 22-year-old self, whom she describes as “ghetto.” Instead of taking her successful middle-aged self’s good advice, the young Jones jacks the old Jones for her Louis Vuitton tennis shoes.

There’s not much to critique here: Jones just seems totally in her element, in her own space, controlling the show. Her vision for herself is clearer and stronger than that of whoever she’s worked for in the past. Clearly, it’s best to just let Leslie Jones be herself.  

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Michael Patrick Welch

Michael Patrick Welch is a New Orleans author and journalist. His writing has appeared in The Guardian, Vice, Oxford American, Columbia Journalism Review, and many other great venues.

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