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On TV talk shows, the host introduces a guest, then music plays while the guest emerges from backstage.
On podcasts, the etiquette is still being worked out. The host often launches into an introduction while the guest sits quietly in the same sound booth. I hate that shit. She was forty-six, and had been a standup comedian for more than a quarter century; her peers respected her, but that respect rarely translated into high-paying gigs. Like, when I was forty -five. For a while, Jones performed at the Store at odd hours.
Rock saw Jones perform at the Store in Jones has big eyes and a round, rubbery face. She is six feet tall, and often exaggerates her stature by wearing high heels and gelling her hair upward, fright-wig style. Some paunchy male comics, such as Louis C. When I walk in a Payless, it gets quiet than a motherfucker.
You can go get the car, baby, while I handle these three thug motherfuckers. The final line devolves into shadowboxing—Jones bobbing and weaving like a mean-mugging Buster Keaton. She has never been married and has no children; much of her act these days is about trying to find a man. She was born in Memphis and raised in a churchgoing family.
The opening of her special also allows her to pivot quickly to pantomime, one of her greatest comedic skills. Roger Ailes, the chairman of Fox News, likes to say that an anchor should be interesting even with the TV on mute.
Jones has similar thoughts about comedy. Lucille Ball and Moms Mabley, they had face. Before they even said a word, they made you crack up. Some self-consciously hip venues foster an arch, hyperverbal style of standup that is sometimes called alt comedy. A Jones show is more like a semi-improvised concert. And Leslie comes out of that tradition.
Then she wades into the audience with a cordless microphone. She crouches over a black woman in the front row who is wearing a shiny headband. Nearby, audience members laugh so hard that they fall out of their seats.
A few rows back, she clambers over several audience members to get to a light-skinned black woman wearing blue contact lenses. She asks the woman many variations of the same question: Again, the woman shakes her head. First, she leans toward the woman. Then she backs away. Jones surveys her audience before picking targets. Talk about that other guy instead. People listen to that shit. Soon after the article was published, Thompson was denounced online. Yes—can you get ten sketches turned down and write an eleventh sketch?
She exhaled audibly, but let him finish mansplaining. So, no, I would never put myself into that circle. Motherfucker, yes, it does.
Meanwhile, the show was secretly planning auditions for black women. Second City, in Chicago; the Groundlings, in L. Jones was not among them. She did not attempt impersonations or funny voices; she did her act. She opened with an autobiographical anecdote about being a gangly ten-year-old who longed to be a petite gymnast.
I saw her perform it at Carolines three nights in a row, and it earned an applause break every time. A week later, she heard the news: In the eighties, Al Franken, then a producer on the show, recommended a pudgy nebbish named Jon Lovitz. She was fully formed as a standup. Do kids even know who John Singleton is anymore? Jones performed a few takes. Rich, smiling solicitously, played the song on her phone.
It could have been the punch line in a standup bit, except that no one seemed to know if she was joking. The only person to meet her eye was Natasha Rothwell, a black writer, who gave Rich a subtle, reassuring nod.
In the final cut of the sketch, Jones delivered a different lyric from the same song. But, in her standup, this gift has an unfortunate consequence: The booker, Estee Adoram, greeted Jones with a hug and implored her to perform, but she preferred to socialize. At one point, the reactionary pundit Ann Coulter stopped by their table.
You too famous for me now? In the lobby, someone gestured at a TV mounted near the ceiling. The TV was inaudible, and a bartender scrambled for a remote, but people in the lobby were already laughing.
On Tuesday nights, the host walks from office to office, listening as writers and cast members propose ideas for sketches; the most promising proposals become scripts, which are performed at a table read the next day. Pharoah continued down the hall. Later that night, Pharoah and a writer, Mikey Day, put together a draft of the sketch. It got laughs at the table read, and the producers decided to pre-tape it.
So on Friday morning C. Jones, wearing a red wig and hoop earrings, stood behind a grill, flipping burgers. Every few takes, a P. Pharoah wore a red Yankees cap and a cornrow wig. The other actors, playing his neighbors, rolled their eyes. While the crew reset the cameras, Jones went inside to rest. She was in a bad mood. She had woken up before five, to get picked up in Harlem and driven to Brooklyn.
Zamata and Bobby Moynihan, another cast member, napped on leather couches nearby; C. Only Pharoah was indefatigable. He stayed on the roof, keeping the extras entertained.
To a white couple: The cast ran through the sketch a few more times. In that sketch, he played a cell-phone salesman who switched into exaggerated street slang whenever his boss, played by Jones, was in the room. Pharoah, doing a Richard Pryor impression: Jones, flipping burgers, continued to sulk. Nevertheless, she played up her frustration for laughs. I hate this nasty graffiti everywhere. Gradually, she lightened up. In the next take, C. Like many standups, Jones generates most of her material in performance, discovering funny phrases and gestures onstage.
None made it to air. What am I doing wrong? It was her first regular paycheck. The family moved to Lynwood, which borders Compton to the north. My high-school teacher—it got her, too? The next week, I was back in California. A month later, she was on a bill with Jamie Foxx, who was then a touring comic. After the show, Foxx took her to a Fatburger.
Jones took this advice so seriously that she did not perform for six years. She worked as a cook, a cashier, and a waitress; she sold perfume at a mall; she became a justice of the peace and officiated at weddings. Breast and a wing or leg and a thigh? One night, after a bad date, she came home alone, smoked a joint, and turned on the TV.
I would be the No.