Once upon a time in the 1990s, Leslie Jones missed competing on Supermarket Sweep because the roommate she auditioned with (and would be paired with on the show) left just before the qualifying round.
Though the incident ended a friendship, things have come full circle. ABC's reboot of the grocery-shopping game show began its second season in September, with Jones returning as the host.
Her road to stardom was bumpy. It began when her father, a part-time DJ, brought home a Richard Pryor concert album that changed her life. She recalls, "He did this joke, and it hit me in the gut. It was a laughter that came from somewhere else. I had never laughed from my stomach before. I want to be able to give that to people."
She consumed comedy greats on TV, from classic comedians like Buster Keaton, Moms Mabley and Pearl Bailey to newer artists like Eddie Murphy. However, her calling took a back seat during college.
The plan was for Jones, who stands six feet tall, to play basketball at Colorado State University and then play professionally overseas. But after a friend signed her up for a campus comedy contest and she slew the crowd, she thought, "This is what I'm going to do for the rest of my life."
So she dropped out and, at age 19, finagled a gig opening for Jamie Foxx. She bombed. Desperate to learn his comedic secrets, she cornered him for advice. Foxx told her, "You need to live. You need to go live. You need to go fuck, you need to go get fucked. You need to get fired."
Jones listened, and started living. And getting fired. She did everything from waiting tables to selling perfume in parking lots to marrying people as a justice of the peace. After a roommate pointed out that she was always saying she wanted to be a comic but wasn't going onstage, Jones cold-called the Comedy Act Theatre in South Los Angeles and landed a seven-minute spot.
A change came after her brother died. Her parents had already passed away and she thought, "Okay you're an orphan, you're gonna die and you need to be who you really are." Her comedy became raw and physical and attracted the appreciation of Chris Rock. He saw her at the Comedy Store in L.A. and got her an audition for Saturday Night Live.
At first she was hesitant, telling Rock she was not a sketch comic and didn't do characters or impressions — that she did jokes. His response? "Just fucking do your jokes."
That's what she did, and at 47 she became the oldest person ever added to the SNL cast. During her five seasons there she received three Emmy nominations, and in 2017 Time named her one of the 100 most influential people in the world. She's also starred in several movies, including Ghostbusters and Coming 2 America.
When she heard a reboot of Supermarket Sweep was in the works, she went after the gig, telling her reps, "Hell, yeah! We getting that show!"
Now she shares that she " loves giving away money. I love the happiness. I love bringing normal people on television and then they have that experience." While balancing her hosting duties with a recurring role on HBO Max's upcoming pirate parody Our Flag Means Death, Jones enjoys shopping at her favorite L.A. grocery store. "Ralphs has just always been my ride or die through life."
This article originally appeared in emmy magazine, Issue No. 11, 2021