Sometimes comedy illuminates hard truths with a pointed urgency that other means can’t quite achieve. Sometimes comedy is just funny. This series of posts is mostly about the former instances, but the latter is valuable, too.
The institutional heft that’s been taken on by Saturday Night Live in recent years means that the comings and goings of cast members have evolved from mundane showbiz machinations to momentous occurrences akin to changes in heads of state. Excepting the underperforming short-timers who never find their footing on the Studio 8H stage, every departure of a SNL troupe member feels like the end of an era.
Leslie Jones joined the variety show’s writing staff in the midst of the 2013-2014 television season, in part because producer Lorne Michaels was publicly — and properly — shamed over the absence of black women in the cast. It makes sense that Jones wasn’t initially offered a performing role. Especially in her early tenure on the show, Jones struggled with the basic mechanics of sketch work, missing marks and fumbling cues. She was a clear force of nature, though, fierce and charismatic and commanding. She made her SNL on-camera debut as herself, delivering a riotous monologue as a guest commentator on Weekend Update. As black women often have to do in the field of entertainment, she forced her way in.
Now that its been made official that Jones will not return for the forthcoming forty-fourth season of Saturday Night Live, retrospection confirms her final words as a regular in her strongest show role were railing against regressive politics of female oppression spreading like a toxin. The instigating news item was Alabama’s knowing passage of an unconstitutional anti-abortion law as an act of judicial provocation, part of the right wing’s long game to overturn Roe V. Wade, a court case that’s been on the books and repeatedly reaffirmed for nearly fifty years. Jones’s commentary takes aim at the specifics of the fresh news, but it’s more broadly about an assertion of autonomy for all women in all ways. Whether or not she already suspected she wouldn’t return, Jones delivered a perfect closing argument.