Leslie Jones Found Her Funny at CSU

Leslie Jones Found Her Funny at CSU

by Tony Phifer

“I felt like I had been doing it forever. The stage felt like home, and I felt that mic had been part of my life forever. It all came together the first time I heard that laughter.”

-Leslie Jones

Leslie_Jones photoYou’ve heard the one about the girl who came to Colorado State University to play basketball, right? Won a comedy contest and ended up being a professional comic, right? And ended up starring on Saturday Night Live and in the upcoming film, Ghostbusters, right?

Well, you’re a member of a very exclusive club: Very few people realize that comedian Leslie Jones found herself – and her career – while a student at CSU.

“I think about that all the time: ‘What if I had never moved to Colorado?’” Jones mused during an interview from New York. “Would I have ever found out that I wanted to be a comedian? Where would I be today?”

Fortunately, she did come to Colorado, though not for long. She was at CSU for just one semester and, because she was redshirting, never played a minute of basketball for the Rams.

Fittingly, Jones’ story is just like her: Quirky, creative, opportunistic and uproariously funny.

She came to CSU in 1987 with women’s basketball coach Brian Berger. Jones and Berger had been together at Chapman College in Orange, Calif., and Berger convinced the talented Jones to join him in Fort Collins after he was hired to coach the Rams.

“The plan was to get an education and then maybe play for the U.S. Olympic team,” Jones said. “I was a good player, and I wanted to get an education. I think I could have played professionally, maybe overseas, but I didn’t love basketball that much. When I found comedy I knew that’s what I wanted to do.”

Jodi Robers Steyer – a member of that 1987-88 team and one of the great players in CSU history – has only faint memories of Jones (who went by Annette Jones at the time) as a player but remembers one thing very clearly.

“She was hysterically funny,” she said. “Whenever she was around, she had everyone on the team laughing.”

She was so funny that a friend encouraged her to enter a comedy competition on the CSU campus. The rest, literally, is history.

“All of my friends were there, and I got up on stage and just killed it!” Jones said, laughing at the memory. “I remember every joke – I talked about my uncle, white people’s issues, black people’s issues. Everybody loved it.

“I felt like I had been doing it forever. The stage felt like home, and I felt that mic (microphone) had been part of my life forever. It all came together the first time I heard that laughter.”

It would be a stretch, however, to call Jones an instant success. After leaving CSU, she bounced around comedy clubs across the country for years and had a lot of lean times before she found her niche. She made a decent living, and got to meet lots of famous people, but could never catch that BIG break.

That changed last year when legendary SNL creator and producer Lorne Michaels, taking the advice of comic superstar Chris Rock, offered Jones a spot as a writer. Soon, she was making regular appearances on the iconic show, and became a fixture on “Weekend Update.”

“I never knew what it meant to be a Saturday Night Live cast member,” she said. “Once you’re there, you’re always there — they can’t take it away from you. Your picture is on the wall with all the other legends, and you are a part
of history.

“If I decided to leave I literally could tour for the next 10 years off the credits. (Being on the show) puts you in a whole different class.”

And how. She’s been busy filming the new Ghostbusters film, which features an all-female ghost-chasing crew for the first time. The cast includes some of the biggest female comedians on the planet: Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig and Kate McKinnon. Jones can’t believe she’s part of that prestigious group.

“I made up my mind once I set out to be a comedian that I would do it well; if I was going to be mediocre there was no reason to continue,” she said. “I’ve worked my butt off to get where I am, but what I’m most proud of is that I can back up everything I say. There’s no fluke – I’m the real deal, and it took a long, long time to get this way.”

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