This past year I had the incredible pleasure of performing on a comedy show with Leslie Jones at The Friar’s Club. Lovely crowd, but I think it’s fair to say they were a bit tight. I sweat my proverbial cajones off to get laughs. When I left the stage, it didn’t feel like I’d made magic happen, but I felt I’d done the best I could. Leslie Jones was closing the show and I was excited as I’d yet to see her perform live.
An important note, I not only love live stand-up comedy, it feels like a part of the essential rhythm of my life. I hate to wax poetic about it but I believe every performance is its own living, breathing organism. Depending on the crowd that night, the jokes the comic chooses, the venue, the comic’s mood — it will never be the same again. Some people compare stand-up to sports, which I do agree with, but I see it like a weather event, a storm of words. Each show exists only in that moment and cannot to be replicated.
I’ve been performing stand-up for a decade and since I was young, I’ve been watching comedy specials, listening to comedy records and going to live performances. I’ve seen and heard some amazing sets. That being said, Leslie Jones blew my mind. She set the stage ablaze. She took a mediocre crowd and brought them to life. I laughed so hard that at one point I choked on my own air. I’m not speaking in hyperbole. I actually choked from relentless laughter. Leslie is comedy fire. She is a legitimate star. She has worked so hard for so long and is extremely talented. Watching her perform was like watching an amazing conductor, weaving in crowd work, stories, emotion and bringing them all together in a wave of hilariousness. Leslie has a gift, and she is giving it to others: laughter.
Recently Simon & Schuster inked a book deal with Milo Yiannopoulos giving him $250,000 upfront. The book titled “Dangerous” is set to be published by the Threshhold Editions imprint in March. Yiannopoulos, you may recall, banged his racist, sexist, white supremacist drum on Twitter, rallying other hatemongers in bullying Leslie after the release of “Ghostbusters.” He was eventually banned from Twitter but clearly banked on all that attention.
The opening of this piece is about Leslie Jones and not the Simon & Schuster book deal because there is a growing amorphous mass of people thriving on hate, who love being banned and who get excited when they are boycotted. Why do we give them so much attention?! The more we loathe them, the bigger they get (uuhhmmmm, president). It seems that just like Sauron in “The Lord of the Rings,” these trash-fires are growing stronger the more people speak of them. I don’t want to contribute to that. Instead, I want to focus this article on why Leslie Jones is so incredibly, deeply, genuinely special and not on Milo what’s his name and his book, which I won’t read. I’m not saying I disagree with people calling out the publisher or boycotting them, just that I want to invest my enthusiasm on the support side.
People who break the mold, especially when they are women who break the mold, and in particular when they are women of color who break the mold, are being targeted. Artists who defy society’s prescribed roles in order to share their gifts and insight with us are paving the way for more people to be able to have their own voice. They are shining their light while shouldering all the ugliness that rains down and I believe we owe it to them to make sure the focus remains on their greatness.
Go watch Leslie Jones in person and you will see what a real star looks like. She is someone who is adding to this world, not making money off tearing other people down. I want to hear more about Leslie Jones. I want to read her book. Buy tickets to her live shows. I already own “Ghostbusters” and saw it in theaters opening weekend. I’m putting my money where my mouth is and my energy where my hopes are. Pay attention to the comic, not the heckler.