This isn’t the way it’s supposed to go, you know.
The break-out talents from “Saturday Night Live” are supposed to become movie stars. They’re not supposed to host a game show where people racie frantically down grocery-store aisles.
But there is Leslie Jones (shown here), hosting and producing “Supermarket Sweep,” which debuts at 8 p.m. Sunday (Oct. 18) on ABC. That’s not the usual post-”SNL” route. “They have a formula for how everybody is supposed to make it,” Jone said in a recent Television Critics virtual session. But “I had to make everyone realize the formula doesn’t work for me.”
Nothing does. She was 47 before she ever reached “SNL,” 49 before she got her one big movie role (the “Ghostbusters” reboot), 51 when she left the show, did a stand-up comedy special … and then grabbed a show she had watched long ago.
“Leslie found out who owned … ‘Supermarket Sweep’ and came to them and said. ‘Hey, I want to make this show. I want to produce it with you. I want to host it,’” said Alycia Rossiter, one of the producers of the reboot.
Jones added her bigger-than-life presence and more. “We changed the music,” she said. “We changed some of the games. We changed the amount of money. We made it look a little bit harder.”
That included creating a much bigger setting, Rossiter said. “The store is huge. If those contestants from the ‘90s had had to run through our store, I think there would be heart attacks. Because of the fitness craze, our people made it. Leslie and Lenny (producer Lenny Marcus) are dyed-in the wool sports fans. Leslie was a college athlete.”
That was long ago. Six-foot and broad-shouldered, Jones got a basketball scholarship to Chapman College, then followed her coach to Colorado State University. That’s where friends nudged her into a stand-up contest where she was named the funniest person on campus.
What followed were years of getting by. “I’m glad y’all didn’t meet me in my 20s and my 30s, because I was crazy,” she said. “Not crazy, but just a little bit more out of control.”
Even then, she said, she was confident. “I always thought I was famous, so y’all are the ones who were late …. It was just a matter of who was going to find me. Everybody knew I was funny.”
Still, she was about 35 before she could make a living as a full-time comic. At first, she said, “I wanted top be like everybody else. I wanted to be because it was easier. Everybody was making it.”
Gradually, she started using her own eccentric style. “People would tell me all the time, ‘Girl, you need to be glad that you are different, … because that pulls you out of the pack.’”
She resisted at first, she said, until “I couldn’t fake it anymore. Like, that;s a lot of work trying to be something else.”
Chris Rock liked the unfettered Jones and recommended her to “SNL” producer Lorne Michaels.
Others, Jones recalled, would say “’you’re very talented, but we just don’t know what to do with you.’ Lorne Michaels probably was the first one who was, like, ‘Oh, I don’t know what to do with you either, but you’re coming to work for us because we’ll figure it out.”
They did, quickly. Jones was hired as a writer, but kept showing up on “Weekend Update” for moments of wildly personal comedy. A star – and a future “Supermarket Sweep” host – was born at 47.