During Leslie Jones’ six-season run on Saturday Night Live, the comedian graduated from writer to featured player to repertory member, earned two consecutive Emmy nominations for Outstanding Supporting Actress In A Comedy Series, and, at age 47, became the oldest person to join the sketch series’ cast. She was the rare SNL star who could work with whatever material she was given, while still bringing her own unique, hilarious twist to the performance. Yet it wasn’t a surprise when Jones announced she wouldn’t return for a seventh season: With a number of high-profile movies and accolades to her name, Jones is now free to define her career for herself. Her new Netflix special, Time Machine, is a celebration of just that.
Now 52, Jones uses Time Machine to look back and offer wisdom to viewers. While breaking down her life by decade, Jones focuses on reminding audiences to have as much fun as they can, while they can. This isn’t hard to do when Jones is having so much fun herself—and when she stops twice during the special to drive that point home, you absolutely feel it. Her departure from SNL makes sense when you see how genuinely happy stand-up comedy makes her. She always brought energy to the show, but she’s truly in her element doing stand-up, pulling every bit of laughter she can from her pronunciation of a phrase like “man ass.”
In comparison to Jones’ first special, 2009’s Problem Child, Time Machine is the work of a comedy vet with nothing to prove. Jones uses the knee brace she’s wearing over her jeans to illustrate that she’s no longer at an age where she cares what other people think. Her name doesn’t come up often enough in the conversation about great Black female stand-ups, but Time Machine showcases a physicality and natural ability to tell a funny story that puts her shoulder to shoulder with legends like Mo’Nique, Sheryl Underwood, and Adele Givens.
Even though Jones has crossed over to larger audiences and become, as she calls it, “white famous,” she’s not turning her back on her roots or the signature style that previously caught the attention of Chris Rock and Katt Williams. She easily goes from a Game Of Thrones bit (yes, the special is directed by that David Benioff and D.B. Weiss) to leading the audience in a Tevin Campbell sing-along to pantomiming her dead body having sex. This, however, works for and against Time Machine: It’s hilarious when Jones recreates her attempted seduction of Prince or goes off stage to confront audience members, but some of the material and act-outs feel dated, as though they wouldn’t be out of place on a 1993 ComicView episode titled “Women Be Crazy.”
But it’s easy to imagine Jones not taking issue with that criticism, pointing out that women do be crazy and that 1993 was a very funny year on ComicView. Jones knows how to make people laugh and in Time Machine, she is unapologetic. She’s not afraid to laugh at herself and some of the best moments in the special come when she looks at her own insecurities around growing old and what she’d say to a younger, struggling version of herself. Time Machine is one of those exceptional stand-up specials that can get a laugh out of anyone, from any demographic—and that’s the power of Leslie Jones.