Comedian Leslie Jones said some very controversial things on SNL last week. You can view the clip here
for now, when Hulu inevitably takes it down google "Leslie Jones first SNL Weekend Update."
I strongly believe that comedy needs to be evaluated in context and you should watch the whole clip. I originally wrote this to guilt you, the 3 friends who read this, into watching the whole clip rather than just the reading the excerpt, but I accidentally guilted myself into watch the entire episode of SNL to make sure there wasn't any context that would make me look like an idiot. As it turns out, there was, in the first 30 seconds.
Before we get to that, let me tell you the joke. People voted Lupita Nyong'o
, a black woman, one of the most beautiful people of the year. Nyong'o is a bigger deviation from classic mainstream beauty standards than previous Officially Hot black women like Halle Berry or Tyra Banks, but hews much closer than Leslie Jones. Jone's joke is that during slavery she would have been the desirable one, because she's so large and strong.
The way we view black beauty has changed. I'm single right now. But back in the slave days, I would have never been single. I'm six feet tall and I'm strong, Colin, STRONG! I mean look at me! I'm a mandingo! [...]
Back in the slave days, my love life would have been way better. Master would have hooked me up with the best brother on the plantation and every nine months I'd be in the corner having a super baby. Every nine months I'd be in the corner just popping them out. Shaq! Kobe! Lebron! [...]
I would be the number one slave draft pick. All of the plantations would want me.
On its own, the only joke this "a loud black woman is saying several things white people would be shot for saying."* But you notice she kind of randomly starts listing basketball players at the end? Not just athletes, but basketball players? The show's opening bit was about LA Clippers owner Donald Sterling
yelling at his mixed-race mistress for instagraming a photo of herself with Magic Johnson, who is a famous basketball player and also black. I think Jones's monologue was a deliberate call back to that, implying that the modern NBA system has some parallels with slavery. I am well disposed to this argument: sports destroys the bodies of tens of thousands of young, mostly minority, men in exchange for making a few of them rich while the white owners become wealthy. That's a real joke. She also touches on the deeply vulnerable of how beauty standards leave her out in the cold.
Unfortunately, the joke is still not very well made. You can't count on your audience having watched Schooled
and read Ta-Nehisi Coates fall out of love with football
. Chris Rock's rich vs. wealthy
and Louis CK'sOf Course, But Maybe
are great examples of the kind of baby steps you need to walk through to explain dense, unfamiliar ideas.
Sadly, there's no excuse for her framing institutionalized rape as not only consensual, but deeply wanted. There's no subversion in its use. And on twitter she called anyone who thought she was describing rape a "fucking moron"
. I'm also deeply disappointed she invoked "no one would criticize a man for doing this" and "you criticizing me is the problem with black people."
In conclusion: I have no problem with any of the topics of the joke, but find this particular implementation pretty lacking. But not as lacking as viewing it out of context would make you think.
*Anyone complaining that this is unfair: The social taboo against you saying these things is a direct consequence of you being on the winning side of something much worse. So while you are technically correct, you're not going to like my suggestions for making it more fair.