About halfway through her new Netflix special Time Machine, Leslie Jones pauses mid-mock cigar puff. “This is so fun,” she laughs. And in so many words, she’s right: for an hour, the Saturday Night Live alum has an incredible time onstage, and this energy makes her set an infectiously joyous start to 2020.
Unlike most comedians featured on the streaming giant, Jones goes all-in on crowd work from the start, sloughing off the sterility of some specials. At one point she leads a Tevin Campbell singalong, at others yelling into audience members’ faces about their perceived faults (namely, having a dick or not enjoying their 20s enough). The latter situation results in some of the most laugh-out-loud moments of the whole special, with Jones’ good-natured jokes trumping any initial awkwardness. Crowd work in televised sets tend to be one-offs to audience members, who are briefly spotlighted and occasionally used for a callback. The barrier between the crowd and the comedian remains intact, invisible but distinctly separating the parties. Jones never half-asses anything, though, even clambering off the stage to address one man face-to-face. It’s a method that’s as hilarious as it is jarring, propelling her humor to new heights.
Jones’ over-the-top attitude also provides the cornerstone to her excellent physical comedy. As she recounts her own years as a 20-something, it’s easy to picture her as the class clown or the member of the friend group who continually puts you in stitches. Whether out-hoing other women in front of Prince (a joke almost as admirable for its length as its content) or demonstrating how men should wash their balls, Jones’ physical bits are Time Machine’s greatest standouts. This accomplishment is made all the more impressive by the fact that she has a knee brace visible over her jeans. She’s an indomitable force of nature as much as she is a comedian.
With minor detours into public service announcements and speculation on how she’ll spend her fortune, Jones ties together the entire set with a meditation on the passing of time. Young Jones may have had fun with her Sade ponytail and loyal band of friends, but she worried about the years to come, as does present day Jones. After mulling over her five decades of life, Jones ends her special with the truism that we must live in the moment rather than become preoccupied with the past or future. In the hands of a lesser comedian, this “moral of the story” moment would feel trite and unearned. However, after an hour of Jones preaching to 20-year-olds about the importance of glitter and cocaine, it instead is imparted with all of the wisdom and good humor she possesses. This is surely a special that’s worth being present for.
Clare Martin writes about comedy, music and more for Paste.